Haula Brings Two Questions to the Hurricanes

Erik Hauka is now a part of the Carolina Hurricanes. In a trade executed on June 27 with the Vegas Golden Knights, Haula came to the Hurricanes in exchange for prospect Nicholas Roy and a conditional fifth-round selection in the 2021 NHL Draft. He has played extremely well in the past, but a serious knee injury and a possible role change bring up two questions.

Erik Haula #56, Vegas Golden Knights
Former Golden Knight Erik Haula. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Meet Erik Haula

The release from the Hurricanes announcing that they had traded for Haula included this quote from general manager Don Waddell: Erik is a skilled, experienced player who has been productive at even strength and on special teams. We expect him to be healthy and ready to go for training camp.”

The wild card in the Haula deal is his health. He played 15 games last season before suffering a knee injury in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ironically it was a hit by Patrick Marleau, whom the Hurricanes had acquired on June 22, that sidelined Haula.

A Golden Knight’s View of Haula

After missing the rest of the regular season, Haula was ready to go in the playoffs. Knights On Ice set the stage with a piece called “How Erik Haula plays into Golden Knights’ offseason plans” on June 18: “Erik Haula was close. George McPhee gave the timetable of seven to 10 days before the Vegas Golden Knights center was cleared to practice with the team for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Then Cody Eakin got called for a five-minute major and the rest is history.”

Haula was ready to come back and try to contribute to the Golden Knights’ playoff run, but it was not to be – Vegas was ousted from the playoffs in a memorable 5-4 loss to the San Jose Sharks. Haula’s re-entry to playing hockey would have to wait. In the meantime, concerns emerged about where Haula was going to fit in for the Golden Knights going forward.

Vegas Golden Knights left wing Erik Haula
Former Vegas Golden Knights left wing Erik Haula (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Webster further noted that the question for the Golden Knights – and obviously now for the Hurricanes – is whether Haula can replicate the 29-goal, 55-point season he had the season before he got hurt. Also, will he be happy playing on a bottom-six line?

Question One and Haula

So Haula comes to the Hurricanes with two questions: Is he completely healthy and will he be zealous for whatever role he is asked to play by Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour?

Haula spoke with the Hurricanes media on Monday, July 1. He had gotten married this past weekend and said, “We’re excited to move to North Carolina.”

Asked about his knee and the rehab that he has been working through, Haula said,

The rehab’s been going very well. Obviously, the last year has been a tough year. It wasn’t a minor injury it was a big deal and a huge setback…I worked really hard and I have no doubt that I’ll be back at a hundred percent next season.

The first of the two questions surrounding Haula has to be about the level of recovery to his knee. Will he really be 100 percent? Will he play with the same aggressive style that made him worth $2.75 million per year? Or, will he be tentative in the same way for Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner was after recovering from his third concussion – not charging the net and just playing in a much more tentative manner?

Los Angeles Kings center Trevor Lewis (22) and Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner (53) during the NHL game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC Arena. (THW Archives)

In 2015 I penned this about Skinner, “Skinner’s season got off to a rocky start last year due to yet another concussion. Many including myself have written about his uncharacteristic low output after he returned to the ice. He just did not seem to be the same player for much of the season. The overarching question is whether or not he will be able to return to his 30-plus goal output, or if the multiple concussions have left him unable to go fearlessly to the net.”

Only training camp, exhibition games and the fierce conditions of live games that count will tell if Haula is in fact fully recovered and can bring the same level of production he did in 2017-18.

Will Haula be Happy?

Jackie Kostek reported on the Haula trade to the Hurricanes for KTNV in Las Vegas, reporting that giving up Haula was not easy for Golden Knights general manager George McPhee. Kostek reported that McPhee said, “This was difficult. Erik took it like a pro as you’d expect he would but it was not easy for any of us.” Haula was well-loved by Golden Knights fans.

Kostek also reported that one fan said, “I honestly loved Haula and I didn’t want to trade him but it is business.” Coming to a new team will give Haula a chance to win over Hurricanes fans in much the same way that he won over Golden Knights fans when traded from the Minnesota Wild in the expansion draft.

Carolina Hurricanes Nino Niederreiter Sebastian Aho
Carolina Hurricanes’ Nino Niederreiter and Sebastian Aho (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

The question is where will Brind’Amour slot him. If Justin Williams retires, Haula would fit perfectly on the Hurricanes’ second line, centered by Jordan Staal with Andrei Svechnikov on the right. (It’s hard to imagine him on the top line right off the bat when a Williams retirement could see Teuvo Teravainen paired with Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter on the top line.

Haula Reunited

As Haula pointed out Monday with the media, he’s got history with several of the Hurricanes and will be glad to fit in anywhere. Haula said,

Obviously, I have a deep history with Nino – Nino Niederreiter. We played together for four years and were on the same line for a couple of those years. And I played in the World Cup Tournament with Teuvo and Sebastian. And then just knowing Faulkie a little bit from Minnesota. And I know Trevor’s older brother a little bit. It definitely makes the transition a little easier.

Haula said he has heard only positive things about Brind’Amour and is looking forward to getting the season going. The second question seems to have a positive answer: He’s going to fit in and be happy to be playing with guys he knows and on a healthy knee.

Waddell might have just snagged an under the radar jewel in Haula. First things first mean it’s honeymoon time and then getting to Raleigh.

This is a player that Hurricanes fans can look forward to seeing with great anticipation. It’s a good bet that any questions about Haula will be answered just fine.