Amidst the chaos of Saturday night’s injury fiasco in Toronto, the Carolina Hurricanes and general manager Don Waddell were facing a boatload of pressure to recuperate their broken squad before the Monday afternoon trade deadline. By the time the 3 p.m. deadline hit, the Hurricanes had revamped with three major trades.
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The Hurricanes added Sami Vatanen and Brady Skjei to fill the defensive voids left by Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce, and also snagged Florida Panthers center Vincent Trocheck.
Waddell was one of the league’s most active GMs, plucking three of the biggest names off the market to prep the Hurricanes for their push to the playoffs.
Trocheck Checks In to Carolina
To Carolina Hurricanes: C Vincent Trocheck
To Florida Panthers: C Erik Haula, C Lucas Wallmark, C Eetu Luostarinen, D Chase Priskie
With all the focus drawn to the Hurricanes’ blue line and in net, the need for a top-9 forward had seemingly taken a back seat. But it never left Waddell’s mind, and he addressed that with the acquisition of Trocheck.
Trocheck is not what you’d call a big-body center – he’s listed at 5-foot-10, 183 pounds – but he plays a heavy, fast game, which is perfect for the Rod Brind’Amour system. Injuries limited Trocheck to just 55 games last season, but in a breakout 2017-18 season, he led the Panthers in goals (31), shots (287), hits (145), and faceoff percentage (54.1 percent), and was second on the team in points with 75. This season, he’s scored 36 points in 55 games, and sports a 52.3 percent faceoff success rate. He’ll slot in seamlessly as a No. 2 center behind Sebastian Aho.
The Hurricanes part ways with two B-level prospects in Eetu Luostarinen and Chase Priskie, and roster players Lucas Wallmark and Erik Haula. Wallmark, a fourth-round draft pick of the Hurricanes in 2014, was a quiet, but underrated player the Hurricanes use primarily in a fourth-line role. He was set to become a restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of the season.
Erik Haula, the biggest piece heading Florida’s way, will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at season’s end. There were rumors he wasn’t fitting in well with the Hurricanes’ and Brind’Amour’s system, which made a potential contract extension unlikely. The ongoing knee problems were also a lingering concern, as it’s limited Haula’s ice time.
One of the Hurricanes’ biggest strengths going into the 2020 trade deadline was their deep prospect pool and collection of draft picks. The Hurricanes were able to land a proven No. 2 center for a pending UFA who likely wasn’t going to re-sign, and three players with low-end NHL potential.
Trocheck brings a much-needed element of right-handedness to the Hurricanes group of centers that they can use strategically on right-side draws. He can play power play, penalty kill, and late-game situations.
The 26-year-old is signed through 2021-22 and carries a cap hit of $4.75 million. His arrival also allows Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal to slot into a more comfortable third-line capacity, where he can be used more effectively in a typical shut-down role.
Hurricanes Finally Complete Vatanen Deal
To Carolina Hurricanes: D Sami Vatanen
To New Jersey Devils: LW Janne Kuokkanen, D Fredrik Claesson, conditional fourth-round pick (2020)
With all the talk about wanting to stay away from rental players, Waddell was essentially left with no choice with the clock ticking down on deadline day. But as far as rental deals go, this trade for the Hurricanes is money.
Sami Vatanen is a right-handed defenseman who can play big minutes, has the offensive ability to run a power play, and can potentially slot in right beside Jaccob Slavin on the top pairing. The only bug is that he’s a pending UFA, and there’s no guarantee he remains a Hurricane past this season. That being said, the blue line needed a man, and Vatanen is the perfect fit – temporary or not.
The 28-year-old Finn is a career 30-to-40 point producer when healthy. This season, he’s tallied 23 points in 47 games, while logging 21:45 time-on-ice (TOI) per game. Carolina’s blue line has been starved for players who can eat up ice time like Vatanen can, as it currently features only two defensemen averaging over 17 minutes per game – Slavin and Joel Edmundson.
Departing the Hurricanes is Fredrik Claesson, a 27-year-old defenseman with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers, and prospect Janne Kuokkanen, a second-round pick of the Hurricanes in 2016.
