Hurricanes Defense Got Even Better Over the Offseason

The Carolina Hurricanes have been stockpiling elite defensemen over the past number of years, and the group got even better this offseason. With the recent additions of Brent Burns and Calvin de Haan, who signed a professional tryout (PTO) contract last week, a group that was already competitive and one of the best defense groups in the league, just got better.

Hurricanes’ Departures & New Faces

When the 2021-22 season came to an end, there were a few question marks about the roster. When it came to the defense, the first move was trading Tony DeAngelo to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Hurricanes acquired a handful of draft picks and, more importantly, more cap flexibility, while Brendan Smith and Ian Cole were among those who left via unrestricted free agency.

Related: Golden Knights Trade Pacioretty & Coghlan to Hurricanes

Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell was very busy bolstering the blue line on July 13. He acquired Brent Burns (34% salary retention) from the San Jose Sharks, along with Lane Pederson, in exchange for Steven Lorentz, Eetu Mäkiniemi, and a conditional third-round pick. Waddell followed this up by receiving Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan for future considerations. However, the team has since announced that Pacioretty will be out of the lineup until February with a torn MCL.

Hurricanes’ Defensive Depth

The Hurricanes’ left-handed defensemen include Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei, and Jake Gardiner, with some depth pieces, including William Lagesson and Maxim Lajoie.

The team has much more depth on the right side, and some players are comfortable on the left side as well. Burns, Brett Pesce, Ethan Bear, Coghlan, Jalen Chatfield, and, of course, de Haan, who has a PTO, which is interesting. It is possible that the Hurricanes were the only team to offer him an invitation, but it’s unlikely. In Chicago, he proved to be a valuable second-pair, right-handed defenseman, but Carolina is already stacked at the position. Competing with Bear, Coghlan, and Chatfield for a roster spot will bring some healthy competition to training camp.

Carolina’s Keys to Success

This group is clearly one of the best defensive groups in the NHL, and they were acquired for great value. The projected top two pairings (Slavin-Burns, Skjei-Pesce) come in with a price tag under $20 million for not only this season but for 2023-24 as well. I think one of the biggest keys to success will be head coach Rod Brind’Amour keeping the pairings together after they find the right chemistry.

When a team has this many NHL-calibre defensemen, we typically see a lot of movement, even without injury. Brind’Amour needs to figure out what fits well, especially on that bottom pairing, and run with it.

Another key element is proper deployment. A top pairing of Slavin-Burns could be world-class or not work at all. On paper, they balance each other very well, but what matters is when the puck hits the ice. Once the duo gets a few games together, the expectations will become clearer for the top pair. Burns has slowed down and can be a defensive burden at times, though under the right system, I am confident he can be effective at what he does best, move the puck, as well as be responsible defensively. On the other hand, Slavin is one of the top defensemen in the NHL and will be able to back-up Burns when needed. We saw this work with DeAngelo last season, and now we will see Burns play a similar role, but he also has a lot of experience and leadership skills.

Brent Burns San Jose Sharks
Brent Burns with the San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

All in all, the Hurricanes’ defense group will be elite, regardless of the pairings. Optimization will be important, but I have no doubt that Brind’Amour will be able to utilize them well.

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