Don Waddell plays his cards pretty close to the vest, rarely letting a ton of smoke surround his moves before they are in the NHL’s transaction queue. Even at an unpredictable trade deadline, which ended up being very quiet, the Carolina Hurricanes were a team to watch as 3:00 PM EST approached. The rumors had been that the team was looking for a stay-at-home, right-shot defenseman to balance out the blue line and, perhaps more urgently, some top-nine scoring help.
Missing two key forwards in Teuvo Teravainen, who has missed well over half the season with concussion issues, and Brock McGinn, who went down just over a week ago, Hurricanes fans and media patiently waited for a splash Monday afternoon to shore up a good, young roster for a Stanley Cup run.
All due respect to Jani Hakanpää, that splash never came.
The angst was palpable on Canes Twitter later that night, as the team dropped their second consecutive game to the lowly Detroit Red Wings in lifeless fashion. On the eve of Jordan Staal’s 1,000th game, complete with a fantastic pregame ceremony and video board tributes from family and former teammates from Mark Recchi to brother Eric to Sidney Crosby, only for the Red Wings to be the team that showcased the quintessential work ethic, defensive excellence, and physicality that has made Staal one of the most respected captains and leaders in the NHL.
Ultimately, maybe it is unfair to be too tough on Waddell for his inactivity. This was a seller’s market if there ever was one, with Nick Foligno and David Savard both netting Columbus first-round draft picks and Anthony Mantha going for Jakub Vrana (are we completely sure Mantha is a better player than he is to begin with?) plus a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick, and serviceable but overpaid bottom-sixer Richard Panik.
Many of the hot names thrown around heading up to the deadline ended up staying with their teams, and the one big-name piece that did get moved out did not have the market most would have likely expected. Then again, Taylor Hall isn’t a flavor for every coach and general manager, so that probably shouldn’t be as surprising as it was to some.
So, how did the trade deadline shake out for the Hurricanes’ needs?
The Top-Nine Forward
Ultimately, the forward market never materialized, and the Hurricanes were never going to do something they were uncomfortable with just for the sake of making a move. They have simply operated too smartly under Waddell, Vice President of Hockey Operations Eric Tulsky, and Director of Player Personnel Darren Yorke.
Instead, the Hurricanes are banking on the return of star winger Teravainen, glue guy Brock McGinn, and continued excellence from Vincent Trocheck, Sebastian Aho, and Staal (an Andrei Svechnikov resurgence would be more than welcome, as well). But just how shrewd a move is that?
In theory, the Hurricanes have a window that is just beginning to open. Most of the core is under team control moving forward, with one notable exception in Dougie Hamilton. Aho, Svechnikov, and Martin Necas are rising stars in the league, and the trio should only get better, as all are 23 or younger. That’s the glass-half-full way of looking at it.
On the flip side, Hamilton needs a new contract this summer, none of the three rostered goalies are under contract next season, and, simply, hockey is unpredictable. Banking on health, effectiveness, and team chemistry — an extremely vital part of this current group’s success — might make this theory closer to fallacy.
The rest of the division bulked up and will be better heading into the postseason, and the Hurricanes, with their $8 million in deadline cap space, chose not to upgrade an offense that has scored under three goals per game since Teravainen went down. Who knows how it all plays out, but hopefully the Hurricanes’ front office won’t look back on the 2021 Trade Deadline and wonder if they could have done a touch more.
A Right-Shot Defenseman
The Hurricanes were, however, able to address their need for some punch on the back end, shipping former seventh-overall pick Haydn Fleury to the Anaheim Ducks for 29-year-old Hakanpää and a sixth-round pick. It isn’t particularly flashy, but he will help this team.
Fleury is still a young, promising defenseman with the size, skating, and defensive competence to eat minutes and help the Ducks’ blue line. He was a victim of the numbers game in Raleigh on one of the league’s deepest defenses, and likely one of the players Ron Francis (who drafted Fleury in 2014) was looking at in this summer’s expansion draft.
In return, the Hurricanes were able to add a player that balances their defense corps and brings some much needed grit for a player that they clearly didn’t view as a piece of their roster moving forward. They got something rather than potentially lose him for nothing.
Hakanpää is huge (6-foot-5, 218 pounds) and physical, currently sitting third in the NHL with 168 hits in 42 games. Saying he brings an element the Canes did not previously possess would be an understatement — Cedric Paquette is the only Hurricane in triple digits with 118 hits, while Brady Skjei is the leader amongst defensemen… at 54. They identified physicality as an area of need and — along with Paquette, the team’s only other in-season addition – did their best to address it.
The Hurricanes were able to get an in-house scouting report from fellow Finn and former Karpat teammate Aho on the new addition:
I mentioned in my trade deadline preview that the Hurricanes needed this sort of player to go toe-to-toe with teams like Boston in the postseason, as they were pushed around regularly in their matchup in the bubble last summer. Hakanpää will be an ideal partner for offensively minded Jake Bean or Jake Gardiner on the third pairing, although he provides little offensively with just two points (one goal, one assist) in 47 career games.
So, again, not necessarily the sexy move that many Hurricanes fans were hoping for, but one that will pay dividends down the stretch and into the playoffs once the games get tighter. He will clear up shooting lanes for James Reimer, Alex Nedeljkovic, and Petr Mrazek and make opposing forwards think twice when they cross the blue line or enter the corners, lest they end up flattened.
While the Hurricanes chose not to dive into their deep prospect pool to win now, the team remains on the shortlist of Stanley Cup contenders for this season. The division did and will get better, as Florida shored up their blue line with Savard, and Tampa Bay will be getting Nikita Kucherov back.
Beyond that, with Hall heading to Boston, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to the New York Islanders, and Anthony Mantha to Washington, the MassMutual East Division will have a stacked team waiting in the conference finals as well. Still, this iteration of the Hurricanes can match up with and consistently beat any of those teams when on their game — and healthy.
The question is whether that health will ever coalesce. The Hurricanes need Svechnikov and Teravainen to not only be in the lineup but playing up to their potential. Teravainen has the ability to potentially be the most impactful “trade deadline acquisition” across the league, but even still, Svechnikov has shown few signs of breaking out of his slump. However you slice it, the odds of both happening do not feel particularly high. Added depth would have gone a long way towards ensuring this team could compete.
But, ultimately, Waddell couldn’t force a market that didn’t exist to materialize. The few truly needle-moving players available likely had monstrous asks, as top-six forwards like Conor Garland and Rickard Rakell still have team control and therefore no urgency to be moved for anything other than offers too good to pass up.
It is impossible to predict how things will shake out over the next few months, but the Hurricanes remain in a good position moving forward. They have depth at all three levels and are well-coached within a system that makes them incredibly tough to play against.
Just hope the first post-trade deadline game is not a harbinger of things to come and that the team will soon repay the front office’s faith in them, as constructed, to be a Stanley Cup contender.