Will the Canes be buyers or sellers at the NHL trade deadline?

Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon talks hockey with the trade deadline approaching

Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon talks about the moves the Hurricanes may, or may not, make with the NHL trade deadline approaching. Dundon talked with reporters Tuesday night, Feb. 19, 2019 in Raleigh.
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Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon talks about the moves the Hurricanes may, or may not, make with the NHL trade deadline approaching. Dundon talked with reporters Tuesday night, Feb. 19, 2019 in Raleigh.

The Carolina Hurricanes are moving closer to their biggest decision of the season: buy, sell or stand pat?

The NHL trade deadline is Monday, Feb. 25. On or before that date, players will be moved as teams either stock up with extra “pieces” for the Stanley Cup playoffs or trade players to stock up on “assets,” the two words general managers love to use.

What will the Canes do?

General manager Don Waddell said the team’s five-game road trip, which ends Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators, would give the Canes a better barometer of what direction to take. “We’ll see where we are then,” he said.

The Canes began the trip by shutting out Pittsburgh 4-0, then topping the Buffalo Sabres 6-5 in overtime. Finishing off a back-to-back on Friday, they went into New York’s Madison Square Garden, on a night when the Rangers were celebrating their 1994 Stanley Cup championship, and won 3-0.

Then, New Jersey.

With a chance Sunday to move past the Penguins in the Eastern Conference standings and take over the second wild-card playoff position, the Canes could not beat the depleted Devils at the Prudential Center. Flat in the first period, their power play totally ineffective -- “It sucked the life out of our group,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said -- the Canes fell behind 2-0 after the opening period and lost 3-2 to the last-place team in the Metropolitan Division.

The Canes, with a 28-22-6 record, remained on the outside looking in, one point shy of the playoff cutoff line after Sunday’s games. Up next: the Senators, who sit in last place in the Eastern Conference at 21-29-5.

The most pressing personnel decision for the Canes, who have not been a playoff team since 2009, is what to do about players who will become unrestricted free agents after the season -- and forward Micheal Ferland, in particular.

Ferland, obtained in the offseason trade with Calgary, has toughness, can play in the top six at forward and has playoff experience. He would make a good “rental,” another of those oft-used words, for a number of teams if the Canes decide to trade him.

“We’ve got some UFAs and one that has gotten some interest and traction,” Waddell said of Ferland. “I’ve said maybe that’s our rental piece if things are going well. We know we may not be able to sign him, but if we trade him we have to go out and find a piece.

“I would say we’re talking to a lot of people, a lot of teams. But I’ve told everybody we’ll get through the (road trip) and see where things are.”

Both goalies, Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, are due to become UFAs after the season. So is captain Justin Williams.

Waddell and the Canes already have pulled off the trade that had the NHL buzzing, bringing in forward Nino Niederreiter from the Minnesota Wild for center Victor Rask in a one-for-one deal. Niederreiter quickly moved onto the top line centered by Sebastian Aho and started scoring goals while Rask has gotten off to a slow start with the Wild.

Carolina Hurricanes’ Nino Niederreiter, center, celebrates his goal with teammates Sebastian Aho, left, and Brett Pesce (22) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Vegas Golden Knights, Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, in Raleigh, N.C. Karl B DeBlaker A

“You never know when you make these trades,” Waddell said. “You always hope they work out for both teams. I’ve made a lot of trades and some work out and some don’t.

“One thing that has been missing is that we took on about $1.7 million more a year, cash. Everyone wants to talk about my boss (owner Tom Dundon) being on the frugal side but this is going to cost us over $5 million more, so obviously that always is a factor. It also involves giving (Minnesota) some cap space. Again, everybody is looking for centers. Centers are at a shortage right now.”

Waddell said a rule of thumb for him in trades is: “I don’t worry as much about what we’re giving up as what we’re getting.”

“If you look at trades on paper, and that’s the job of the media to say who won or lost a trade, I look at it differently,” he said. “Did we fill a need that our hockey club needed? This position, and we’ve talked about it for a long time, we needed some goal scoring and that’s why we did it.”

Waddell said his initial discussions with Minnesota general manager Paul Fenton began months ago and included a number of trade scenarios, but that the give-and-take finally turned into Niederreiter for Rask. The trade was made Jan. 17.

“We were never going to get to that point of making a bigger deal than we made,” Waddell said. “We went at it pretty hard for those 48 hours before, probably talking 10 times, before we figured out what each of us could afford to give up to make a deal work. We finally came to the conclusion let’s just keep it simple.”

And that could be the Canes’ approach heading up to the Feb. 25 deadline -- keep it simple. Keep Ferland, look to make a run at the playoffs.

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.