Jake Guentzel & Ty Smith Are Hurricanes: What That Means Moving Forward for Carolina

The Canes didn't wait until Friday to make a big move, adding one of the league's biggest pending free agents on Thursday night.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators
Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators / Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photo/GettyImages

The Carolina Hurricanes made major waves in the trade market on Thursday night. After years of the team failing to make an impactful splash at the deadline, the Canes took a major swing by making a big move within the division. The trade was made official after the team's 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, making Thursday a night to remember.

The deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins brings forward Jake Guentzel and defenseman Ty Smith to the Hurricanes. In return, the Canes sent Michael Bunting, who was scratched before Thursday's game for trade-related reasons, Vasily Ponomarev, who had a very memorable NHL debut in Washington D.C., Ville Koivunen, Cruz Lucius, a conditional 2024 1st-round pick, and a conditional 2024 5th-round pick to Pittsburg.

Jake Guentzel is the big prize in the deal. His track record speaks for itself. Guentzel, 29, was second on the Penguins in goals (22) and points (52) in 50 games this season, trailing Sidney Crosby in both categories. He's been out of the lineup for the last month with an upper-body injury, hence why he's only played 50 games, but he's due to return in early March. Most of Guentzel's time was spent playing on Crosby's wing. He surpassed 500 games in the league earlier in the season, notching 219 goals and 466 points thus far.

His biggest asset is his shot and scoring ability. Guentzel is consistently a 20-goal scorer, hitting 40 goals twice and scoring 36 last season. He has shown to be just as effective in the playoffs. In 58 career postseason games, Guentzel has 34 goals and 58 points. He won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2017, scoring a league-high 13 goals during that run.

The big question is whether Jake Guentzel will just be a rental or whether the team will attempt to sign him before he's set to hit the open market at the end of the season. Don Waddell doesn't have a history of trading for high-end rentals since becoming the Hurricanes' general manager. I'd imagine he'll make an effort to gauge his interest in staying in Raleigh beyond this season, though I'm sure it won't come cheap.

Not to be lost in the shuffle, the Hurricanes also added Ty Smith as a strong depth defenseman. Smith, 23, is a left-shot defender who has been sparingly used by the Penguins, recording four points in just nine games last season. He's been performing well this season in the AHL, scoring 32 points in 51 games. Drafted by the Devils 17th overall in 2018, Smith finished 7th in Calder voting in 2021 after scoring 23 points during the COVID-shortened season before being traded to the Penguins in the John Marino deal.

With rumors that the team is shopping Tony DeAngelo, Smith could easily slot in as the team's 7th defenseman, filling in if there's an injury down the stretch. Though he hasn't played in the NHL this season, he's arguably the best option for the team moving forward. He's only making the league minimum, and he's listed as a player who can play on both sides if the situation calls for it.

As for what the Hurricanes gave up, it wasn't exactly a cheap deal. The most noteworthy piece of the return is Michael Bunting. Signed to a three-year deal in the offseason, Bunting hasn't quite fit into the Hurricanes' style, though his production wasn't terrible. Entering Thursday, he was 6th on the team in goals (13) and points (36). He struggles defensively at times, but Jake Guentzel isn't much better in that respect. His $4.5 million cap hit frees up a little space for the Canes over the next two years. It's also the same cap hit they're taking in with Guentzel after Pittsburgh retained 25 percent of his $6 million deal.

As for the prospects, this is the area where the Canes arguably did the best. While Vasily Ponomarev, Ville Koivunen, and Cruz Lucius are all ranked in the Top 10 in the organization, according to The Athletic's Scott Wheeler, none of them are players who would be considered untouchable. The fact that this deal was done without giving up Scott Morrow, Bradly Nadeau, or Jackson Blake is frankly surprising.

The conditions placed on the picks are also pretty funny. The Canes' 1st-round pick becomes Philadelphia's 2nd-round pick if the Canes don't make it to the Stanley Cup Final. Pittsburgh might not even get the 5th-round pick, only getting it if the Canes win the Stanley Cup.

Overall, this deal is meant to make the Hurricanes legitimate Stanley Cup contenders this season, which it absolutely does. It gives them a strong Top-6, with Jake Guentzel likely to slot next to Sebastian Aho. If Guentzel is only around for the stretch run, I can live with what was given up. If they're able to sign him to an extension before July 1, this could be a major win for the Hurricanes.

Also, by no means does this mean the Hurricanes are done at the trade deadline, either. They still have some room to play around with before the 3 pm deadline on Friday. While I'm not sure what exactly they'd do to add to this group, it doesn't mean they won't. Everything should remain on the table. This is shaping up to be a memorable deadline in Raleighwood.