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Hurricanes trade breakdown: Canes got better, sent message, still have a lot of work left

The Flames' Dougie Hamilton (27) gets ready to shoot the puck past the Canes' Scott Darling (33), Joakim Nordstrom (42) and Klas Dahlbeck (6) for his second goal of the game after getting a pass from Matthew Tkachuk (19).
The Flames' Dougie Hamilton (27) gets ready to shoot the puck past the Canes' Scott Darling (33), Joakim Nordstrom (42) and Klas Dahlbeck (6) for his second goal of the game after getting a pass from Matthew Tkachuk (19). cseward@newsobserver.com

In the space of a few hours, the Carolina Hurricanes went from exasperated to exhilarated, from fearing they wouldn't be able to make any kind of a trade at the draft to closing a deal they think makes them a better team, immediately.

The trade that brought Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland from the Calgary Flames for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin gave the Hurricanes an upgrade on defense and swapped the kind of skilled forward of which they have a surplus for the kind of physical presence they lack.

It's really just the beginning of what still figures to be a tumultuous off-season. The Hurricanes still need a goalie, still need to trade Jeff Skinner before his contract expires (whether that's in the next few days or weeks or at the trade deadline) and now have a marketable surplus of right-shot defensemen in Hamilton, Brett Pesce, Justin Faulk and Trevor van Riemsdyk, the latter another restricted free agent.

It took the Hurricanes a while to make their first big trade, but it won't be their last.

Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon says that either the players need to get better or better players will be brought in moving forward.

“We're comfortable where we are, but we all know there are certain areas we have to address,” general manager Don Waddell said.

For most of their time in Dallas, Waddell and owner Tom Dundon were frustrated with their inability to make any kind of a deal. Waddell said he was more proactive than he had ever been at a draft, but there was very little movement anywhere, whether teams were waiting on Ilya Kovalchuk (who signed Saturday with the Los Angeles Kings) or Erik Karlsson (who is still with the Ottawa Senators, for the moment).

After missing out on Senators winger Mike Hoffman before the draft and Washington Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer on Saturday, the Hurricanes were starting to reconcile themselves to going home without anything other than second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov, not that they were any less excited about him. But the rekindled discussions with Calgary on Friday night, combined with the contract impasses with Lindholm and Hanifin, saw that deal gather steam throughout Saturday morning and into the second day of the draft.

When the deal was officially announced in the middle of the fifth round after breaking piecemeal on Twitter, there were oohs and aahs from the crowd and shocked faces and a few stifled expletives at other draft tables.

Even if they appear to have upgraded significantly in the short term — not that Hamilton, 25, and Ferland, 26, are exactly aging veterans — there's certainly long-term risk here for the Hurricanes: Lindholm and Hanifin have the potential to be elite players, but their development had stalled in Carolina and the Hurricanes had no interest in what was shaping up to be lengthy contract wrangles with the restricted free agents. You have to give something up to get something; otherwise, you end up making no trades at all. For four years.

Hamilton is a proven point generator from the blue line, and while there are always questions about a player that talented who has already played for three different teams, especially one who the Flames made clear they were glad to see depart, the Hurricanes insist they have done their due diligence and see “no red flags at all.”

“We did our homework on this,” Waddell said.

Same on Ferland, a recovering alcoholic who turned his life around four years ago and has seen his career take off since. He excels at creating space for smaller players — like Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau — while keeping pace with them, something the Hurricanes have lacked. The low point in that department, ironically, was last year's physical capitulation against the Flames, capped by Mark Giordano's crushing hit on Sebastian Aho.

Getting prospect defenseman Adam Fox was kind of a bonus at that point, but the Hurricanes (and others at the draft) are high on the Harvard rising junior who likely was not going to sign with the Flames.

With Svechnikov and Ferland, the Hurricanes are already dramatically bigger on the wings, without sacrificing the team speed that is essential in today's NHL. And the trade also sent a message to the room that even top-five picks aren't untouchable, especially those who have been given much and earned little, and a message to agents that the new regime may be unorthodox, but it won't be bullied.

Skinner's a little bit of a different case. No one changes agents because they want to stay where they are, and his contract expires after the season. He also has a no-trade clause, which allows him some control over the process. The Hurricanes worked on various options over the weekend and there are teams interested but, as of Sunday afternoon, had yet to find a deal worth taking to Skinner for his approval. As Saturday demonstrated, that can change quickly.

However frustrated they may have been until that moment, the Hurricanes returned to Raleigh giddy. They added a potential franchise player in Svechnikov. They upgraded on defense. And they added some goal-scoring muscle up front. The only area where they couldn't claim a significant upgrade was in net.

Until they get that figured out, none of this really matters.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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