The scene at the end of last Thursday’s game at PNC Arena was the last thing anyone wanted to see: Max Pacioretty, playing his fifth game of the season after recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, was pulled off the ice after what appeared to be a torn Achilles tendon saved the same injury in a non-contact game in Carolina’s 5-2 win over the Wild.
The Hurricanes announced on Friday that Pacioretty had in fact torn his Achilles tendon again, surely ending his season and also jeopardizing the 34-year-old’s career.
So what’s next for Carolina ahead of the March 3 trading deadline? It certainly seems worth a breakdown.
Space in abundance
One positive aspect of Pacioretty’s injury, if we can call it that, is that it creates a lot of cap space for the Hurricanes.
The team started the season with Jake Gardiner on long-term injured reserve, meaning the team can’t “accumulate” a cap spot this season – what they’ve got is what they’ve got. According to Cap Friendly, the Hurricanes currently have just over $3.1 million in available cap space with both Gardiner and more recently Ondrej Kase on LTIR.
If Pacioretty — previously placed on regular injured reserve, freeing up only one roster spot — were to move to LTIR, his $7 million cap hit would add, earning Carolina $10,106,667.
Before your eyes widen and you think of all the possibilities, let’s assume Kase gets back on the ice at some point (coach Rod Brind’Amour said Friday the team is “waiting for him” to say he’s ready to play). That would give the Hurricanes another weapon upfront, but also claim a $1.5 million cap.
That would leave Carolina with $8,606,667.
Who’s on the table?
OK, I see your eyes are still very excited about the possibilities.
And why not? There are only five teams in the NHL with more cap space than the Hurricanes would have in this scenario, and it’s not exactly a list of the world’s best: Buffalo, Arizona, Anaheim, Detroit, and Chicago.
A total of 17 teams are using LTIR, and even the Rangers, who have traditionally stayed below the cap all season, have only accumulated about $5.3 million in deadline cap space to this point.
Suddenly, Carolina can address each of her perceived problems without having to jump the cap through hoops. There are only 38 players in the NHL with an annual cap that costs more than the Hurricanes could accommodate at just over $8.6 million in space, and most of those players aren’t for sale no matter how often your Uncle tells you, “If Wayne Gretzky can be traded, anyone can be traded.”
Even if you take your uncle’s words to be true, all of these players are reachable by negotiating a paycheck, sending a contract the other way, or both.
The point of all this? Any and all are on the table.
Understand Carolina’s front office
Before we dig deep, we need to understand how the Hurricanes’ owners and front office think.
First some good news that might be underestimated these days: While Carolina still has Pacioretty’s $5.25 million salary on the bar, owner Tom Dundon doesn’t usually blink when it comes to spending money, to improve the team’s roster.
The Hurricanes will not trade and spend to trade and spend – as GM Don Waddell said The Athletics Pierre LeBrun – but if there’s a way to improve the squad, you can bet they will.
Now the flip side of that: The Hurricanes won’t be pawning their future out of desperation to improve this season. That means a lot.
For one, Carolina’s front office is reluctant to part with large assets for a loanee. Last season, the team inquired about Max Domi and found Columbus’ asking price far too high. That’s why the deal came about at the last minute — the Blue Jackets realizing the Hurricanes didn’t back down from the overpayment.
The final result? Carolina got Domi cheaply, and he scored twice in Game 7 of the Bruins series.
So, whenever a player is tied to the Hurricanes in trade rumours, the first thing to think about is, “Will that player cost key assets and then disappear after the season, win or lose?”
“But,” you say, “the Hurricanes have the ability to re-sign any leases they may acquire.”
Yes, they do – which brings us to point #2: The Hurricanes don’t place long-term bets on players in their late 20s.
Take your pick: Micheal Ferland, Dougie Hamilton, Vincent Trocheck — the Hurricanes traded for all of these players and tried to keep them. But they were only willing to do it on their terms. Carolina made short and long-term offers to all three, but the dollar amount had to make sense for the team.
So once you’ve considered what assets it takes to land a star player by deadline — and you can bet teams will be asking for players like Martin Necas, Seth Jarvis, Pyotr Kochetkov, Scott Morrow and Alexander Nikushin, along with Carolinas first – round pick, in turn – you then have to weigh whether the Hurricanes would commit to that player long-term.
