Carolina Hurricanes' Andrei Svechnikov (37) remains on the ice following a collision with Philadelphia Flyers' Kevin Hayes, not shown during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Welcome to Blackburn’s Big Board, a weekly check-in on the hockey things that I currently care about. It’ll go a variety of ways, including teams that are earning my attention, players of note, storylines generating buzz and any other hockey topics that my weird brain finds compelling.

Losing Svechnikov reignites questions about Carolina’s deadline

The Carolina Hurricanes were dealt a massive bit of bad news this week when it was announced that Andrei Svechnikov suffered a torn ACL and would need season-ending knee surgery. That will cost the Hurricanes one of their best offensive forwards for the stretch run in a season where they’re considered to be one of the major heavyweight contenders in the Eastern Conference.

It’s a devastating blow for the current kings of the Metropolitan Division. At the time of the injury among Canes skaters, Svechnikov ranked first in scoring chances (190) and third in goals (23) and was tied for second in points (55) through 64 games.

Replacing Svechnikov’s production and dynamic offensive skill set inside the top six will be a tough task for Carolina, and it’s one that is inevitably going to raise the question of whether the Hurricanes should have been more aggressive at the trade deadline.

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While you can’t predict these sorts of injuries, contenders can (and should) prepare for the possibility via reinforcements and insurance policies to ensure a deep playoff run. Prior to the deadline, the Canes had already taken a major hit to their offensive firepower with Max Pacioretty re-tearing his Achilles. That loss (and the financial flexibility it created) led to talk about whether Carolina would aggressively pursue scoring help at the deadline, especially as other challengers in the East loaded up.

Ultimately, the Hurricanes’ biggest splashes were acquiring Jesse Puljujarvi from the Edmonton Oilers and Shayne Gostisbehere from the Arizona Coyotes — two solid but not seismic pickups for a team that has had no problem generating chances but has lacked finish for a good chunk of this season. As of Wednesday, Carolina ranks fourth in the NHL in scoring chances per 60 but 12th in goals per 60.

Losing Svech would hurt no matter what, but it would probably sting a tad less if the Canes had added another proven scorer a few weeks ago. Instead, Carolina is forced to embrace a “next man up” mentality and hope that whoever plugs into the top six is prepared to handle the increased role. Maybe Puljujarvi can seize this opportunity and finally have his big breakthrough, forcing many (including myself) to eat their words about the Hurricanes’ deadline decisions.

It’s a risky bet and one that the Canes certainly wish they didn’t have to make, especially in a stacked conference. However, it’s not necessarily a death sentence.

Notes from the GM meetings

The NHL wrapped its annual general manager meetings in Florida this week, and it seems like it was a relatively quiet round of discussions. This is typically the time of year we hear about traction on proposed rule changes or league restructurings, but things seem to be pretty status quo, for better or for worse.

That’s not to say there weren’t a few noteworthy reports.

  • There was some discussion about expanding coach’s challenges to include high-sticking and delay of game reviews: I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of discussion (and apprehension) about the possibility of introducing more replay reviews to the league, but this kind of topic is probably going to come up every year.
  • Commissioner Gary Bettman said there’s no real appetite to change the current playoff format, saying “What we’ve got works really well’: I’d still like to see a straight-up 1-through-8 seeding format for the opening round of the postseason, but the current system works pretty fine as is. I’m also still fascinated by the idea of re-seeding the final four teams in the playoffs (like they did during the COVID bubble) in order to open up potential same-conference Stanley Cup Final matchups.
  • Bettman also shut down rumors of expansion to Atlanta and/or Houston, saying “We’re not in an expansion mode right now”: As discussed in last week’s column, relocation makes way more sense than expansion.
  • The salary cap is only expected to rise about $1 million from this season to next: The NHL still owes money to owners from the pandemic losses, so that explains this bit of news. There’s going to be a significant salary-cap jump once those debts are paid.
  • The league is expected to narrow the list of bidders for the Ottawa Senators over the next several weeks: No word on where Ryan Reynolds stands in his bid to acquire the Sens, but it’s worth noting that Mint Mobile — the cell phone company he partially owned — was just sold to T-Mobile for $1.35 billion. That might help provide the actor with a little bit more cash to sweeten the pot.

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