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The Hurricanes’ Run-Up to the Trade Deadline Just Got A Lot More Complicated

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By 3:00 tomorrow we’ll know how the Canes will approach the rest of their season, but until then there are way more questions than answers.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

And now for the hangover.

The Cinderella story authored by emergency backup goalie David Ayres in last night’s Carolina Hurricanes win over the Toronto Maple Leafs wallpapered over the sobering reality that the Canes went down three regulars in the span of one game, including one who could change the deadline-day calculus for general manager Don Waddell prior to 3:00 Monday. With one day to go before the trade deadline, suddenly everything is turned upside down and the Hurricanes find themselves in a position they never expected, all while trying to navigate an airtight playoff race.

So, where do the Hurricanes go from here? Let’s explore.

The Goalies

David Ayres played himself into Hurricanes lore last night, helping the team earn two critical points when pretty much everyone could be forgiven for writing them off. But now the Canes face a situation where they have to try to navigate the last month of the season with new (-ish) goalies, at least in the short term.

Rod Brind’Amour’s comments after the game indicated that Petr Mrazek’s injury might be shorter-term than James Reimer’s, but given that Mrazek took a Kyle Clifford forearm to the head, we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. If Mrazek did suffer a brain injury last night, those symptoms could be delayed in appearing (just ask Jordan Staal). It’s very much wait and see with Mrazek, whereas Reimer will probably be out for a while but with a more defined timeframe for a potential return.

The Hurricanes have been poking around acquiring Robin Lehner from the Blackhawks for a while now, and sources told Sara Civian and Mark Lazerus of The Athletic last night that the two teams were indeed talking. However - and you’ll see this more than once - the worst time to make a trade is when everyone knows you need to make one. Aside from that, the next best thing, especially if Mrazek is a short-term injury, is probably to not sacrifice much of value to acquire a goaltender.

Anton Forsberg was arguably the second-best goalie in training camp, and while that was admittedly a long time ago, the Hurricanes would be comfortable calling him up. Alex Nedeljkovic is probably also ready for prime time, so while it might not be the most comfortable solution, it seems likely that for now the Hurricanes will run with their AHL goalies, while seeing if the price comes down on someone like Lehner or maybe Alexandar Georgiev prior to 3:00 Monday. (That’s exactly what happened late Sunday, when the Hurricanes called both up. The release is below.)

The Defensemen

It’s kind of ironic, looking at the hoopla surrounding a team losing both goalies in the same game (and/or the “Leafs lost to a Zamboni driver” takes) that the most costly injury is one that almost no one paid attention to.

Already without Dougie Hamilton, now the Canes face a future without Brett Pesce as well. The Hurricanes have been blessed with injury luck this season, for the most part, but now they join the long list of Metro clubs to deal with multiple significant injuries. And unlike the goalies, the defenseman trade market has shrunk considerably over the past week.

The Hurricanes have been mentioned as being in the market for the Wild’s Matt Dumba, and if I were Waddell I’d be calling Bill Guerin and not hanging up until they agree to a deal. If that can’t happen for some reason, maybe the Wild would listen on Jonas Brodin or I think Tom Dundon might have to swallow his aversion to rental deals and pick up someone like Tyson Barrie or Sami Vatanen, a reliable bottom-four minutes muncher who could help shelter the likes of Jake Bean or Chase Priskie in the event of a callup.

The Hurricanes have been linked to Zach Bogosian, but at this point he’d be nothing more than a warm body on the bench. If he signs for the minimum, then fine, but if the Canes would count on him being any more than the seventh defenseman it probably isn’t worth the effort. The same goes for other potential rentals like Ron Hainsey, Ben Hutton or Erik Gustafsson.

I do expect a defenseman, probably Bean, to be called up. But it’s not real practical to expect an AHL defenseman to jump right into a top-four role in the thick of a playoff race. I’d be surprised if the Hurricanes don’t pick someone up in a trade, and it might cost them an NHL contributor to get the guy they want. (Erik Haula, maybe?) That said, if making the playoffs is the priority, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be even after last night, the Hurricanes can’t afford to place their hopes in the basket of a rookie.

One thing’s for sure: the next 24 hours just got a whole lot more interesting. Buckle up.


CANES RECALL FORSBERG AND NEDELJKOVIC FROM CHARLOTTE
Goaltenders have combined for a 30-19-4 AHL record this season

Don Waddell, President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that the team has recalled goaltenders Anton Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League (AHL).

Forsberg, 27, has posted a 15-9-2 record, 2.95 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in 27 appearances with the Checkers this season. He has posted an 11-24-4 record with a 3.21 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 45 career NHL games with Chicago and Columbus. The 6’3”, 192-pound goaltender has earned a 103-59-14 record in 185 career AHL games with Charlotte, Rockford, Cleveland, Lake Erie and Springfield. Forsberg was selected by Columbus in the seventh round, 188th overall, in the 2011 NHL Draft. The Harnosand, Sweden, native was acquired by the Hurricanes along with defenseman Gustav Forsling in exchange for defenseman Calvin de Haan and forward Aleksi Saarela on June 24, 2019.

Nedeljkovic, 24, has registered a 15-10-2 record, 2.51 goals-against average, .905 save percentage and four shutouts in 28 appearances with Charlotte this season. He was named to the 2020 AHL All-Star Challenge, making 20 saves for the Atlantic Division. Nedeljkovic won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s most outstanding goaltender during the 2018-19 season after posting a 34-9-5 record with four shutouts, a 2.26 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. During the 2019 AHL Playoffs, Nedeljkovic registered a 10-4 record, earning the win in all four series-clinching victories as the Checkers captured their first Calder Cup in franchise history. The 6’0”, 201-pound netminder made his first NHL start on Jan. 23, 2019 at Vancouver, recording 24 saves and becoming the fifth goaltender in franchise history to earn a win in his first career NHL start. Nedeljkovic has registered an 88-45-11 record, 2.57 goals-against average, .904 save percentage and 14 shutouts in 153 career AHL games with Charlotte. The Parma, Ohio, native was drafted by the Hurricanes in the second round, 37th overall, of the 2014 NHL Draft.