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Assessing the Hurricanes’ trade deadline tightrope

Did the Hurricanes blow an opportunity, or are they patiently biding their time? Or...why not both?

Carolina Hurricanes v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Zac BonDurant/Getty Images

The Canes Country staff Slack is always an eccentric repository of commentary, “Lumbus” jokes, interesting articles that may find their way into a Storm Advisory, and plenty of general nonsense.

Rarely, however, does it delve into two starkly drawn battle lines the way it did at about 3:15 Friday afternoon, after the Carolina Hurricanes made clear that their deadline shopping was complete and the additions of Shayne Gostisbehere and Jesse Puljujarvi would be the sum total of Tom Dundon’s self-professed “aggressive” approach to the 2023 NHL trade deadline.

In one corner: a group that says the Hurricanes blew an opportunity, that these draft picks burning a hole in their pocket aren’t going to help win a Stanley Cup anytime soon, and oh by the way, did you notice that half the roster is due for a new contract after next season? That clock is ticking, and it isn’t getting any quieter.

In the other corner: a group that looks at what other Eastern Conference contenders did, how they in many cases mortgaged the future to go all-in this year, and then looks at the Canes’ ten draft picks in the first three rounds over the next three seasons and says “you know, I get the long term plan, even if it’s somewhat disappointing in the immediate present.” After all, there’s only one team this season that’s threatening the all-time NHL record for points in a season, and it isn’t Carolina.

So, I’ve come here today to say that when asking which is right, I will turn into the staff version of Switzerland and say they both are. I may fall a little bit more into the first group than the second (think 55-45 rather than 95-5), but each side has eminently reasonable arguments, and it’s no surprise — and, given the atmosphere around the league, admirable in its own way — that the Hurricanes’ braintrust resisted serious temptation and swung hard to group two.

Ever since Sebastian Aho’s offer sheet was matched by the Hurricanes in the summer of 2019, it has been obvious that the Hurricanes see the 2024 offseason as a turning point in the team’s evolution. With no fewer than six franchise linchpins coming up for contracts that summer, four of them seeing the lure of unrestricted free agency for the first time, there is a very obvious window that may or may not be closing at the end of next season.

It felt like a long way away when Aho came back into the fold. It isn’t anymore. It’s sixteen months from right now.

With that in mind, why wouldn’t the Hurricanes have done something to maximize that window? Otherwise, you can easily see where they end up as the current generation’s version of the San Jose Sharks, a club that may have had even more star power than these Hurricanes (at least two, and maybe as many as four, players from that early-mid 2010s Sharks squad will be in the Hall of Fame) and are yet best remembered as the team that could never get over the hump. The NHL’s version of the 90’s Buffalo Bills, if you will.

But look at where the Sharks are now. They were good to very good for more than a decade, but now they’re going on four seasons where they’ve been nowhere near the playoffs, and it’s hard to see that changing in the next few years. That’s exactly the fate the Hurricanes are trying to avoid. After all, we know what it’s like to have a seemingly endless run of mediocrity or worse.

Only one team can win the Stanley Cup each year, and this year there is a runaway leader in the odds to do so. During TSN’s trade deadline special, the question was asked “if you placed a bet right now, would you take the Boston Bruins or the field?” Most of the time the question would be so ridiculous it wouldn’t even be asked, similar to those “Tiger or the field” questions about golf tournaments 15 years ago.

But this year, you at least have to consider your response, right? Are the Hurricanes — or anyone else — going to be able to topple the strongest championship favorite the NHL has seen in at least two decades?

I mean, this was a team that was on track to reach the heights of the greatest teams in league history even before they added still more reinforcements at the deadline. However, those reinforcements, and the ones that other teams added in response, come at a cost. And here it is:

  • The Bruins have one first rounder (in 2025), no seconds and two thirds in the next three drafts.
  • The Lightning have no firsts, one second and two thirds.
  • The Maple Leafs have two firsts, no seconds and two thirds (not to mention their own contract Armageddon starting after next season).
  • The Rangers have three firsts, one second and two thirds.
  • The Devils have two in each round, possibly dropping to one first-rounder depending on the conditions of the Timo Meier trade.

Those ten picks the Hurricanes still have look pretty good next to that list. It’s not just about who you draft with them, it’s about who you use them to acquire. Would you rather use them to pick someone up this year, or hold onto them and strike when you predict some of those other teams might be on a downward trend? After all, the team they have right now is still sitting in second place in the entire league. Did they need reinforcements? Yeah, they did. At what cost, though?

It’s absolutely fair to wonder if the Hurricanes could have done more at the deadline, or more specifically, could have been more active earlier. No one’s going to fault them for not spending a first or second rounder on, say, James van Riemsdyk or Jakub Vrana, simply because those were two names available at the deadline.

So, yeah, be disappointed. The Hurricanes swung and missed on trying to get a true difference maker. But the end result of this year’s trade deadline is that they’re still among the NHL’s elite, they didn’t mortgage the future to stay there, and it’s obvious that they’re doing everything they can to remain relevant not just next year, but after the 2024 offseason and even beyond. That’s worth recognizing, even if it comes with a somewhat bitter taste.