Hurricanes Have Trade Deadline Options Despite Being Cap-Crunched

We’re less than two weeks away from the 2022 trade deadline, and the Carolina Hurricanes remain in an enviable position in the landscape of the NHL. The team has the best record in the Eastern Conference at 39-12-5, a relatively comfortable lead in the Metropolitan Division, and sit behind only Thursday night’s opponent, the Colorado Avalanche, in the league-wide standings overall. They’re a bona fide Stanley Cup contender, so as with any team that falls into that category, I know what you’re thinking: that makes them one to watch ahead of the March 21 deadline; they’ll surely be in the market for a big fish, right?

The honest answer is, well, not really. Personally, I expect a relatively quiet deadline overall (though I’ve been proven wrong many-a-time before), and Carolina is in a trickier position than many contenders. Even after prorating the remainder of the season, the team has just $1 million in deadline cap room, meaning the only feasible moves they could make are for depth players or those on otherwise cheap deals. Money in-money out moves don’t seem likely either, because of their record. Is mixing up locker room chemistry just for the sake of making an addition wise? The best candidates contract-wise for a move like that are Brady Skjei and Nino Niederreiter – you better be getting a heck of a player back if you expect to improve the team while losing their contributions. It just doesn’t seem practical.

Now, I’ve always been a proponent of going “all-in” when you think your team is ready to win a championship, as I think the idea of a “wide-open window” is a logical fallacy. This league is too unpredictable to bank on tomorrow, or two, three, five years from now. Yet, the Hurricanes really are just scratching the surface of what they could be. Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov continue to blow up, the team around them continues to get better, too, with youngsters like Seth Jarvis, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Martin Necas, and others ready to provide secondary scoring, and the prospect pipeline remains well-stocked. If the Hurricanes choose to stand pat, see where this group is come playoff time, and then re-evaluate their standing in the offseason if things don’t work out, could you really blame them?

The easy argument is to look at how good the goaltending has been – can you really bank on a repeat performance like this from Frederik Andersen? What about sources of offense from the back end after Tony DeAngelo has inevitably priced himself out of town? Especially at that much of a bargain? There’s so much to consider, and I don’t envy the Carolina front office headed by Don Waddell and Eric Tulsky right now. So, even if a big move seems unlikely, we’re still going to dive into the areas that the team could stand to make a move, but all the above is just serving as a warning – don’t be surprised if things stay pretty quiet in Raleigh on deadline day.

Forwards Look Largely Set, But Tinkering is Possible

I’ve really liked the way the forward group has played ever since the dominant SAT line of Svechnikov, Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen was reunited. In fact, the Hurricanes have 13 effective, NHL-quality forwards (actually more when including Jack Drury and others in the AHL), and head coach Rod Brind’Amour has talked on multiple occasions about how he wishes he could get Derek Stepan in the lineup more consistently. He’s been quite good all year long, but when everyone is healthy, the only way to get him in is to bench someone like Steven Lorentz or Jordan Martinook. Those two have been key parts of the Hurricanes’ establishing their forecheck and building their identity all year long.

Brandon Hagel Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon Hagel, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Added to that, the third line has been unbelievable lately, with Niederreiter, a rejuvenated Jordan Staal, and the quietly-excellent Jesper Fast consistently being the Hurricanes’ second-best unit for the past few weeks. They’ve always been sound defensively, but it seems like every game they’re coming up with a massive goal or two these days. Add it all up, and where could you really even put an addition at forward?

The only truly logical spot to consider is on the second line. Necas has had a rough go this season, despite finally showing signs of life in the last week, culminating in him breaking his extensive goal drought against the Seattle Kraken on Sunday. His top-six role would be secure even if he hadn’t, though, as one of the fastest skaters, best playmakers, and most dangerous special-teams players on the roster. Still, with Jarvis having his issues and even being flipped with Martinook lately, there is a case to be made for an upgrade here. If Brind’Amour wants to take some pressure off the teenager and not have to put a fourth liner in his spot in order to do it, perhaps the trade market could fill this need.

So, with all the issues working against a move out of the way, a check of the TSN trade bait page seems like the best place to start looking for options. Said options that fit those aforementioned parameters are slim (shocker), but a few names stick out as potential fits. One who has been floated around quite a few on the CapFriendly trade machines for the Hurricanes is forward Brandon Hagel. The former sixth-round pick is having a career year for the struggling Chicago Blackhawks, his underlying numbers are very strong, and he’s under contract for two more seasons at a highly-reasonable $1.5 million average annual value (AAV). Considering Waddell’s tendency to target players with term remaining over outright rentals, that checks another box.

