Another door closed on the Hurricanes’ offseason opportunities on Sunday, as former San Jose Shark Erik Karlsson was traded to Pittsburgh as part of a three-team deal.
Carolina had been the second team with serious ties to the reigning Norris Trophy winner, but with less than $1 million in cap space, at least one defenseman and another NHL-ready piece would have been headed out to the west coast.
Now that the biggest trade target in the NHL is off the market, the picture for Carolina gets a lot mirkier and their options a lot slimmer.
The glaring need for the Hurricanes is another goal-scoring forward and at this point in the offseason, they are virtually nonexistent in free agency.
Carolina netted 266 goals in the regular season, good for eighth in the Eastern Conference and 15th in the NHL. And with the uncertainty of Andrei Svechnikov heading into the 2023-2024 campaign, another goal scorer is even more important.
Adding former Maple Leaf Michael Bunting, who netted a career-high 23 goals this past season, is a step in the right direction, but it is not the final piece of the puzzle.
We recently discussed potential trade targets for the Hurricanes, albeit some unlikely, and that seems to be the only avenue in which they can add an impactful offensive player prior to the start of the season.
Not to mention their lack of cap space, which is just south of $1 million, leaves them with minimal options in free agency.
So, what is next for Carolina?
The reality is that answer may not come immediately, but there are a few questions the front office needs to answer.
First, Don Waddell and company are tasked with deciding if one, or both, in the duo of Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce are available on the trading block.
Skjei currently holds a $5.25 million cap hit, while Pesce has a more team-friendly deal at $4.025 million AAV.
With both defensemen entering the final year of their deal, it is evident that at least one of the blue liners will not be in Raleigh at this time next offseason.
If the Hurricanes are to make a deal, at least one of Skjei and Pesce will likely be included and if their future isn’t in Carolina, it makes sense to get something in return.
Next, of the forwards, who are you willing to part with?
Don Waddell has made it clear that they are exploring opportunities, both via free agency and on the trade market. Giving up one of Skjei and Pesce would likely be just the start of trade talks.
Jack Drury also reportedly requested a trade prior to last season and then proceeded to turn in a lackluster campaign between Chicago (AHL) and Carolina. He could be a potential piece and a big part of another team’s future, but he is not enough to move the needle for, say. a 20-goal scorer.
Erik Karlsson was by far the best potential addition for the Hurricanes, but Pittsburgh put together a stronger offer. This is not indicating that Carolina couldn’t beat that offer, it’s a mere observation that they chose not to up the ante.
Yes, the salary cap situation is not perfect, but even adding in Teuvo Teravainen would have sent another strong piece to San Jose and alleviated some of the difference.
In the end, they were not willing to take on as much of Karlsson’s salary as the Penguins were, but it still raises the question of ‘How big is the list of untouchable players?’
Finally, how much urgency does the front office have about bringing in another scoring piece?
There is no denying that they will do what they can to bolster their offense, but when?
Waiting until the trade deadline is a possibility, as a potential playoff picture will be clearer and there will likely be more concrete answers surrounding Andrei Svechnikov.
Or, could Don Waddell and the Carolina brass take a flyer on Patrick Kane? The 34-year old recently underwent hip surgery in June and tallied 57 points between Chicago and New York while playing through an injury.
It was previously reported that Kane is unlikely to sign prior to the start of the season and could decide his next destination between November and December when he is expected to return.
With the talent and expectations in Raleigh, it would be to no one’s surprise if the Hurricanes found themselves at, or near, the top of the Metropolitan Division when Kane makes a decision.
What’s next for Carolina is a bit uncertain, as their options have dwindled over the last 48 hours.
While I wish there was a crystal ball, it is at least understood that there are a handful of questions to be answered before they make their next roster-impacting move.