The Carolina Hurricanes are no strangers to pulling off smart moves during the offseason — in free agency, and at the NHL Draft. So, to an extent, maybe this is business as usual. Yet, when you consider how aggressively — and brilliantly — they addressed goal-scoring issues by trading for Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty, this is one of the Hurricanes’ most exciting offseasons.
From a big-picture perspective, though, those losses don’t necessarily change the team’s trajectory. While the Hurricanes take on certain risks with both Burns and Pacioretty, those trades could be breakthrough moments for a team constantly knocking on the door to contention.
[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]
After falling to the Rangers in a tight series, Rod Brind’Amour acknowledged the possibility that the Hurricanes needed that extra bit of finish.
“Do we have elite goal scorers? Maybe not,” Brind’Amour said, via the Associated Press. “But we have great players. We’re built a little differently than some other teams. That’s OK. You’ve got to play to your strength.”
For years, the Hurricanes have consistently scored less goals than expected. They’ve often been doomed by a double-whammy: bad shooting luck mixed with goalies who gave up more than they seemingly should have.
Like diligent craftsmen, the Hurricanes have added layers of polish and nuance each offseason. In some cases, that meant addressing glaring issues, such as goaltending. But it often still felt like a band getting heavier and louder, rather than exploring different sounds and genres.
In adding Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty, the Hurricanes could hit both notes: playing to their strengths to a better degree, but maybe adding a new wrinkle. Maybe it ends with a “Ballad of Stanley Cup?”
A team in love with point shots adds a point shot machine
If you follow the Hurricanes, you likely know that they play a very straight-line, sometimes “smash mouth” game. Where other contenders prize control — of the puck, and when they risk losing the puck to gain scoring chances — the Hurricanes overwhelm. Maybe they should be called the Blizzard, as they try to bury opponents under flurries of chances and pressure.
(They don’t give you delicious-if-strangely-salty ice cream, though.)
Hockey Viz’s heat map for the Hurricanes captures that attack in detail:
Normally, such an abundance of point shots would be a concern. Those shot attempts often qualify as hockey’s version of “empty calories.”
Yet, as you can see from all of that heat in front of the net, the Hurricanes still create a lot of “high-danger” chances. They just do so in their own, unusual way.
At various times, I’ve opined that the Sharks could’ve used Brent Burns’ dangerous shot to better success if he was shooting from more dangerous places. To an extent, I’d love to see the analytics-leaning Hurricanes also encourage him to occasionally wonder to Alex Ovechkin‘s “office.”
(Even if it’s just temp work, so to speak.)
But the delight with Brent Burns’ penchant for point shots is that it mixes so well with the Hurricanes’ style. Maybe his point shots could be the Reese’s peanut butter cups to that already-tasty blizzard?
Pacioretty may actually be the most enticing Hurricanes addition
Considering his array of exotic beasts and trophy case including a Norris, it’s not surprising that Brent Burns is the biggest name of the Hurricanes’ big additions.
Personally, though? Max Pacioretty actually seems like the most important addition.
Since joining the Golden Knights in 2018-19, Pacioretty averaged .87 points per game (194 in 224 games), tying him with Nicklas Backstrom and Ryan O'Reilly for 48th-best. Only Sebastian Aho (1.01) and Teuvo Teravainen (.88) averaged more during that span.
Of course, goals are what the Hurricanes sought most of all, and few score quite like “Patches.” During the past three seasons, Pacioretty ties Aho and others for 18th-place with 47 goals at 5-on-5.
Correct for time missed, and he’s even more impressive. Since 2019-20, Pacioretty averaged a 1.26 goals per 60 minutes, a top-10 rate. He’s not just a player who scores goals or does nothing else, either, as his underlying stats are promising.
Here are Pacioretty's microstats. Great chance creation both off the cycle/forecheck and the rush. Fun! pic.twitter.com/wVJ2fhX5OK
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 13, 2022
Honestly, I believe that Mark Stone‘s ascent to more mainstream recognition might have kept Pacioretty’s outstanding work in the shadows a bit. Maybe sprinkle in numbers that were diluted by injuries and COVID-shortened seasons, and you get to a fuller explanation.
In free agency, teams might find snipers. However, those players often skew toward the one-dimensional. You’re unlikely to find a truly elite option. By going the trade route, the Hurricanes landed a more likely upgrade — and potentially a big one.
Low-risk, potentially high rewards … but there are SOME risks
To an extent, these trades really feel like free agent moves because the Hurricanes gave up so little to land Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty. At least, in immediate terms. (Perhaps the Sharks will treasure the goalie prospect they received?)
Even the contracts aren’t as scary as you’d see in free agency.
- Work through the name recognition, and Brent Burns at $8M is a bit steep. Yet, with salary retention, his cap hit’s now a more digestible $5.28M per season through 2024-25 (the same year Jaccob Slavin needs a new contract).
- Pacioretty’s $7M cap hit only runs through the 2022-23 season.
On paper, you’re not going to make much better bets at about $12.3M in salary cap space. Particularly without massive term.
But there are risks here. As much as one praises Pacioretty for producing when healthy, he carries risks of additional injuries. You could argue he’s an “old 33” considering all he’s been through.
For those who don’t delve into Cap Friendly on the reg, it might be shocking to realize that Brent Burns is already 37.
Ideally, someone like Slavin can be the stay-at-home defenseman while Burns roves like one of his exotic beasts. But there’s the risk that Burns roams to such a degree that he gets lost — to the point that even Slavin could get compromised.
As time goes on, the risk:reward ratio with Burns’ game has become less of a net-positive. It doesn’t mean that Burns isn’t worth it — especially at a reduced price — but it’s something to watch. After all, the Hurricanes are hoping to contend, so high-profile mistakes could sour a situation.
Most of all, Burns is a big beast of a man, and he’s put a lot of miles on his body. Injuries and general decline both loom as credible threats.
Hit all the right buttons, and this could be the best Hurricanes team yet
So, yes, there’s some fine print here and there. But the larger point remains: the Hurricanes addressed some of their biggest (few remaining) concerns with trades for Burns and Pacioretty.
Really, even if this all translates to fairly similar results, this should be exciting to watch.
Other teams could learn from this mixture of patience (keeping some salary cap space available) and aggression (jumping on an opportunity when a team needs to shake a contract loose). For all we know, they may be taking notes trying to chase what the Hurricanes become in 2022-23.