RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes certainly want to win a Stanley Cup in 2020, but they’re more interested in improving their team in the present and for the future.
The Hurricanes added one rental at Tuesday’s NHL trade deadline, acquiring defenseman Sam Vatanen from the New Jersey Devils, but reshaped but their offense and defense with the additions of center Vincent Trocheck and defenseman Brady Skjei.
Trocheck, acquired from the Panthers, has two more full years remaining on his contract at a $4.75 million cap hit, while the 25-year-old Skjei carries a $5.25 million cap hit through the 2023-24 season on a deal he originally signed with the Rangers.
So while the Hurricanes believe they filled holes to help them now, the deadline moves are more about the team’s long-term goals of being a contender for years to come.
“It’s a strong message that we’re here to win. … We look forward to taking that next step,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said during a Tuesday evening press conference.
As Brind’Amour said earlier in the day, “you have to give up something to give something,” and Carolina gave up two roster players and a wealth of assets to make the three trades.
The stiffest price was for the left-handed Skjei, which cost the Hurricanes a 2020 first round pick. The Rangers will receive the lesser of Carolina’s two first-rounders in this year’s draft. They hold Toronto’s first round pick, which is top-10 protected for the Maple Leafs, and their own.
“Skjei’s a big body, good defender,” Waddell said of the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Skjei, who has eight goals and 15 assists in 60 games this season. “Can add a little bit offensively, but he’s a defender. Plays the game hard, plays the game the right way.”
For Trocheck, 26, Carolina sent four players to Florida. Pending unrestricted free agent Erik Haula and 24-year-old Lucas Wallmark were dealt to the Panthers along with two prospects — Eetu Luostarinen, a former second round pick in his first AHL season, and defenseman Chase Priskie, who was signed as a college free agent last offseason and is in his first professional season.
But the Hurricanes think they got back exactly the type of player they needed in Trocheck: a right-handed center who can contribute in all situations and make Carolina harder to play against in all three zones.
“I don’t think anybody likes playing against him,” Hurricanes defenseman Jake Gardiner said. “He’s one of those guys, he kind of does it all. He’s good defensively, offensively. … He’s just kind of a pest out there. He finishes his checks, kind of annoying to play against. So he’s a guy who you definitely want on your team.”
While Brind’Amour lamented the loss of two of the team’s “brothers,” he also sees how Trocheck — who has 36 points in 55 games this season — can be a perfect fit for his system.
“Well, that’s why we gave up so much,” he said. “We essentially gave up four players for him, two prospects who we really think highly of too, in that deal. So we gave up a lot to get a player that we think fits … exactly what we’re all about, and it fills a need that we definitely had. That’s why, in these deals, they hurt, right?”
Alternate captain Jordan Martinook, who will center the fourth line in place of Wallmark, agreed that the trade deadline is hard on everyone.
“It’s definitely hard, definitely sad to see two friends go,” he said.
The Hurricanes also added Vatanen, a veteran right-handed defenseman who can hopefully fill part of the massive hole left by the injuries to both Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. But not immediately — Vatanen hasn’t played since Feb. 1 after suffering a lower-body injury blocking a shot for the Devils.
“We expect him back sometime in early March,” Waddell said.
To get the 28-year-old Vatanen, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, Carolina sent New Jersey forward prospect Janne Kuokkanen, journeyman defenseman Frederik Claesson and a conditional draft pick. The pick will be a fourth-rounder if Vatanen plays in five regular season games and could move to the third round if he plays 12 regular season games.
For the Hurricanes to make it all work under the salary cap, the Devils retained half of Vatanen’s $4.875 million cap hit. The team also moved Hamilton to long-term injured reserve. The move frees up Hamilton’s cap hit so Carolina could add its three new players, though Waddell said if he Hamilton was able to return during the regular season, the team would have enough available space for him to rejoin the roster.
Both Hamilton and Pesce could return for the postseason and play, since the salary cap is not in effect during the playoffs.