RALEIGH — In a normal year, the beginning of April would mean the final games of the NHL’s regular season were upon us and the start of the playoffs were on the horizon.
But it’s 2021, so nothing is normal and April is trade season.
Because of the late start to the 2020-21 season, the NHL’s trade deadline has been pushed back to April 12 at 3 p.m., and playoff hopefuls and Stanley Cup contenders will be looking to add pieces that will put them over the top.
That includes the Carolina Hurricanes, who entered Tuesday’s game home game against Florida three points behind the Panthers for the top spot in the NHL with two games in hand.
Historically, the Hurricanes haven’t been shy about making deadline moves.
GM Jim Rutherford added two key pieces — Doug Weight and Mark Recchi — during the 2005-06 season, moves that helped lead to the franchise’s lone Stanley Cup.
Last year, current GM Don Waddell added one rental — defenseman Sami Vatanen — and two long-term assets, acquiring both Vincent Trocheck and Brady Skjei on deadline day.
What will Waddell and the Hurricanes do this year? Here are the options.
Sell, sell, sell
Carolina has shown it has depth, overcoming an injury to No. 1 goalie Petr Mrazek and top-line winger Teuvo Teravainen to still be one of the league’s top teams. So with Mrazek back in the fold and Teravainen inching toward return, why not get assets for surplus players?
The Hurricanes have three forwards (Jordan Martinook, Brock McGinn, Cedric Paquette), defenseman Dougie Hamilton, and goalies Mrazek and James Reimer headed to unrestricted free agency this offseason, plus they need to consider what player they may lose in the expansion draft.
Hamilton would fetch a huge return, but trading him would also run the white flag halfway up the pole on a season in which Carolina hopes to contend for the Stanley Cup. The three forwards all have important character roles, and what would come back in return probably doesn’t justify moving them.
The trade that could make sense is dealing one of the team’s three goalies, with Reimer the most likely candidate. But the Hurricanes have learned this season how valuable goaltending depth is, and it would likely take a pretty significant return for Carolina to make a move.
The Hurricanes are always looking for ways to improve, and — as 2006 proved — you can never have too much talent.
Coming into the season, pundits thought Carolina’s one weakness was in goal. But considering the Hurricanes have been at or near the top of the league standings all season without their No. 1 goalie, it’s inconceivable to think they’d do something now that they have Mrazek back.
There are some good forwards on the market, including Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Mikael Granlund, but the cost to acquire them could be steep. The Hurricanes could potentially use an asset like Warren Foegele or Jake Bean — whose futures in Carolina are both up in the air due to their contract situation and the expansion draft, respectively — rather than a high draft pick to make an addition.
The most likely addition would be on defense. The third pairing of Bean and Haydn Fleury has been serviceable but not great, and the status of injured Jake Gardiner means Carolina could at least use some depth.
But again, the expansion draft looms. The Hurricanes already need to protect Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, and the third defenseman would right now either be Hamilton (if re-signed) or Bean. So adding a defenseman with term on a reasonable deal doesn’t fit unless Carolina is confident it can re-sign Hamilton and is OK losing Bean to Seattle or in a trade.
The Hurricanes also have a glut of left-handed defensemen, so a righty would be on the wish list. Jason Demers, David Savard and Erik Gudbranson could all bring a defense-first mindset to the third pairing, and Brandon Montour fits the mold of a Carolina D even if his stock has dropped in Buffalo. Vatanen is also a UFA again at season’s end, and Carolina would know what they were getting with the New Jersey blueliner.
The Hurricanes stuck with their two goalies when Mrazek went down. It worked out.
None of the options at forward are better than getting Teravainen back from injury. And once Teravainen is back in the lineup, the Hurricanes are loaded with top-nine wings: him, Andrei Svechnikov, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Necas, Foegele and Jesper Fast.
A third-pairing/depth defenseman is the biggest need, but Gardiner could fill that if he’s healthy — and are any of the available right-handed players any better than what Carolina already has?
Coach Rod Brind’Amour loves the attitude and effort he gets nightly from his group, and he seems ready to ride with the current roster.
“I would love to just keep it the way it is.”