In the NHL, when a lopsided trade gets made, everyone knows it’s bad right when it gets announced. In most cases, it’s painfully obvious which team won the trade and then the on-ice portion plays out as expected.
The Nino Niederreiter trade has followed suit.
January 17’s puzzling trade on behalf of the Minnesota Wild has played out the way almost everyone expected. Carolina’s newly added Swiss winger has fit in virtually seamlessly in his first month in Raleigh. Meanwhile, Victor Rask has already seen a number of changes to his role with the Wild in hopes of getting him going.
So far, it hasn’t happened. But that isn’t Carolina’s problem now.
Over his last ten games, Niederreiter has found the back of the net six times and has ten points while averaging 18:20 of ice time per game. He, like Teuvo Teravainen and Micheal Ferland before him, has found instant chemistry with Sebastian Aho, and he’s drawn high praise from fellow line mate Justin Williams.
“Nino was great,” Carolina’s captain said following the big winger’s debut with the Canes. “He was strong. He was talkative. He was patient with the puck. I though he was really good.”
Since then, he’s only gotten better, which creates a new wrinkle for the Hurricanes’ front office as the February 25 trade deadlines draws near.
Carolina’s long search for a top-six forward was expected to be at the expense of a top-four defenseman - Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce, or Dougie Hamilton. That’s not at all what happened, though. Niederreiter’s the exact player that this team has been clamoring for, and they acquired him for the low price of a player that was likely going to get bought out this summer and represented little or no value to the club moving forward.
Note: Carolina does still need to move a defenseman in preparation for the signing of Adam Fox.
That puts the Canes in an advantageous position. While they still have the ammunition to pull off another deal for a bonafide top-six forward, they’re no longer forced to do so before the deadline, thanks to their fleecing of Minnesota.
With the Hurricanes being the top-scoring team in all of hockey dating back to the New Year, adding a big name suddenly isn’t as pressing of an issue as it was earlier in the season. The Canes currently have enough firepower on the wings to be successful in guys like Niederreiter, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen, Justin Williams and Micheal Ferland filling up roles in the top-nine.
The focus should switch to the middle of the ice now. Sebastian Aho has established himself as one of the best centers in all of hockey this season, but beyond him, there’s not much to like with the team’s depth at that position.
Lucas Wallmark has been a fine player and is effective in a third or fourth-line role, but he’s been over-slotted at times in Jordan Staal’s lengthy absence. He would be better suited to be on the third line, which means the Canes are in serious need of an additional top-nine center.
Staal could be that guy, but if they want to make a real playoff push, it wouldn’t be a safe move to rely on that happening. The veteran pivot has maintained his gaudy defensive underlying numbers this season, but his already sporadic offense has taken a steep drop. In just 29 games this season, he is on an 82-game pace of 31 points, which would be his lowest total in eight years. Adding the lengthy battle he has had with concussion symptoms, it’s a tough situation that doesn’t necessarily inspire optimism. Though, maybe his numbers would improve upon being added back into a depth chart that abruptly went from unable to score to being a dynamo.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun noted this week that the Hurricanes are among the teams interested in Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov, which could be an interesting fit. Anisimov has two years left on his deal beyond the 2018-19 campaign at $4.55 million AAV. It’s a bit of an investment, but a deal that sees cap getting moved out could make it worth while. Justin Faulk is a player that was linked to Chicago on multiple occasions over the offseason.
The Hurricanes have a number of options to explore in the coming week and a half. Their back-to-back this weekend on home ice could propel them into a playoff spot, which would only further support the idea of this team being buyers.
They’re still in the thick of the hunt, and the Niederreiter trade has proven to be a huge win, both on the ice for the team and for the front office as they try to add the pieces needed to break Carolina’s nine-year playoff drought.