The thing is, with Hagel only being 23-years-old, closing in on 20 goals, playing a sound, 200-foot game, and everything else mentioned above, the demand will definitely be there for the speedy winger. Heck, with his age and term on his contract, Chicago has no reason to move him. Why would they let go of a piece like him for anything less than a sweet deal, one likely higher than a middle-six piece substantiates? They could easily hold a bidding war, and with the Hurricanes’ lack of a first-round pick in 2022 due to the Kotkaniemi offer sheet, they’re starting that race with their feet tied together.

Artturi Lehkonen Montreal Canadiens
Artturi Lehkonen, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So, in conclusion, perhaps the Hurricanes target a player they think can slot alongside Necas and Trocheck. Or maybe they simply add a depth piece to give Jarvis a few days off during this home stretch of the season, or as insurance for if and when an injury pops up. The most likely outcome, to me, is that they leave the forward group as it currently is because I don’t think the realistic options out there are needle-moving enough to warrant giving up assets, unless they do want to pull the trigger on a bigger piece like Hagel. Especially not when the next section we’re going to consider probably houses a bigger need.

Potential Fits: Hagel, Arturri Lehkonen, Calle Jarnkrok, Pavel Zacha, Jack Roslovic, Colin Blackwell, Jake DeBrusk
Less Likely, but Worth a Mention: Max Domi, Rickard Rakell
Pipe Dreams: Tomas Hertl, Claude Giroux, Brock Boeser

Defense Could Use a Boost, but Cost an Issue

Now, this is where things really get interesting for the Hurricanes. Up until the injury to DeAngelo, I honestly thought the Hurricanes needed a somewhat-significant move on the blue line. Yet, I almost liked the unit more in the next few games that followed after the insertion of Jalen Chatfield and the elevation of Ethan Bear (the ugly beatdown at the hands of the Washington Capitals not included). I’ve mentioned before that I’m simply not a fan of the Jaccob Slavin – DeAngelo pair, because of the latter’s inability to hang with opposing top forwards, and the subsequent weakening of the former’s effectiveness.

I was of the opinion that a player like Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm or the Arizona Coyotes’ Jakob Chychrun, who the team was rumored to be in on, would have significantly strengthened the team. As currently constructed, the Hurricanes don’t really have a true, shutdown top pairing, although Skjei and Brett Pesce have at least been serviceable in the role. Brind’Amour does seem to favor them against opposing top lines in many games. Regardless, with DeAngelo’s injury (he will reportedly be back well before the season ends, for what it’s worth), I’m interested to see what direction the team will go. The Bear tenure has been a bit weird, as although he has tough turnovers at times, he’s an effective player and done well a majority of the year. Yet, the team seems to have reservations about featuring him, despite playing his best hockey while alongside Slavin.

Once again, it’s going to come down to what becomes realistically available from both a trade cost and salary cap hit perspective. In order to pull one of the two aforementioned top pair candidates (Lindholm is actually more expensive, at $5.2 million, but is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after this season), the price is going to be extremely hefty – in fact, rumors are that the Coyotes are expecting a “Jack Eichel-like return” for the 23-year-old Chychrun. Which, honestly, is totally reasonable. Defensemen his age that can score goals, play a competent two-way game, and are under contract at a relatively-cheap $4.6 million for three more years don’t come available often. Carolina could only make this work if a team like Seattle or perhaps Buffalo Sabres foot some of the salary cost, which means even more assets going out.

Jakob Chychrun Arizona Coyotes
Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ultimately, once again, the likelihood probably lies in a minor deal for a lower-down-the-lineup player, but there is upside in this type of transaction as well. One intriguing name being floated around is Justin Braun of the Philadelphia Flyers. The 35-year-old veteran would be a solid defensive upgrade that could form a third pairing alongside Ian Cole that would be miserable to match up against. He also plays on the right side, which is where the bigger need lies, and comes in at just a $1.8 million cap hit. That would give the Hurricanes two excellent defensive pairings, and one with two high-end, although near-polar opposite, defensemen on the top pairing.

The downside here is that this top six looks to be sacrificing a little offense. Braun and Cole would be an extremely one-dimensional pairing, and while Skjei and Pesce have both contributed offensively, nobody is confusing either with Bobby Orr. Slavin has proven he can quarterback the power play and keep the puck moving to the real creators like Svechnikov and Aho, but he’s already eating a ton of minutes and probably needs a break at some point. Basically, you have DeAngelo and… that’s it.

Related: Klingberg Trade Would Make Hurricanes’ Blue Line Lethal

That’s the argument for an offensive defenseman to be the target, but I’ve already gone in-depth into the reasons for that a few weeks ago (see link above if you haven’t already). At the end of the day, if the Hurricanes do end up adding someone, it’s probably going to be someone we aren’t even thinking of, that no one even knows is available – think the Trocheck deal from 2019.

