RALEIGH — The Hurricanes got their most pressing offseason roster business done on the first day of free agency — and they barely dipped their toes into the open market to fill their needs.
Carolina’s biggest holes were finding a right-shot defender and adding more scoring punch to the forward lines, and both were plugged via trade. The Hurricanes acquired defenseman Brent Burns and left wing Max Pacioretty from San Jose and Vegas, respectively, and Carolina also signed winger Ondrej Kase to add even more forward depth.
So where do the Hurricanes stand as the dust clears and the lineup comes into focus? Let’s have a look.
The addition of Pacioretty gives the Hurricanes instant offense. He’s averaged 0.38 goals per game in his career (31 goals in an 82-game season) and has actually been more effective in recent seasons (nearly half a goal per game the last two years), though he was slowed by injuries last year.
“My job is to put the puck in the net,” Pacioretty said during a Zoom call with the media following his trade to Carolina. “I’ve done a really good job of that over my career.”
Now the team needs to decide where he fits in the lineup. He essentially replaces the spot vacated by Nino Niederreiter after he tested free agency, and Pacioretty has shown an ability to create offense on his own — so would he be a fit opposite Jesper Fast on the line centered by Jordan Staal?
There’s also Niederreiter to consider. The 29-year-old probably expected a deal similar to the six-year, $30 million extension signed by Rickard Rakell with the Penguins. But the market quickly dried up and Niederreiter remains unsigned.
Carolina is trying to find a way to fit the winger back into its plans, albeit at a much lower rate than what he expected to get on the market. If he does return, Niederreiter could slide back into his spot alongside Staal, and Pacioretty would occupy a left wing spot in the top six, with Andrei Svechnikov taking the other spot on the top two lines.
Sebastian Aho and Jesperi Kotkaniemi should be the top two centers, while Seth Jarvis and Teuvo Teravainen are also deserving of top-six roles. That could leave a fourth line of Kase, rookie Jack Drury and Martin Necas (once signed), with Jordan Martinook as the 13th forward. The return of Niederreiter would require some cap maneuvering.
The addition of Burns solidifies the top four, and you can expect the 37-year-old to get the first crack at being Jaccob Slavin’s partner.
“Obviously that’s, I’m sure, where we’ll start it and see where it goes,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Burns playing on the top pairing. “But I like the options we have and, obviously, four pretty good D right there.”
The other two defensemen are, of course, Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei, who formed the team’s shutdown pairing last season.
The third pairing is a bit more up in the air. The team must re-sign restricted free agent Ethan Bear, who was unhappy after being scratched the entire playoffs this spring. He joins Jalen Chatfield and Dylan Coghlan (also acquired from Vegas in the Pacioretty trade) as right-handed options.
On the left side, Jake Gardiner has been cleared to play after missing last season following hip and back surgeries. Carolina could look to clear out his cap hit (one year at $4.05 million) if Gardiner is indeed able to play and cannot be stashed on LTIR, though it would cost them an asset. A buyout is also a possibility — Gardiner would cost just over $1.08 million against the cap this coming season and $1.48 million in 2023-24 if he was bought out.
Gardiner could also play, but he would be a tight cap fit at his full amount. The other option on the left side is Max Lajoie, who played five games with the Hurricanes last season and played a big role with the Calder Cup-winning Chicago Wolves.
The goalies are set with Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta both entering the second year of the two-year deals they signed last offseason. For those hoping top goalie prospect Pyotr Kochetkov would force his way into the Raleigh rotation this season, the team seems content getting the 23-year-old Russian lots of action in the AHL with Chicago.
“We just want to get him more games, more games,” Hurricanes goaltender development coach Jason Muzzatti said last Thursday at the team’s prospect development camp. “Obviously, he made a great showing and did a great job (in his NHL appearances). … We’re pleased with him, but we just want him to keep building his resume of games.”
Carolina signed Zach Sawchenko to join Kochetkov with the Wolves. Sawchenko played seven games with the Sharks last season and another 14 with their AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracudas.