Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell was able to shine some light on his team’s strategy approaching the trade deadline when he spoke with NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti this week. The most intriguing information to come out of the interview was Waddell’s optimism that standout defenseman Dougie Hamilton may not be done for the season and could be in line to return before the end of the regular season. That prognosis is far more optimistic than the recent one from head coach Rod Brind’Amour a couple of weeks ago when he said that the team was expecting that Hamilton would be done for the year.
Hamilton, one of the mid-season contenders for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best all-around defenseman, has been sidelined since the middle of January after breaking his fibula.
Waddell’s hope that Hamilton could return has made him reluctant to put the defenseman on the long-term injured list, which could create some additional salary cap space to work with at the trade deadline.
“The only thing that I’m cautious about is with Dougie they say 8-12 weeks,” Waddell said Friday. “If he’s 10 weeks, that’s the last week of March. If he was ready to go that last week of the season, the last week of the season, starting on March 28, we have five games. Those might be the most important five games of the year. So if he was ready to come back, you’d want to try to keep space to bring him back.”
Waddell also said the Hurricanes can currently add a contract of more than $5 million before the deadline without having to go into LTIR.
At this point the Hurricanes have played just three games without Hamilton (going 2-0-1, earning five of a possible six points) but they still have a lot of work ahead of them without his services. The Hurricanes are clinging to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as of Friday and now have to start a significant stretch of the season without one of their best, most impactful players in Hamilton.
Waddell told NHL.com that he was already in the market for a defenseman prior to Hamilton’s injury, but that the Hamilton’s absence has probably changed the type of player they are looking for. Instead of looking for a more defensive-minded player, Waddell said they are more open-minded on that.
Hamilton is a massive part of the Hurricanes’ defense, and while the unit is still strong overall even without him, there isn’t another player on the blue line that can provide the offensive impact that he does. Jaccob Slavin is the only other defenseman on the roster that currently has more than 16 points this season (he has 23) and no one has his ability with the puck.
There’s also limited options on the trade market that could be available to replace even a fraction of that.
New Jersey’s Sami Vatanen could be intriguing as a rental.
He is not Hamilton, but he might be the most productive blue line rental on the market.
The forward situation
While Waddell tries to figure out how to navigate the blue line situation, the Hurricanes look to be pretty set at forward where they have already made their big in-season addition — the return of veteran forward Justin Williams.
Getting Williams back is a huge bonus for the stretch run because it basically sees them add a top-six forward — one that can still produce offensively while also play a great two-way game — without having to give up anything off of their roster.
The Hurricanes’ forward situation is interesting because that unit of the team doesn’t get a ton of attention for how good it is.
For years the focus from outside has been on the overall strength of their defense (it is a young, talented group with great depth) or the constant question marks that have followed them around in net.
But the trio of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen has become an outstanding foundation to build on long-term, while rookie Martin Necas looks to be on the verge of joining them as an impact core player.
The addition of Ryan Dzingel and return of Williams only strengthens that group.
Something that else that could strengthen them: A second-half bounce-back from Nino Niederreiter.
He was their big in-season addition before the trade deadline a year ago and was outstanding during the stretch run. But he has struggled through a brutal first half this season with only six goals in his first 50 games. He is looking like he could be a healthy scratch for Friday’s game against Vegas.
If he can return to the form he has shown throughout his career — and especially his post-trade performance from a year ago — that might be more important than any outside addition they could possibly make.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.