LeBrun: Hurricanes’ trade plans after the Max Pacioretty injury? Checking in with GM Don Waddell

Max Pacioretty was meant to be the Hurricanes’ big trade-deadline forward pickup this season.

He was meant to be an own-rental of sorts, as a pending unrestricted free agent who could pour in goals for one of the NHL’s top Cup contenders when he eventually returned from a torn Achilles tendon after missing the first part of the season.

It was a good plan, especially given that the Hurricanes got the veteran for free from the Golden Knights last summer.

And then he came back early, debuting Jan. 5, which surprised many, and scored three goals in five games. It all seemed on track.

Then, just an awful scene on Thursday, the 34-year-old Pacioretty falling to the ice and once again tearing his Achilles.

About as awful as one can imagine.

“That was the most somber I’ve seen a locker room after a game we won,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell told The Athletic on Monday.

“That was awful.”

Yes, you have to feel for Pacioretty. It was so hard to watch.

The business of the game goes on, though, as tough to digest as that injury was.

That fact immediately got the NHL trade speculation machine going into hyperdrive over the weekend, because the Canes now have Pacioretty’s $7 million cap hit to spend ahead of the March 3 trade deadline.

To which Waddell responded Monday by saying everyone needs to calm down. They’re not going to rush into spending those cap savings like their pants are on fire.

“We certainly are in a different position because now we have cap space,” Waddell said. But we still really like our team. We’re going to look and see if there’s anything that makes sense moving forward. But we’re otherwise not out there looking to make a deal just to make a deal.”

This is a Hurricanes team that got to first place in the Metropolitan Division in the first half of the season not only without Pacioretty but also with others out of the lineup at various points. So they’re a good team already, one that might not need to forcibly improve at the deadline.

Having said that, it’s shaping up to be a decent trade deadline if you’re looking to add some scoring. There are some pretty big names out there, and I’m not convinced there will be nearly as many contending teams either interested or able to buy.

I could be wrong, but my initial read on the market is that the price may have to come down for some of the big names.

Regardless, the Hurricanes traditionally have not been very willing to spend big prices for rental players.

“That’s very fair, yeah,” Waddell said. “We prefer to trade for players that have a term. Our history has been that we haven’t been a team to look at upgrades through rental players.”

Now, that doesn’t mean Carolina should be ruled out on pending unrestricted free agents like Bo Horvat, Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko. It just will depend on how the market shapes up. Price point will matter.

For the Hurricanes to get more involved, for example, on a Horvat trade, my belief is that Carolina would have to have a shot at extending him as part of that process. Whether Horvat’s camp, led by veteran agent Pat Morris, would be interested in what remains to be seen. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Horvat camp looked at that scenario depending on the fit and team. As of Monday, the Canucks had not given them permission to speak directly to other teams to explore that scenario.

I would imagine it would be in Vancouver’s interest closer to March 3, since an extended Horvat would net a larger asset return. Then again, some teams don’t like to complicate the process that way and won’t extend that permission to the agent.

Then there’s the intriguing case of Sharks winger Timo Meier, technically restricted a free agent on July 1 but needing a $10 million qualifying offer for his rights to be retained. This is the type of situation that I believe would appeal to the Hurricanes if they knew they could work out an extension. He’s 26 years old — a year younger than Horvat — and on pace for another good goal-scoring season. And he may not be a rental. There’s no doubt in my mind Carolina will investigate that situation.

If I’m San Jose, I would eventually allow Meier’s camp to speak directly to interested teams. An extended Meier nets more. But as of Monday, the Sharks had not yet granted that permission to Meier’s camp, led by Claude Lemieux. And who knows if they will or not.

Either way, I think that’s a player of interest for Carolina.

Also, don’t forget also that before Pacioretty’s injury, the Hurricanes had made adding on the blue line a priority ahead of the trade deadline, and I believe that will remain the case despite the possibility of adding up front now.

You could see the Canes adding at both positions if the prices make sense.

But judging from Waddell’s tone Monday, he’s going to be patient and isn’t rushing out to do anything crazy right away. Lots of time between now and March 3.

(Top photo of Don Waddell: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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