Two days ago, I wrote why the Carolina Hurricanes should avoid trading for a goaltender at the upcoming deadline. How quickly things can change.
In a Saturday nightmare scenario, reliable Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce, and Carolina’s one-two goalie punch of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer all left the game with injuries, leaving the Hurricanes to rely on 42-year-old emergency back-up David Ayres between the pipes for the remainder of the night. His performance became a cinematic story as the Hurricanes went on to win 6-3 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Unfortunately, as great as the Ayres story was, the team still faces a harsh reality. With the playoffs looming around the corner, the Hurricanes are down two goalies, two of their best defensemen in Dougie Hamilton and Pesce, and are on the verge of having their season blow up in their faces.
GM Waddell On the Hot Seat
General manager Don Waddell has some major decisions to make, but how can you prepare for a situation that changes so drastically overnight? The Hurricanes went from a team that wanted to add a defenseman, and maybe a goalie, to a team that undeniably needed those pieces.
The trade deadline arrives Monday afternoon at 3 P.M. EST, leaving just barely enough time for Waddell to conjure up a solution to the Hurricanes’ crumbling lineup. The roster was manageable enough to get by before Saturday’s casualties hit, but they’re in a dire situation now, and recruiting some assistance may be the only way to stay alive in the playoff race.
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Ideally, the Hurricanes are seeking a top-four defenseman, a goaltender, and if possible, an extra depth defenseman.
Defense Comes First
With two top-four defensemen now on the sidelines in Pesce and Hamilton, the Hurricanes are in desperate need of a guy who can eat up those valuable minutes. Apart from All-Star Jaccob Slavin, who is averaging 23:10 time-on-ice (TOI) per game, all of the Hurricanes’ remaining defensemen are only used to around 18 minutes of TOI or under.
Names like Matt Dumba, Josh Manson and Jeff Petry have been thrown around the mill recently, but landing a top-four defenseman of that value could be pricey. If Marco Scandella can go for a second-round pick, what would Petry command? The inflated cost of defensemen at this deadline could – and maybe should – scare the Hurricanes out of making a major play.
Elsewhere around the league, the Hurricanes had joined the Zach Bogosian sweepstakes, but TSN’s Darren Dreger reported he had reached an agreement with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The major defenseman the Hurricanes were reportedly interested in is the Montreal Canadiens’ Petry. The 32-year-old is signed through 2020-21 at a cap hit of $5.5-million. If the Hurricanes are willing to go all-in on a higher-end defenseman who they don’t have to risk losing at the end of this season, they could up their ante after Saturday night’s events.
Waddell was reportedly mulling over offering Hurricanes top prospect Jake Bean as part of a package to fetch Petry earlier in the week, but LeBrun added the Canadiens would prefer to hold on to Petry.
New Jersey Devils’ defenseman Sami Vatanen is another player who reportedly piqued Waddell’s interest, reported TSN’s Pierre LeBrun. According to LeBrun, if the Hurricanes can get him for a second-round pick, they’re willing to go through with the deal.
Vatanen has 23 points in 47 games for the Devils this season, and fits the bill as an offensively capable right-handed defenseman.
In an off-the-board pick, the Hurricanes could inquire with the Buffalo Sabres on Rasmus Ristolainen. The 25-year-old was linked to the Maple Leafs a few days ago as a player who was drawing interest, as he’s had somewhat of a falling-out in Buffalo.
Ristolainen would also draw a hefty return, but would bring a combination of size, skill and physicality to the Hurricanes blue line. He would also join a locker room flourishing with other Finns in Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Erik Haula.
Other available defensemen include Ron Hainsey from the Ottawa Senators – who is a left shot, but can play the right side, Brandon Montour from the Buffalo Sabres, and Troy Stecher of the Vancouver Canucks. While all three have drawn interest around the league, they’re also all in the final year of their contracts, and those are the types of players Waddell typically avoids.
That being said, they might be the only option on the table that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. In the case of Montour and Stecher, they’re set to be restricted free agents, which will give the Hurricanes more leeway to potentially negotiate a future contract.
Hurricanes Should Tread Lightly On Goalie Market
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour said Saturday that Reimer would be out a while, while Mrazek’s status is still currently unknown. But Waddell can’t exactly afford to wait for an update on Mrazek’s injury. The Hurricanes are in need of a solid goalie now, and they have options.
The Chicago Blackhawks are still believed to be the primary team Waddell is targeting, as netminders Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner are both pending unrestricted free agents (UFA). The 28-year-old Lehner would cost the price of a high pick and prospect, as he’s the younger and stronger of the two goalies.
Crawford, 35, has been a Blackhawk his whole career, where he has won two Stanley Cups. Factoring in his age, Crawford could be the ideal pickup to play out the Hurricanes’ season without sacrificing too much of their future.
Ryan Miller from the Anaheim Ducks could be another veteran option the Hurricanes look at. The Ducks are nowhere near playoff contention, and Miller will be a UFA at season’s end. His $1.125 cap hit is easily movable, however, which could increase Waddell’s competition, eventually leading to a higher winning bid.
In the meantime, and in the event of a “no-deal”, it seems the Hurricanes are prepared to hand over the reins to their AHL affiliate goalies – Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg from the Charlotte Checkers.
Nedeljkovic Finally Gets the Call-Up
The Checkers made two interesting transactions Sunday morning, re-calling Callum Booth and Jeremy Helvig from the ECHL. These moves gave way to the promotion of Nedeljkovic and Forsberg from the Checkers later in the day, as the Hurricanes prepare for their matchup against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.
With 45 NHL games under his belt, Forsberg, 27, is the senior of the two goalies. But 24-year-old Nedjelkovic has been biding his time with the Checkers since he was drafted in 2014. The Hurricanes hope he can be the starting goalie of the future, and there’s never been a better opportunity for him to prove himself than now.
The Hurricanes will need to utilize two goalies down the stretch, as they play six more back-to-backs in their final 21 games. This means both Nedeljkovic and Forsberg will likely get opportunities to help the Hurricanes through the crucial final month.
The immediate promotion of both goalies could indicate the Hurricanes aren’t close to acquiring a goalie, or that the price is more than Waddell is willing to pay. It could also be optimistic news that Mrazek’s injury may not be long-term. Until the trade deadline passes, there’s still time for Waddell to add experienced goalie insurance – as long as the price is right.
Who should the Hurricanes target at the deadline? Is the time to make a big move now, or in the summer?
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.