When the Carolina Hurricanes took the ice at PNC Arena for an afternoon practice on a snowy Thursday in Raleigh, the team was missing a pair of familiar faces.
It was an inevitability, really, with the NHL’s trade deadline less than a week away.
The Canes made two moves on Wednesday afternoon, wheeling Andrej Sekera and Jiri Tlusty, their two highest-profile impending unrestricted free agents, to build toward the future. In return, the team stocked away three draft picks, including either a first-round pick this summer or in 2016 depending on whether the Los Angeles Kings qualify for the playoffs, and a defensive prospect who was picked second overall in the 2012 Ontario Hockey League draft (behind some guy named Connor McDavid) and in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft.
“Good trades, and I think we got good value,” head coach Bill Peters said. “Those are two good players going to two good spots. It will be exciting for them, and I wish them nothing but the best of luck.”
More immediate will be the impact the trades have on the Hurricanes’ lineup. In Sekera, the team loses one half of its top defensive pair. The Slovakian blueliner averaged 22:46 of time on ice per game, including regular minutes on both the power play and the NHL’s top-ranked penalty kill. He wasn’t on pace for the 44 points (11g, 33a) he put up in 74 games just a season ago, but his 19 points (2g, 17a) this season were a welcome complement to Justin Faulk’s team-leading 38 points.
“I loved Andrej’s competitiveness. He was a real good pro and a good teammate,” Peters said. “He was easy to coach and very coachable. We’ll miss him in that regard.”
“It was nice to have a partner that you’ve been able to develop some chemistry with out on the ice,” Faulk said. “We knew what to expect out of each other every night. If one of us wasn’t on or something, we knew, and we’d sit right here and tell each other, ‘It’s on you tonight, buddy.’”
Over the last four seasons, Tlusty has proven himself a capable goal-scorer at the NHL level. He netted as career-high 23 goals in 48 games during the shortened 2012-13 season. Though he missed a handful of games in December this season with an injury, his 13 goals ranked third on the team.
“Really good player,” Peters said. “No matter where you put him, you knew what you were going to get from Jiri Tlusty. I think that’s what intrigued Winnipeg, and the fact that he can play the left or right side. He’s a competitive guy, and we’re going to miss him.”
Both players, though, were headed to the open market this summer, and with the Hurricanes not able to find common ground on dollar amount or term on a contract extension, General Manager Ron Francis leveraged them for future aid.
And now, the departures open the door for others. Opportunity knocks for those who will be asked to fill the now-empty roster spots left by Sekera and Tlusty.
The more difficult task will likely be patching the hole left by Sekera. The Canes now have six healthy defensemen on the roster, and Ryan Murphy remains on injured reserve with a lower-body issue.
Ron Hainsey will pair with Faulk in the most immediate future, but compensating for Sekera’s departure will be a joint effort.
“Being able to adapt is something you have to do, and I’ll have to do that here,” Faulk said. “I know Ron, we poked some fun at him because he doesn’t have the same D partner for more than one game at a time, so he’s used to it more than I am.”
“Ron has been around the league. Big guy with a big stick, and he’s good defensively. You’ve got a puck-mover on the other side. That has a real good chance to be a good pair,” Peters said. “But we’re going to have to do it by committee. I don’t think we have a guy that you can just sit there and say, hey, this guy is going to replace him and do that job.”
Tlusty’s departure will likely lead to more regular ice time for Andrej Nestrasil, who the Canes claimed on waivers earlier in this season, and Chris Terry.
“[They] will get the opportunity to get in the lineup more consistently, and we’ll see what they can do with it,” Peters said.
Weeks of speculation and uncertainty were put to bed on Wednesday afternoon, and now the Canes move forward with a slightly altered appearance and fresh internal competition.
“It won’t change our approach, but it changes the team for sure,” Peters said. “You’re taking a guy out of your one pair, and you’re taking out a real versatile forward. But what it does is give other people opportunities, so I’m excited about watching what people do with their improved opportunity.”