Hurricanes Need 2 Key Pieces to Really Contend for Stanley Cup

Despite a relatively listless loss on national television Tuesday evening, the Carolina Hurricanes are a really good hockey team. This is not a shocking revelation, but at times Hurricanes fans refuse to enjoy themselves. In fairness, it is hard to blame them too much; when a franchise is mired in mediocrity for a decade, it can be hard to break the habit of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I am here to ease those concerns that Hurricanes fans have in some deep, dark crevice of their souls. This team is the real deal, a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. And with the young talent on the roster plus a stacked prospect pipeline, it appears this franchise will not be going anywhere anytime soon. However, there are a few missing links on the chain between this current roster and its ceiling, links that can be forged at the trade deadline.

Under Don Waddell, the Hurricanes have often favored making “hockey deals” rather than the standard trade deadline rental. Look no further than 2020, as “Donny Turtlenecks” brought Trocheck and Brady Skjei to Raleigh.

However, this feels like a year to beef up the roster with a couple of pieces for the stretch run without handicapping the contract negotiations that will take place in the off-season.

Dougie Hamilton’s future is up in the air, especially after his defensive game has taken a significant step back coming off last year’s fractured fibula and subsequent surgery. The Hurricanes will surely want to make some kind of offer to him, nonetheless. Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov will be getting a substantial raise as a restricted free agent (expect him to sign a bridge deal of some sort, preceding a likely mega-extension a couple of years later). Even beyond that, the Hurricanes do not have any of their current three rostered goalies – Petr Mrazek, James Reimer, or Alex Nedeljkovic (RFA) – signed beyond this season.

Vincent Trocheck Carolina Hurricanes
Vincent Trocheck, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

That is not to mention the effect the revenue losses, which will not be recouped in the postseason as they would in a normal year, will have on what looks to be an unprecedented trade deadline. It is impossible to say how active teams will be, or what they will be willing to pay for or give up.

Nonetheless, there are good options that could help the Canes without sacrificing too much of the future. We will mostly leave out the pipe dreams, instead of looking at players that are logically available and make sense from a financial and cost standpoint.

The Hurricanes will not force a deal, and if they do make a deal, it will likely be a legitimate upgrade that moves the needle rather than a brief depth shakeup. There are two places that the franchise needs to look, where the right pieces take this team from contender to possibly the favorite.

A Skilled, Top-9 Forward

Now, the easy answer here is “well, Teuvo Teravainen should be back from his concussion at some point”. I agree, a (hopefully) healthy Teravainen is a monstrous trade deadline acquisition that makes the Hurricanes forward corps substantially deeper.

However, the Hurricanes have played most of March without both Teravainen and Trocheck, two of the team’s most important players. Health is anything but guaranteed, and making the addition of another skilled forward should be a top priority. This is a potential forward grouping, with Teravainen included:

Niederreiter – Aho – Necas
Teravainen – Trocheck – McGinn
Svechnikov – Staal – Fast
Foegele – Paquette – Martinook

Rod Brind’Amour has shown the desire to balance his lines rather than stack his stars together and plays his entire top-nine pretty evenly. One of the biggest reasons this addition is necessary is Andrei Svechnikov, who has spent most of the season on the third line.

Since registering 16 points in the first 16 games of the season, Svechnikov’s offense – and game in general – have really dried up. He has 10 points in the last 18 games, including just 3 goals. The rise of Martin Necas and big, bounce-back seasons from Nino Niederreiter and Trocheck has softened the blow of the budding superstar’s struggles, but if this team is going to win in the postseason, “Svech” needs to come on strong.

As shown above, his most recent common linemates have been Jesper Fast and Jordan Staal – two good, impactful… defensive-minded hockey players. Svechnikov is a premier offensive talent. He is not being put in his best position to make plays, because he is the only true offensive creator in the trio. Fast and Staal do not diagnose the play and find soft spots in coverage while off the puck as Svechnikov does, which does not make use of Svech’s underrated playmaking ability. When Andrei finds those spots to get open for his wicked shot, those guys do not have the vision to consistently find him or high-end skill to execute tough passes.

Philadelphia Flyers' Ivan Provorov Philippe Myers Carolina Hurricanes' Andrei Svechnikov
Philadelphia Flyers’ Ivan Provorov and Philippe Myers battle Carolina Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

This leaves Svechnikov often catching passes in disadvantageous spots, then being forced to try to beat defensemen one-on-one or weave in and out of traffic to create a high-danger scoring chance. His lack of success has clearly left him frustrated in recent weeks, and his play continues to slide.

So the answer? Get another playmaker.

The top line has been dominant more often than not this season. This projected second line is almost as formidable, with a stellar two-way playmaker in Teravainen and a player in Trocheck who was leading the team in goals and power-play goals before his injury on March 8.

Adding a dynamic threat on the third line opposite Svechnikov makes the Hurricanes a nearly impossible matchup, as few teams in the league will be able to match up with three lines of that caliber.

This would also theoretically allow players like Brock McGinn and Jesper Fast to slide further down the lineup, thus placing them in positions that play more to their strengths. Those guys are fantastic bottom-six players and have more skill than your average third/fourth liner. Yet another matchup advantage.

