Operating at the Deadline, The Hurricane Way

“He literally fits the mold of a Carolina Hurricane to a T”.

The 2022-23 Carolina Hurricanes are humming along, each player a cog in Rod Brind’amour’s well-oiled machine that currently leads the Metropolitan Division with 62 points in 44 games and checks in at 2nd in the NHL, trailing only the powerhouse Boston Bruins. This machine was built with the goal of stifling the opponent’s offense while raining down shots on opposing goalies, and so far both goals have been executed on a nightly basis-the Hurricanes boast a league-best 28.2 shots against per game and 35.76 shots for, also the best in the league. As captain Jordan Staal put it (the rest of the fantastic article by NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti can be found here) Brent Burns has exemplified what it means to be a Carolina Hurricane.

The Hurricanes acquired the 6’5, offensive defenseman with a toothless grin peering out of the depths of his iconic beard over the summer from San Jose. When the trade was made, Carolina believed Burns would fit right into a top 4 comprised of Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei, and Brett Pesce, all of whom clock in at 6’3 or higher. Rod Brind’Amour’s group thrives partly on frequent, blistering point shots from defensemen, which often create rebounds, deflections, or find their way through traffic en route to the back of the net. Burns has cast 145 shots on net this year, ranking 32nd in the league and 3rd by defenseman, trailing only Roman Josi and Dougie Hamilton. When Staal says Burns “fits the mold”, he’s spot on. In fact, Skjei and Pesce both rank within the top 40 in defenseman shots. The offense doesn’t stop at shooting the puck, as Burns’ ability to create scoring places him at 15th in the league in defenseman points (Brady Skjei ranks 5th in the league in goals by defensemen). Carolina’s mentality of creating offense from the back end has created a consistent way to score goals in a league where the majority of scoring plays are created through deflections and rebounds in front of the crease.

Brent Burns added a beautiful goal to his season highlight reel on Thursday evening.

Don Waddell is very deliberate in acquiring players who will mesh well within the team’s style of play and finding players who will be in Raleigh for the long run. Burns is under contract through 2024-25. This upcoming offseason will likely be relatively inexpensive and-assuming Carolina doesn’t significantly alter their course-the team will look more or less the same next year. Defensively, the top 4 and Jalen Chatfield are signed through 2023-24. Jordan Staal will even save the Hurricanes some money, as he won’t come close to his $6,000,000 AAV again in his career. There will be a decision to make in net with Frederik Andersen, but the largest obstacle Waddell will have to navigate will be the future of Max Pacioretty in Carolina. Acquired for future considerations over the summer, Pacioretty was off to a hot start before going down with a non-contact injury last night in the final minute of a blowout win against the Minnesota Wild.

Pacioretty has looked like a nice fit as a scoring winger for the Hurricanes, but the unfortunate injury struggles cast a shadow of uncertainty on where or if he’ll be a part of the team next year and onwards, especially as a pending unrestricted free agent. Carolina has some flexibility, but in the summer of 2024 Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas, Teuvo Teravainen, Brady Skjei, and Brett Pesce will all need new contracts.

So, as trade rumors whip through the internet and names like Bo Horvat are being thrown around, let’s take a step back and look at the larger picture. Yes, Pacioretty was a valuable piece but the Hurricanes went 26-7-7 without him this year. Carolina is objectively more competitive than last year, when they missed out on the Eastern Conference Final by one win. Necas has stepped up. Svechnikov is more of a scoring threat. The addition of Brent Burns heightens the strength of the defensive group. While the concern of needing to replace the scoring Pacioretty provided is a valid one, don’t expect Carolina’s front office to address the issue by landing one of the big fish available come March. The reason the Hurricanes are in a competitive position has largely been through commitment to younger players who will be around for the long haul, and such a blockbuster move would likely require a young star to pack their bags and leave Raleigh, such as a Seth Jarvis or Martin Necas. I can’t see the Hurricanes giving up on either, especially considering the strength of the current roster and the success they’ve had thus far.

Hurricanes fans shouldn’t count on a Bo Horvat trade this season.
(Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)

Adding Pacioretty’s $7,000,000 cap hit to LTIR would clear up plenty of space for Don Waddell to add scoring at any area in the roster, and there’s plenty of options around the league as the race for Connor Bedard and the first overall pick heats up. Even teams who are within a playoff race today may soon decide to sell at the deadline and build for the future, as what is projected to be a loaded draft year rapidly approaches.

In Chicago, Kyle Davidson has begun a massive rebuild and isn’t afraid to deal away big names, as the Blackhawks sent Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa for a haul on draft day last season. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will soon make decisions on their futures, but Carolina could find a match in the next tier of Blackhawks forwards, as Andreas Athanasiou and Max Domi could make sense as middle-six players. Athanasiou has cooled off a bit since the start of the year but has scorching, breakaway speed and has nice hands in tight. Domi, who was surely going to be traded at the deadline at the beginning of the year but now may re-sign in Chicago after all, will come at a steeper price but has proven he can play in a top-six role. Domi paces the Blackhawks with 30 points and has shown nice chemistry with Patrick Kane.

Andrei Kuzmenko has been on a tear in Vancouver, but would be costly to acquire which could be a dealbreaker for Waddell. Kuzmenko could score 35 goals this year, making him a player the Canucks will most likely want to hang on to, even if Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller are dealt later in the year. The Blues have had some abysmal stretches this season, which makes their path to the playoffs a daunting one. They’ll have to beat out two of Edmonton, Calgary, and Colorado just to reach the second wild card spot. If they decide to sell, Vladimir Tarasenko is a viable option. He’s only at 10 goals, and some cap gymnastics would be necessary to complete a trade, but he would come at a cheaper price and his wrist shot and use of his size to create offense is similar to Pacioretty. Could Ryan O’Reilly be a fit? He would be less attractive as a trade target because of his lengthy injury. Other names to watch out for include Zach Parise, James van Riemsdyk, or Gustav Nyquist. When the trade deadline rolls around, expect Carolina to acquire scoring-to a degree. The front office rightfully has faith in the current roster, and the Hurricanes are a Cup favorite and will be in March and beyond. 

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