Armstrong: Hurricanes' crazy day of trades signal they're in it to win it

Mark Armstrong Image
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Canes make flurry of trades at deadline
Canes make flurry of trades at deadline

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- I remember the placid old days of Jim Rutherford or Ron Francis sitting quietly in front of us on deadline day and explaining why they only made one minor league move or no moves at all. It was a quaint time. It was also impossibly dull. Nothing like the chainsaw juggling act that Don Waddell unfurled Monday.

While the fanbase was still buzzing from a weekend that saw the Hurricanes become the biggest sports story in North America thanks to emergency goalie David Ayres and 29 minutes of lockdown defense, General Manager Don Waddell had to deal with the realities of that night.

Ayres was a wonderful story, but losing both goalies to get to him surely wasn't. Add to that a shoulder injury for ace defenseman Brett Pesce and alarm bells were sounding for a team clinging to the final playoff spot in the East.

Waddell got to work early, swinging a major deal for Florida center Vincent Trocheck. Just 26, Trocheck should slide right in between wingers Martin Necas and Nino Niederreiter on the Canes second forward line.

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He's only two years removed from a 75-point season in Florida and is signed at a reasonable rate for two more seasons beyond this one. After playing all seven seasons of his career in Florida, he could probably use the energy of a new team.

Waddell gave up a bunch to land Trocheck, dealing away forwards Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark and two prospects from Charlotte. Trocheck's the best player in the deal, so I'm good with the haul headed back to Florida.

The Canes next looked to bandage up their banged-up defensive corps, getting 25-year-old big man Brady Sjkei from the Rangers in return for one of the Hurricanes two first-round picks in this summer's NHL draft.

Any time a first-round pick is involved, that's a large price to pay, but Carolina is banking on Sjkei's youth and upside. He scored against them last Friday, so that was a good audition.

Sjkei had a dynamic rookie season before regressing a bit the last two years, but his numbers have improved again this season. If you're wondering, it's pronounced "Shay." Don't sweat the consonants.

By the way, Brady also played a key role in one of Saturday Night Live's best sports skits of recent years (fast forward to the 2:20 mark): Let's Do That Hockey.

The final move - another defenseman from the greater NYC metroplex. With his contract up at the end of the season, it's highly likely that New Jersey's Sami Vatanen is just a "rental" player for the Canes as it were. He's actually injured currently, but if we're to believe the Devils, it's just a bruise he picked up while blocking a shot, nothing long term.

Two more Charlotte prospects were shipped out to New Jersey along with a conditional fourth-round pick. Vatanen's no bruiser, but he's a steady vet with some skills when the puck's on his stick.

What the Canes signaled with the moves was their belief that they are contenders this year and determined not to slip to the wrong side of the playoff cutline.

These were moves born of necessity, but I'd stop short of desperation. The franchise has spent years building up a loaded farm system. It was time, given the current circumstance, to turn those future prospects into players for the now.

All that leaves are question marks about the goalie situation. Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg have been splitting duties in Charlotte. Both have had a taste of NHL action, but neither has proven himself ready for the big leagues at this point.

The Canes obviously believed the team's best option right now was to give them a shot rather than overpay for a stopper before the deadline. We'll see if that pans out.