The Hurricanes have shown the ability to win games almost completely thanks to the first line. But Necas and Aho will not both pick up multiple points every game, especially come playoff time, so the secondary scoring that has been lacking could use a substantial boost. Another acquisition will provide Rod the ideal depth to adequately balance his lines, take some pressure off the top trio, and, thus, make this forward group as complete as they come.

I think an ideal target is someone like the Los Angeles Kings’ Alex Iafallo. This is a player who plays with great energy, can contribute in any phase/situation, and has put up eight goals and 21 points in 32 games this year, which is a pretty ideal fit for what Brind’Amour wants in his middle six. His $2.4M salary should be pretty easy for even the cap-strapped Hurricanes to work in, and the offensive IQ he has displayed in LA has proven his ability to play off top players.

Alex Iafallo Los Angeles Kings
Alex Iafallo, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Many of his goals come from getting to the dirty areas and finding open ice for passes, rebounds, and deflections. Svechnikov and Iafallo would be able to complement each other quite well in this way.

Potential Options: Iafallo, Mikhail Granlund, Kyle Palmieri, Jake DeBrusk, Rickard Rakell

Target Deal (because being wrong is fun, so why not): CAR acquires Iafallo (UFA) from LAK in exchange for Jack Drury and a conditional 3rd round pick (2nd if the Hurricanes reach the SCF).

A Right-Shot Defenseman

The Carolina Hurricanes already have a loaded defense. They have two of the best shutdown defenders in hockey, an elite, goal-scoring offensive defenseman (even if he is down a touch this year), two young, former first-round picks with tons of potential, and two more legitimate, veteran top-four defensemen (though one of those, Jake Gardiner, has missed most of the year due to the reappearance of his back issues).

The two things missing? They do not have a bruiser, and Brind’Amour does not have the left/right balance he prefers.

Now, hockey is evolving. Speed and skill are the names of today’s game, and enforcers have been a dying breed for over a decade. However, in the bubble last summer, the Hurricanes got bullied against the Boston Bruins. The playoffs are a different animal from regular season play, and the Canes did not show the brawn to match up consistently enough.

As much as speed, skill, and scoring goals win games, having a defenseman that makes opposing forwards think twice every time they cross the blue line or head into the corners pays huge dividends. The slightest hesitation can be the difference between getting the puck out for a breakout and turning it over for a grade-A opportunity.

This will also show as a little insurance for the young stars such as Svechnikov and Necas. At times, opposing players have tried to target the two, and Necas in particular was a complete non-factor in the aforementioned Boston series. Not only will having a more physical punch on the back end stand up for those two on the ice, but they also present their own threats of bodying up an opponent’s star players.

When scrolling through non-contending teams, a name that sticks out as a potential fit is Anaheim’s Josh Manson.

Josh Manson Anaheim Ducks
Josh Manson, Anaheim Ducks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Manson is a big, rangy, rugged defenseman that would provide a dynamic the Hurricanes do not currently possess on the blue line. He would fit very well as a veteran presence next to Haydn Fleury or Jake Bean, as the team is unlikely to be thrilled with the idea of continuing to play the two inexperienced defenders together down the stretch and in the postseason anyway.

Now, a Manson deal is very tricky. His salary is $4.1M through next year, and his NTC makes him an auto-protect in the expansion draft, an event on the horizon the Hurricanes are likely already unnerved by. Even if he waived the clause, the Hurricanes will almost certainly have unprotected players Seattle is likely to target before Manson, the aforementioned Bean and Fleury among them.

However, this is why GMs make the big bucks; it is their job to figure out a way to bring in players that could help the team without hampering the growth of the group in future years too severely. Waddell and the rest of the front office have shown prudence and patience in these types of searches and deals. If the return or risks are too great, they will pass and move on to another option.

But, ideally, Josh Manson becomes a good – albeit pricy for the role – third pairing, right-shot defenseman that can eat minutes, clear the crease in front of the Hurricanes’ goalies, play sound defense at 5-on-5 and the penalty kill, and provide a rugged presence that will especially help this team in postseason hockey.

If Manson is too pricy or the numbers do not make the Hurricanes comfortable, perhaps a call into Buffalo would be in order. Brandon Montour is not the bruiser his former teammate Manson is, but he has greatly improved his defensive game over the years and his offensive numbers would likely look a lot different playing with Carolina instead of Buffalo. As an unrestricted free agent, he presents a nice option as well, even though he would be overqualified for his likely role as a legitimate top-four defenseman.

Options exist, it just remains to be seen what the market will look like.

Targets: Manson, Montour, David Savard

Target Deal: Carolina acquires Josh Manson from Anaheim in exchange for Haydn Fleury, Morgan Geekie, and a 2nd round pick.

As previously mentioned, this trade deadline will be unique due to the budget restrictions and revenue loss the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on. Still, this roster is looking like primed for a run towards a Stanley Cup, and myriad options even beyond those laid out here exist. If opportunities arise for the Carolina Hurricanes to add a touch of firepower and a banger on the blue line, they should be explored – and the rest of the league should be worried.