Carolina Hurricanes must trade for a superstar – no matter the cost

      For a fifth straight postseason, the Canes lost to an opponent that had more star power. Their 'play as a team' identity has to change.

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      Who beat the Carolina Hurricanes?

      The Florida Panthers did as a team, yes. Their feisty physicality proved too much for the Canes to handle in the Eastern Conference Final. Sam Bennett blasted Jaccob Slavin out of the series with a devastating hit in Game 4. Aleksander Barkov came up big with goals in Games 2 and 3. Sam Reinhart’s power-play tally was the only goal of Game 3.

      But, really, we know it was two players who almost singlehandedly did the work. Matthew Tkachuk scored the overtime winner in Game 1, the overtime winner in Game 2 and his goal with four seconds remaining in Game 4 was essentially an overtime winner. Meanwhile, Sergei Bobrovsky posted a .971 save percentage across four games in one of the best Conference Final performances of all-time. If the duo keeps up their co-Herculean efforts through the Stanley Cup Final, Gary Bettman will have to consider cutting the Conn Smythe Trophy into two pieces.

      The Eastern Conference Final was, statistically, as close as a sweep could possibly get: two overtime games and two other one-goal games. The margin was so thin that Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour refused to acknowledge his team’s defeat as a sweep on Wednesday night.

      But four losses are four losses and, in all four, the Carolina Hurricanes were done in because the other team had a star take over the game in its most important moment.

      This trend isn’t new during the highly successful era that began when Brind’Amour took over as head coach starting in 2018-19. Over that five-season span, the Canes have the fourth-best points percentage in the NHL at .661. But they’ve fallen short of the Stanley Cup Final all five of those seasons despite perennially being perceived as one of the best teams in the NHL.

      In 2018-19: They lost the Eastern Conference Final to a Boston Bruins team that got six goals in four games from future Hall of Famers Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

      In 2019-20: They lost in the first (second) “playoff” round of the bubble tourney, lit up again by Boston’s Perfection Lne, this time in five games, with Bergeron scoring the game winner in two of them.

      In 2020-21: The eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning took them down in five games, buoyed by a combined eight goals from Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

      In 2021-22: Done in by the New York Rangers, who got a .949 save percentage from Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin across seven games of their round-2 matchup.

      Defeated because the other team had at least one superstar-grade player. Every. Time.

      Ask around the league – other players, coaches, scouts, analysts – about the Carolina Hurricanes’ identity in the Brind’Amour era, and you typically get similar answers:

      “They all play the same way.”

      “Total buy-in.”

      “They keep coming at you in waves.”

      The Brind’Amour Way has pretty much universally been perceived as a strength, but it also highlights a weakness that was on display during the Eastern Conference Final: the Canes don’t have a dominator who can will them to victory, particularly at the forward position.

      And that includes the injured Andrei Svechnikov and Max Pacioretty, by the way. Both are great players, and Svechnikov still has time to hit a superstar ceiling, but we can’t say the Canes have had a superstar during the Brind’Amour era. Over the past five seasons, the Canes…

      (a) Haven’t had a 40-goal scorer
      (b) Haven’t had a 90-point scorer
      (c) Haven’t had a single player crack the top 15 in league scoring

      The no-superstar drought extends much further than that, actually. No Cane has finished in the top 10 in scoring since Eric Staal in 2012-13. Staal in 2005-06 is the only Cane this century to crack 100 points – or 90 points. No Carolina/Hartford player has ever won a scoring title, Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy or Norris Trophy.

      The Canes embody the concept of a team as much as any franchise in the NHL. It’s a big reason why they’re so consistently successful. But they won’t get over the Stanley Cup hump until they add a genuine game breaker. That’s GM Don Waddell’s job.

      We know the Canes have been sniffing around big-ticket acquisitions. They were reportedly in on Tkachuk last summer and pushed hard for Timo Meier at the 2023 Trade Deadline. But they ultimately lost out. Maybe that’s because they weren’t willing to overpay, as Panthers GM Bill Zito was last offseason when he sent the NHL’s second-leading scorer and his second-best defenseman plus a first-round pick to Calgary ensure no one outbid him for Tkachuk.

      So is Waddell willing to do the same this summer? If, for example, the Toronto Maple Leafs are open to trading a Mitch Marner, would that mean ponying up a Seth Jarvis? Brett Pesce? Svechnikov? A package including more than one of them? That’s what it might take if the Canes want to push themselves over the top. And it stands to reason their window is no longer wide open. Aho enters the final season of his contract, as do Teuvo Teravainen, Pesce and Jordan Martinook, while Jarvis and Martin Necas are 2025 RFAs. There’s a degree of maneuverability when so many of your core pieces aren’t locked up to massive long-term deals. The uncertainly around Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar, who were entering their final seasons with the Panthers last summer, likely spurred Zito to act aggressively. Now Waddell must follow suit.

      Look back at the history of Stanley Cup winners…can you find a team that didn’t have a superstar? Even the ones who supposedly didn’t in the moment – think 1995 Devils, 2011 Bruins, 2012 Kings – had multiple Hall of Famers in their primes. We can’t say the same about the 2022-23 Carolina Hurricanes.

      Some hockey hotbed markets like Toronto, Calgary and Pittsburgh will generate a lot of attention while they attempt offseason makeovers, but the Canes should be under just as much pressure now if they want to seriously swing for a championship next year.



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