I will say, if the move IS a depth defenseman, the thing I keep coming back to is: why even give up assets to add a player that probably doesn’t move the needle THAT much? This team is really good, they have good call-up options led by Chatfield, and if the only deals that come along potentially hurt the team down the road for minor gain, I would pass. The last thing Waddell wants is to send another Janne Kuokkanen off to New Jersey to become a serviceable NHLer, for a player that doesn’t truly end up paying off. That’s always a risk you run in any deal with injuries or the unpredictability of how a player fits in your system, anyway. So, long story short, I wouldn’t fret if the Hurricanes stand pat at the deadline. There just might not be a feasible addition out there that actually pushes this team to a Stanley Cup in 2022.

Potential Fits: Braun, Mark Pysyk, Robert Hagg, Luke Schenn, Travis Dermott, Hampus Lindholm, John Klingberg
Less Likely, But Worth a Mention: Jakob Chychrun, Mark Giordano, Nick Leddy
Pipe Dreams: Your favorite defenseman on another team

Other Loose Ends – Free Agents, Picks, etc.

One important piece to note here is that the Hurricanes – if they decide to target a piece more expensive than their current cap situation allows – do have another option, which I alluded to a bit earlier. Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis turned a lot of heads with his expansion draft last summer, but this trade deadline, with his plethora of cap space which is on record as being for sale (from “The Seattle Kraken have cap space. GM Ron Francis is willing to let others use it for the right price”, The Athletic, March 9, 2022), could be the opportunity for him to buy back some goodwill.

The Hurricanes could use Seattle to broker a three-team deal. That obviously drives the price up, as Francis probably isn’t exactly going to bend over backwards to do his former owner who showed him the door any favors, but it does present an option for the cap-strapped Canes. The Sabres or Coyotes also have plenty of cap room, so they, too, could fall into this category as salary retaining options.

Ron Francis, Carolina Hurricanes
Seattle General Manager Ron Francis (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Other frequently referenced narratives I’ve seen over the last few weeks are the Hurricanes’ odds of including UFAs such as Niederreiter or Trocheck in deals. I think most people know that’s not realistic, but I’ll reiterate anyway: contending teams don’t do that. Both of those players have huge roles on the current team, and it’s hard to see a return giving you the same production those two, already comfortable in the locker room and system, would give down the stretch. The team will have a hard time re-signing both in the offseason – in fact, I think at least one of them is gone for sure, although your guess is as good as mine on which one – but that’s something you just have to deal with as a salary cap team. You’re probably going to have more good players than you can keep long-term.

The goalie position is the only place not mentioned yet, and, despite the absence of Andersen over the last couple of games, the Hurricanes really have no reason for panic there (or for any discourse about acquiring another goalie considering how log-jammed the minors already are). Alex Lyon has filled in capably in his two appearances at the NHL level, and Antti Raanta has been excellent while holding down the fort. The team holding Andersen out seems mostly precautionary anyway, rather than a long-term concern.

Finally, the Hurricanes have been one of the best drafting teams of the last half-decade, as assistant general manager Darren Yorke and his team have done a phenomenal job of acquiring talent, especially in the mid-to later-rounds. The team is already down a first-round pick, so one sneaky move I wouldn’t be too shocked to see is sending out a lower-down-the-list piece that could recoup a mid-round pick and keep the influx of talent to the system strong.

Dominik Bokk, whose career in the organization may be over as he recently headed to the German Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL), could be an option for this, and perhaps could fetch a fourth-round pick from a team who still has belief in his tantalizing raw talent. The lack of picks, incidentally, is why I don’t see the Hurricanes packaging multiple future selections together in any deal, especially with how strong the 2023 draft is. I think they’d like to keep that first-rounder.

No matter how it shakes out, the Hurricanes are on the shortlist of contenders for the 2022 Stanley Cup. I think they could match up with any team in the league today, although a Final matchup against the Colorado Avalanche might be too tough to overcome. That team is insane (how fun would that matchup be, though?). In the East, the Florida Panthers still have the deepest offense and a rejuvenated Sergei Bobrovsky backing them. Plus, they beat the Hurricanes in all three matchups during the regular season, so they’ll be highly confident if they meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Carolina can still take that matchup in a seven-game series as constructed, but they would have to be at their best to make it happen.

Sebastian Aho Carolina Hurricanes
Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

All this is to say, yes, the Hurricanes have myriad options, as outlined above. They could make a minor move, or perhaps a bigger one accompanied by some cap gymnastics and a little help from another organization. Or, they could sit on one of the youngest, most talented rosters in the league, and hope that Svechnikov continues his game-by-game ascension towards superstardom, alongside a player that has already achieved that status in Aho, and backboned by a Vezina Trophy candidate in Andersen. So sit back and enjoy, as the deadline will be fascinating to watch. We’ll get the front office’s opinion on where this team is, and what they need to improve upon to compete for the Stanley Cup.