The rental market
Which leads us to rent. While Pacioretty is a left winger, Carolina is quite stacked on the flanks – Teuvo Teravainen was on the fourth row after Pacioretty got back into the lineup and he’s looking good since he’s reunited with Sebastian Aho.
So the wing might not be the target here, although St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko could certainly aid the team’s uninspired power play and likely won’t cost as much as some of the other players I’ll mention in a moment.
The first name that comes to mind is downtown Vancouver, Bo Horvat. He has already scored 30 goals this season and would be an instant upgrade behind Aho as the second-line center.
Carolina and Vancouver have already made trades this year, with defenseman Ethan Bear joining the Canucks, and Vancouver team president Jim Rutherford still has many contacts in the Hurricanes organization, although things have changed quite a bit under Dundon.
The asking price is high as Vancouver is looking for a young centre-back and a young right-handed defender. No team would be likely to part with those two assets unless they were allowed to negotiate an extension with Horvat, and the Canucks have been reluctant to let other teams do so.
Rutherford would certainly ask for Necas – I would assume Carolina would decline – and then for Jarvis. The Hurricanes would likely be OK with making Jesperi Kotkaniemi the centerpiece of a deal, but it’s doubtful he’s the kind of player Vancouver would consider a first-class return.
Then there’s Morrow, who’s still in college but maybe just a year or so away from becoming an NHLer if things go well. He’s not on par with Necas or Jarvis, so the Canucks would probably want something like Carolina’s first-round pick too, if not more.
Let’s say the Hurricanes found a deal that makes sense to them. Would you want to re-sign Horvat? Based on history and the fact that Horvat is set to be one of the hottest commodities on the open market, Carolina probably isn’t ready to take on the kind of contract that a soon-to-be 28-year-old would get to stay.
None of this seems to fit with the Hurricanes’ previous dealings. The conclusions would be similar for players like Jonathan Toews, Ryan O’Reilly and all the other 30-year-olds who will be costly acquisitions.
A player like Tarasenko could earn more because he isn’t setting the world on fire this year and wouldn’t be that expensive to reach, plus he’ll face a pay cut after this season if the Hurricanes have tried to keep him.
Still, none of these jobs really fit Carolina’s DNA as an organization. This infuriates fans and pundits who want to see a Stanley Cup contenders go all-in. But for every team like the 2006 Hurricanes, who traded for Doug Weight and Mark Recchi and thrived, there are a dozen that didn’t or, worse, cripple their franchise.
Look no further than Florida. The Panthers gave up a top prospect and two first-round picks for Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot and were eliminated in the second round. Florida has only four of its nine picks in the first three rounds of the next three drafts, including zero first-rounders. Also, they are currently outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
If you want a glimpse of how Carolina’s front office works, look no further than the 2020 trade deadline, when the Hurricanes acquired Trocheck from the Panthers and defenseman Brady Skjei from the Rangers.
Trocheck had more than two seasons left on his contract while Skjei had the remainder of that season plus four more years on his contract.
These are the types of trades Carolina prefers.
If the Hurricanes want to go the veteran route, they could target a player like Anaheim’s Adam Henrique, a longtime Carolina hitman who has another season on his contract for $5.825 million. Or how about a reunion with Elias Lindholm, who has one season left of his $4.85 million deal with the Flames and could be worth considering if Calgary stumbles?
How about attacking another Canucks asset, right wing Brock Boeser and the $6.65 million he has left on his deal through 2024-25? Vancouver may even have to withhold part of the salary to make a trade possible.
Another young player serving tenure is Flyers winger Travis Konecny. The price would be steep to acquire him, but he still has two years left on his $5.5 million contract before unrestricted free agency – well before Philadelphia is considered competitive.
Florida’s Sam Bennett, Arizona’s Nick Schmaltz, Nashville’s Mikael Granlund and St. Louis’ Brandon Saad all have at least something Carolina could use in their top 9.
Pending RFAs like San Jose’s Timo Meier and Ottawa’s Alex DeBrincat would be expensive to acquire and just as expensive to sign, but they at least have age somewhat on their side. Edmonton’s Jesse Puljujarvi is Aho’s former junior linemate and is looking for a fresh start, though he was hardly a breakthrough talent during his career.
The possibilities seem pretty much endless. But considering Carolina’s unique approach to rostering, one can’t help but close some of the available doors. Last but not least, preparing for the March 3 close should be an interesting time in Raleigh.
(Top Photo by Max Pacioretty and Brent Burns: James Guillory/USA Today)