Hurricanes swap for sandpaper on defense

Carolina traded former first-rounder Haydn Fleury to Anaheim for gritty defender Jani Hakanpaa and a sixth-round pick

The Hurricanes traded for rugged defenseman Jani Hakanpaa ahead of Monday's NHL trade deadline, acquiring him and a sixth-round draft pick in 2022 in exchange for defenseman Haydn Fleury. (Jae C. Hong / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — Nineteen months ago, Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray ripped into Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon when word of a potential trade between the teams involving Ondrej Kase leaked to the media.

“When things are out there and haven’t happened and some owner decides he’s going to garner some friendship with the media, and he’s going to get close to the media, and he puts things out there, some of these people, I wish they were players at some point in their lives,” Murray said. “Obviously, they weren’t.”

So when Murray and Don Waddell agreed to a deal just before the NHL’s trade deadline Monday, the Carolina general manager was sure to keep things quiet until the deal was done.

“I told our people make sure everybody keeps very quiet until this deal comes down because you don’t want ever want to get any kind of situation where somebody is afraid to do a deal with you,” Waddell said.

Calls to the involved players were made and the deal was consummated: the Hurricanes acquired rugged defenseman Jani Hakanpaa and a sixth-round pick in 2022 from the Ducks in exchange for defenseman Haydn Fleury.

The trade filled the main need Carolina had targeted at the deadline, giving the Hurricanes a right-handed defenseman for the third pairing and allowing either Jake Gardiner or Jake Bean — both lefties — to remain on their natural side.

“We just feel that to complement what we have already, that a stay-at-home, big guy can play with one of our offensive guys made a lot of sense for us,” Waddell said.

And while Fleury is big (6-foot-3, 208 pounds), Hakanpaa, at 6-foot-5 and 218 pounds, is even bigger — and meaner.

One knock on Fleury throughout the former seventh overall pick’s time in Carolina was that his size was rarely a factor. That’s OK if you’re putting up points like Dougie Hamilton or you’re a shutdown defender like Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, but Fleury was neither. And while the 29-year-old Hakanpaa won’t be confused with Bobby Orr — he has one goal and one assist in 47 career NHL games after coming over from Finland last season — he definitely has a defining characteristic that Fleury lacked.

Hakanpaa has 168 hits in 42 games this season, ranking third in the league behind Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk (191) and Florida’s Radko Gudas (190) entering Monday’s games. Hakanpaa won’t get the 18:37 of ice time he was in Anaheim, but the added snarl will be a welcome addition to a Carolina blue line that has lacked it.

“Haydn’s been here a long time, but it’s something we needed,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “A little something we don’t have, obviously. That little more sandpaper to our game, especially on the back end. So I think it’s a good opportunity for Haydn out there, and I think we got a little better and on the backside.”

The move also saves the Hurricanes some money on the balance sheet, as Hakanpaa is earning $750,000 this season and will then be an unrestricted free agent, while Fleury’s cap hit is $1.3 million for this year and next.

The question, of course, is will the single move be enough to push Carolina over the top?

Central Division rivals Tampa Bay and Florida each made significant moves, with the Lightning adding defensive defenseman David Savard and the Panthers bringing in Sam Bennett. If the Hurricanes can get out of the Central and into the NHL’s final four, it won’t get any easier with Washington (traded for Anthony Mantha), Boston (Taylor Hall), Toronto (Nick Foligno) and the Islanders (Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac) all making high-priced additions. Vegas and Colorado, like Carolina, made minor tweaks with the hopes they can remain among the class of the league.

The Hurricanes’ biggest addition would be a healthy Teuvo Teravainen, who has played just once since Feb. 20 and is recovering from a concussion. Carolina’s second-leading scorer last season with 63 points in 68 games has been skating of late as he tries to return.

“The good thing is, every day he seems to be showing improvements, and hopefully we’ll get him back in the lineup soon,” Waddell said.

That’s a rosier assessment than Brind’Amour has been giving recently, and adding Teravainen — even if he’s rusty at first — would solidify Carolina’s forward ranks and further bolster the league’s top-ranked power play. He’s also the type of addition that — outside of the Lightning getting Nikita Kucherov back for the playoffs — other Cup contenders can’t match.

“We really like our hockey team,” Waddell said, “and that’s why we didn’t make a lot of changes.”