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Canes Tweak Defense With 'Better Fit' on Trade Deadline Day

Waddell: 'You look at fits. What works for your hockey club?'

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / Hurricanes.com

A week before the trade deadline, Carolina Hurricanes President and General Manager Don Waddell was doing his due diligence, making calls and staying in touch with counterparts around the league so that if there was a deal to be made, his team would be in a position to move on it.

The Canes weren't looking to make any sort of big splash, but that's not to say they wouldn't have listened to or at least kicked the tires on anything like the trio of trades they made last season. It just wasn't likely to be that type of day, and the Canes were fine with that.

This time around, the team had a short shopping list and an honest desire to balance out their defensive depth.

"We've been talking about getting a right-shot defenseman. I've been pretty open about it," Waddell said after wrapping deadline business on Monday afternoon. "We just felt that to complement what we have already, a stay-at-home, big guy who can play with one of our offensive guys made a lot of sense for us."

So, that's what the Canes went out and got.

In news that broke after the 3 p.m. deadline - with the amount of player movement that happens, logistics like paperwork and trade calls nearly always backlog business at the league office - the Canes acquired defenseman Jani Hakanpaa and a sixth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft in exchange for defenseman Haydn Fleury.

It's a fairly straightforward defenseman-for-defenseman swap, and the Canes get an extra dart to throw at their board of draft picks in 2022. Having kicked around 10-12 potential moves, Waddell said, this is the one the team settled on for Monday.

What's the why behind the trade?

It begins with fit and filling a specific role.

"You look at fits. What works for your hockey club?" Waddell pondered. "We just think this is a better fit for us."

Hakanpaa is a right shot, which balances out the defensive pairs with a lefty and righty in each. He's a big, physical defenseman; he's listed at 6-foot-5 and 218 pounds, and his 168 hits ranks third among all NHL skaters this season. That skillset will also help balance out the Canes' defensive pairs, as Hakanpaa, a steady, stay-at-home type, can slot in next to a more offensive-minded blue liner like Jake Gardiner or Jake Bean.

Just as filling a fourth-line role with Cedric Paquette instead of Ryan Dzingel made sense, so too does this move make sense. Fleury will see an elevated role on Anaheim's blue line, so it's a trade that should benefit both clubs.

Hakanpaa should fit in with the team off the ice, as well. He played with Sebastian Aho in Finland in the 2015-16 season, and the Canes had previous conversations with Aho about Hakanpaa, when he signed with the Ducks as a free agent prior to the 2019-20 season.

"Sebastian had nothing but good things to say about his character and what type of guy he was," Waddell said. "We felt very comfortable that he would come in and fit well with our team and culture we have here."

The upcoming expansion draft also factored into decision-making. Fleury, who the Canes selected seventh overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, was likely going to be left unprotected this summer, and he would have been an attractive target for the Seattle Kraken, especially given he was Ron Francis' first draft pick as the Canes general manager.

There's the financial factor of the move, too. Taking Fleury's $1.3 million cap hit off the books for the 2021-22 season frees up more valuable cap space that could be put toward contract extensions for Andrei Svechnikov and/or Dougie Hamilton, which the team plans to tackle in the offseason, or could be used to re-sign Hakanpaa, who is due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

"There's no reason to talk about it right now. Let him come in and get settled. I think we have a good thing going here, and I think he'll find that out," Waddell said of Hakanpaa's longer-term future. "I think it could potentially be a good fit that is something we could look at longer term."

Hakanpaa is expected to be available to make his Canes debut on Thursday. The defenseman flew to Raleigh on Monday night, the same jet that was then set to take Fleury westward on Tuesday. Hakanpaa won't miss a day of COVID-19 testing, remaining in compliance with NHL protocols, which should allow him to practice with the Canes on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in trade deadline decision-making, the Canes opted to hang on to goaltenders Petr Mrazek, James Reimer and Alex Nedeljkovic., all of whom are set to become free agents this summer.

"We're all comfortable having three goalies," Waddell said. "We had the roster space and cap space, so we weren't put in a position where we felt we had to make a trade."

The Canes also elected not to make any changes to their forward group. The most important acquisition they could make there would be to get Teuvo Teravainen back into the lineup. Teravainen, who suffered a concussion on Feb. 19, has played just one game since.

"It's been a little bit of a battle. I know this last week has been much better for him. He's been skating now and getting closer. We don't have a date yet," Waddell said. "The good thing is every day he seems to be showing improvements, and hopefully we get him back in the lineup soon."

It wasn't an active trade deadline for the Canes, but it wasn't exactly expected to be either. They had a specific need in mind, and they crossed it off the list. Now the focus turns to the final 15 games of the season and the race for first place in the Central Division.

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