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Trade grades: Guentzel and Canes a perfect fit


First Noah Hanifin, then Jake Guentzel.

Ahead of Friday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, deals involving the top available NHL skaters bookended Thursday's action. Pittsburgh shipped out Guentzel minutes before midnight in a blockbuster swap with Carolina.

The deal: the Hurricanes receive forward Guentzel and defenseman Ty Smith, while the Penguins acquire forward Michael Bunting; prospects Ville Koivunen, Cruz Lucius, and Vasili Ponomarev; and two conditional draft picks.

Pittsburgh gets a 2024 second-round pick that upgrades to a 2024 first-rounder if Carolina makes the Stanley Cup Final. If the Hurricanes win the Cup, the Penguins are awarded an additional 2024 fifth-rounder.

The Penguins are retaining 25% of Guentzel's salary, lowering his $6-million cap hit to $4.5 million. Bunting, the only other NHLer in the deal, also makes $4.5 million, so it's a money-in, money-out transaction for the Hurricanes.

Let's discuss how each team fared in this high-profile swap.

Hurricanes' side of deal

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Of all the trades leading up to deadline day, Guentzel to Carolina might be the best player-team fit. A sniper is exactly what the 37-19-6 Hurricanes need.

Guentzel is an extraordinarily smart player - we're talking top 10 in the NHL in hockey IQ - and uses his smarts and silky hands to wreak havoc around the opposition's net every shift. Heading into Thursday's contests, Guentzel ranked second in the league in expected goals per game (0.67 in 50 games) and fourth in inner-slot shots per game (1.48), according to Sportlogiq.

Unlike so many of Carolina's forwards over the past handful of seasons, Guentzel finishes his chances; he's a two-time 40-goal scorer and has racked up 22 markers this campaign for a 36-goal pace over 82 contests. What stopped the Hurricanes from advancing past the Eastern Conference Final in recent years is their inability to score timely goals, and Guentzel's production rate is even better in the playoffs - 34 goals in 58 career games.

Guentzel's dealing with an upper-body injury but is expected to return soon. That's ultimately a non-issue. However, something to remember is that Guentzel has played most of his career on Sidney Crosby's wing. He's a tremendous player in his own right, yet we don't know what he can do over an extended period away from an all-time great. I wouldn't label that a "red flag" for Carolina. Maybe just a yellow one.

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Coach Rod Brind'Amour can slide Guentzel onto the first line with star Sebastian Aho or have him team up with Martin Necas on the second. Either way, this acquisition injects star power into Carolina's lineup. As for Smith, he's been in the AHL all season. There's nothing wrong with seeing if a change of scenery can help the 23-year-old offensive defenseman return to the NHL.

Carolina entered the season as a popular Stanley Cup pick. The club started slow but has dominated since December's holiday break. The Canes rank third in points percentage since Dec. 27, winning 20 of 28 games.

This trade is a massive win for the franchise in the big picture. Carolina often strikes out on acquiring big-name players (Elias Pettersson, Erik Karlsson, Matthew Tkachuk, etc.) but can pursue blockbuster trades because it's so well-managed. Under general manager Don Waddell, the Canes have become peerless across the NHL at simultaneously contending for the Cup, keeping salaries down, and stockpiling draft capital and good prospects.

I make this trade every day of the week if I'm Waddell (though I'm docking him slightly because, at the end of the day, he forked over five or six assets).

Grade: A-

Penguins' side of deal

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Let's start with the positives.

This trade brings in a top-nine winger (Bunting) on a reasonable contract through the 2025-26 season. It also brings in three promising prospects, plus one, potentially two draft picks.

In a vacuum, that's a solid package for a pending unrestricted free agent, especially since Pittsburgh desperately needed to deepen its prospect pool.

Now for the negatives.

I'm borderline shocked the Penguins moved Guentzel without a guaranteed first-round pick coming back the other way. Sure, the Hurricanes are one of a handful of teams in the Eastern Conference with a legitimate shot of making the Cup Final, so that second could turn into a first. But the playoffs are unpredictable.

The three prospects also aren't blue-chippers. The Athletic's Scott Wheeler recently ranked them sixth (Ponomarev), seventh (Koivunen), and ninth (Lucius) among Carolina's prospects. Pittsburgh may see more value in these forwards than Wheeler, but the main point remains: GM Kyle Dubas didn't reel in a player destined to become an NHL star.

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No needle-moving NHLer. No first-rounder. No sure-thing prospect.

Similar to the return package for Hanifin, Guentzel yielded quantity. The high-end rental market has been kind to buyers over the past few days.

The Penguins are attempting to make the most out of the final years of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. It's a tight window, and this trade doesn't bring them appreciably closer to contending for the Cup next season.

This is likely the first step of many for Dubas as he tries to aggressively retool. It's not a nightmare result. But it isn't a dream return, either.

Grade: C+

John Matisz is theScore's senior NHL writer. Follow John on Twitter (@MatiszJohn) or contact him via email (

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