Kuokkanen, the main piece of this deal, was enjoying a strong season with the Checkers in which he scored 42 points in 52 games, but the Hurricanes are deep enough organizationally where they were able to move on from him. Above Kuokkanen, the Hurricanes still have high-end forward prospects like Ryan Suzuki, Jamieson Rees, Patrik Puistola and Jack Drury. You need to give up value to get value, and Kuokkanen is a worthy sacrifice for Vatanen’s services.
The rumors around the Hurricanes and Vatanen indicated Carolina’s second-round pick may have been in play, but perhaps Vatanen’s current status affected his trade value and scared away potential buyers. Vatanen has been sidelined with a bruised right leg since early February and has missed the past 10 games. Depending on how many games he plays for Carolina, the conditional pick involved in the deal could become a third-rounder. Vatanen should be ready to join the party soon, however. The Hurricanes will evaluate him once he arrives in Raleigh.
Hurricanes Make Late, Aggressive Surge For Skjei
To Carolina Hurricanes: D Brady Skjei
To New York Rangers: First-round pick (2020)
The Hurricanes shored up their blue line with a bit of added insurance just moments before the 3 p.m. deadline struck when they finalized a deal with the New York Rangers to trade a first-round pick for Brady Skjei.
Yes, you heard that right. A first-round pick is a hefty price for the lefty defenseman Skjei, but it’s a little more palatable when you remember the Hurricanes were essentially gifted a pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Patrick Marleau deal. Carolina also has its own first-rounder in 2020, so the pick the Rangers receive will be whichever is the lower of the two.
Skjei has averaged 20:41 TOI per game this season, the second-most among Rangers blueliners. He’s scored eight goals and 15 assists in 60 games, while logging 2:31 of shorthanded TOI per game. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenseman has hit the 25-point mark each of the past three seasons, and is among the Rangers’ regular leaders in hits.
While the Hurricanes needed the support on the back-end, there are risks involved with this pickup. To make this move, the Hurricanes had to juggle players onto the LTIR to make their payroll fit under the cap. Skjei, 25, comes with a heavy $5.25-million cap hit for four more years. That puts the ‘Canes in a tight pinch financially, and almost guarantees defensemen Edmundson and Trevor van Riemsdyk will be on their way out at the end of the season, as both will be UFAs.
Whether Skjei is a longer-term upgrade over a player like Edmundson remains to be seen. The Rangers benefit greatly from this trade for pocketing a first-round pick, but if Skjei works out in Carolina, things may end up just fine.
Waddell will have two major contracts to dish out in 2021 with Dougie Hamilton and Andrei Svechnikov, so future cap space is a great concern. But for today, Waddell did his job and came out of the deadline looking fantastic, because the Hurricanes now have seven NHL defensemen, even with the injuries to Hamilton and Pesce, and managed to do that while holding on to their top prospects, the higher of their two first-round picks, and both second-round picks.
Hurricanes Are Major Deadline Winners
Elsewhere around the league, the Metropolitan Division contenders buffed out their lineups Monday, which only makes the road through the spring stretch more challenging.
Although they didn’t pick up a goalie to replace the injured Petr Mrazek and James Reimer, the Hurricanes filled out their roster beautifully elsewhere. The defense has been revamped, and Trocheck is going to be a powerful contributor in Carolina for at least the next two years.
The goaltending responsibilities now fall on 24-year-old Alex Nedeljkovic and 27-year-old Anton Forsberg, who have been down in the AHL with the Checkers all season. With only a combined 47 games of NHL experience between them, they’ll be under immense pressure to provide stability in net for the rest of the season.
The Hurricanes proved Saturday night in Toronto that if your defense is good enough, you can make any goalie look good. It looks like that’s the philosophy they’ll ride with in the final 21 games as they hope to lock down a playoff spot.
Matt Cosman is a Sheridan College print journalism graduate from Oakville, Ontario. I’ve been with THW since 2019 covering the Carolina Hurricanes, one of my favorite childhood teams. When I’m not in my hockey bubble you can probably catch me jamming out on the piano or losing money at the poker tables.