Guentzel, Kuznetsov additions have Hurricanes ‘super excited’

Guentzel will meet the team in New Jersey, while Kuznetsov will play Saturday against the Devils

The Hurricanes acquired both Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov, right, and Penguins winger Jake Guentzel, left, before Friday's trade deadline. (Nick Wass / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — You could argue that Jake Guentzel and Evgeny Kuznetsov should both have a Conn Smythe in their trophy case.

Guentzel led the Penguins in playoff goals as a rookie in 2016 when they won their last Stanley Cup and ran shotgun to Sidney Crosby for the last eight seasons. He built a career as one of hockey’s best goal scorers, piling up 219 goals in 503 games in Pittsburgh.

Kuznetsov also played in the shadow of a legend, residing near the bright spotlight on Alexander Ovechkin in Washington. That didn’t stop the Capitals center from doing some shining on his own, especially in the 2018 playoffs when he led Washington in assists and points en route to the Stanley Cup.

Now the former arch-rivals will join forces on another Metropolitan Division team that is also pursuing its second Stanley Cup after the Hurricanes acquired both in trades ahead of Friday’s NHL trade deadline.

It was a shocking 18 hours for a franchise that has thrived on patience and meme-worthy “we like our group” messaging around recent deadlines.

“I’ll start off by saying I really like our group, but I like it even better today,” Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said with a smirk at a Friday press conference.

For Guetzel (and defenseman Ty Smith), Carolina gave up Michael Bunting and three prospects — Ville Koivunen, Vasily Ponomarev and Cruz Lucius — and two conditional draft picks. The 2024 second-round pick (Philadelphia’s from the Tony DeAngelo trade two summers ago) would become the Hurricanes’ first this year should Carolina reach the Stanley Cup final. The fifth-round pick is only sent to Pittsburgh should the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup.

Guentzel’s $6 million cap hit was offset by the Penguins retaining 25% of his salary, making the swap of him and Bunting — who costs $4.5 million against the cap for this season and two more — a wash.

“We knew we needed goal scoring,” Waddell said at a press conference after the 3 p.m. trade deadline passed. “Guentzel was obviously the premier goal scorer on the market, in our opinion, and the price was right.”

Guentzel has 22 goals and 30 assists in 50 games this season but hasn’t played since Valentine’s Day with what Waddell said was an oblique injury. The left-handed 29-year-old, who talked to reporters on Zoom and will meet the team in New Jersey for Saturday’s game against the Devils, said he is “trending in the right direction” with his injury and hopes to play soon.

Kuznetsov was acquired for a 2025 third-round pick, with Washington retaining $3.9 million of the 31-year-old center’s $7.8 million salary for the rest of this season and next. He will look to reestablish himself as an impact center after being placed on waivers by the Capitals last week and assigned to the AHL.

“This is my last opportunity. This is my last chance,” said Kuznetsov, who happened to be in Charlotte with the Hersey Bears when the trade happened and arrived mid-practice in Morrisville via owner Tom Dundon’s private jet. “And everything is in my power right now. There is nothing outside coming, and I’m pretty sure the guys are going to be supportive and help early and all that stuff. But I need to perform on the ice.”

Kuznetsov has six goals and 17 points in 43 games this season and last played on Jan. 27.  Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said the 31-year-old center will play Saturday against the Devils.

The acquisition of Guentzel is out of character for the Hurricanes, who have generally avoided rentals — Guentzel will be a free agent after the season and the two sides have not discussed a contract extension.

Kuznetsov, however, fits Carolina’s profile — a depreciated asset who offers a low-risk, high-reward opportunity.

“We know the talent, it’s there, and now a motivated player,” Brind’Amour said of Kuznetsov. “Sometimes that’s what you need. Obviously that’s what we’re banking on, that he comes with that kind of attitude and he’s willing to do what we ask of him. And I think that’s where the fit comes. We’ve got to figure it out.”

The moves also provided a boost to the locker room full of players who now see their team as all-in on winning.

“It means they have a lot of belief in us, belief in the team,” Hurricanes winger Stefan Noesen said.

Andrei Svechnikov, who seemed a little in awe of sitting just a handful of stalls away from Kuznetsov, was brimming with enthusiasm after practice.

“I actually got this morning to the locker room, I was like super excited,” he said. “I can’t wait to see the new guys and spend time with them. … Hopefully, the new guys are gonna get used as soon as possible to the system, and it’s going to (make everything) easy and, hopefully, we can do this.”

Now it will be Brind’Amour’s job to bring his two new players into the fold and maximize a roster that looks more like a Stanley Cup contender than perhaps any team in franchise history — including the 2006 championship team.

“Everyone’s all Kumbaya now, right?” Brind’Amour said. “And then we gotta go to get to work. And there’s gonna be guys having to move around a little and figure out how it all fits to do the ultimate thing, which is to be the best team. I mean, that’s what we’re trying to do. So it’s a positive day because I think it we got better, and that’s what you want.”