Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

The Case for the Carolina Hurricanes Keeping Brett Pesce

The Hurricanes should keep Brett Pesce.

The Carolina Hurricanes have been a topic of much conversation this offseason. A fairly typical Hurricanes NHL Draft was followed by an aggressive free agency. This was mixed with rumours involving Erik Karlsson, Vladimir Tarasenko. The Hurricanes have been busy. One notable rumour running in all directions involves top-four defensive defenceman Brett Pesce. Coming due for a new contract after the 2023-24 season and talks seeming to be slow so far, the Hurricanes may look to move Pesce for other asset(s). While there are fair arguments for this approach, keeping Brett Pesce is the better route.

The Hurricanes Should Keep Brett Pesce

Brett Pesce is a top-four defensive defenceman. The Hurricanes drafted Pesce in the 2013 NHL Draft out of the University of New Hampshire. He has played his entire eight-year career with the Carolina Hurricanes. At the start of his career, he paired up with fellow elite defenceman Jaccob Slavin. However, for the last few years, Pesce has paired with Brady Skjei. This pair has been a top defensive pairing not only for the Hurricanes but also across the league. Last season, they played the most minutes together of any defensive pair for the Hurricanes and third most in the NHL. In 81 games, they were second in expected goals and shot attempts for all defensive pairs in the NHL playing at least 150 minutes. Pesce’s defensive first style compliments Skjei’s free-skating style very well. This is why their chemistry is so strong.

Individually, Pesce has 36 goals and 149 assists in 557 career games. Over Pesce’s eight NHL seasons, his points total in that time frame has him in line with other defencemen such as Devon Toews, Neal Pionk and Alec Martinez. He is fifteen points behind Skjei. While his points total is respectable, it is not going to wow anyone. However, it is his strong defensive game mixed with offensive ability and a good transition game that make him so invaluable. He also logs tons of minutes and takes some of the toughest matchups.

Over the last three years, Pesce had 854 defensive zone starts which is more than both his offensive and neutral zone starts. In a little over 4500 minutes played, Pesce has a 52.65% CF percentage, 51.78% FF percentage, and a 50.35% shots for percentage. Almost astonishingly, he has 210 goals for with 211 goals against. He also had an expected goals against of 222.64 compared to his 211 goals against. This compliments his 51.03% expected goals percentage over that span. In addition, over the last eight years Pesce is fifth in takeaways for all defencemen.

Pesce is a Modern Defenceman

What is so impressive about Pesce is that even though he is pegged more as a defensive defenceman, he really is a modern age two-way defenceman that can contribute on both ends of the ice. Even if he leans more defensively. All of these stats were garnered while logging tons of minutes against some of the toughest matchups. The eye test shows this as well with Pesce’s toughness, gap control, skating and hockey IQ all on display.

If you look at Pesce on the penalty kill, you can really see his excellence. Over the last three years, he logged the second most penalty kill time for any Hurricanes defenceman after Slavin. He again took tough matchups and had an xGA of 58.4 compared to goals against of 48. Pesce is a workhorse and has been heavily relied on by the Hurricanes throughout his tenure.

Top-Four Defencemen Don’t Grow on Trees

One main reason for keeping Brett Pesce is ironically the same for trading him. It’s simply his value. And while you have to give value to get value, as provided throughout this article, Pesce is more valuable to the Hurricanes over his perceived value across the league. Pesce is without a doubt a top-four defenceman for the Hurricanes but for many teams could be a top-two. Teams across the league highly covet a top-two/top-four defenceman with Pesce’s skillset and work ethic. As much as Carolina may need some scoring help up front, teams like the Edmonton Oilers, for example, are looking hard for some solid, top-end defensive defencemen.

However, each team has their own valuation of players. Most of the time, each values their own higher than others. But in every negotiation, there is a balance of power that affects this. So, if the Hurricanes look to move Pesce for William Nylander for example, Nylander might actually have an objective higher value. And this isn’t saying this is wrong, but I’d argue the value of Nylander versus Pesce to any neutral party is different than those values inherently to the Hurricanes. In addition, Nylander’s skillset can be attributed more heavily to points given his playing style. This makes it easier to evaluate value. Pesce has been such a solidifying force on the Hurricanes defence that his value to the team is higher than it likely is on the open market. And that’s what matters here. The best for the team, not the best player on Xbox.

Home-Grown Talent

The next reason for keeping Brett Pesce pulls a little more on the heartstrings, but also is grounded in logic. This is that Pesce is a homegrown talent who has put his heart into the team. As mentioned above, Pesce has played his entire career in Carolina. As a third-round pick, getting a player of Pesce’s caliber is a huge win. Before Pesce and Slavin, Carolina’s defence was not much to write home about. In fact, neither was the entire team. Pesce and Slavin really came onto the scene as the first peak of light was starting to shine through. He has seen this team develop and has a deep connection to its success. This could give him an additional fire. There is also the chemistry he already has due to his tenure.

Not to mention, his family have been vocal and adamant Hurricanes supporters throughout his tenure making them feel especially “part of the family.” Pesce stated that he had no desire to go elsewhere after this season and there’s no reason Carolina should not take this into consideration.

Balancing the Defensive Pairings

But the NHL is a business, and teams have to make hard decisions. Sometimes you have to cut from a place of strength to address a need. With the Hurricanes adding Dmitry Orlov in the offseason and potentially in on Karlsson, Pesce seems expendable. However, both Orlov and Karlsson do not bring certain elements to Carolina’s defence that Pesce does. Specifically, Pesce balances out the pairings based on playing style.

When you look down Carolina’s defence this past season, Pesce’s defensively responsible game complimented Skjei’s free skating style. Orlov is an excellent defenceman, but also loves to freely skate and float to make plays. And he should do that. But Pesce’s style would complement a player such as that or Karlsson (who also is eager to jump in offensively) more so than a defenceman like Skjei. Not to say that Skjei is not decent defensively, but at some point, management has to assess if it is building its defence around a similar style player throughout. This also should take into account Pesce’s ability on the penalty kill. Pesce provides the ying to these other defencemen’s yang.

The Time to Win is Now

The last argument for keeping Pesce is that the time for Carolina to win is now. As it stands, they have added Orlov as well as Michael Bunting up front. If Andrei Svechnikov can stay healthy and progress, and players like Martin Necas and Jesperi Kotkaniemi develop further offensively, could that be enough balanced firepower up front that another goal scorer is not needed? You mix that with Bunting’s ability and the possibility of the Hurricanes signing Tarasenko, there may be no actual urgent need to move Pesce for a forward.

Why not just load up defensively? How the pairings would look could be interesting as you may see Orlov on the bottom pair in such scenario. Which is almost insane to think about considering his ability and salary. But again, who cares? You just run the pairs with more balanced ice time. Not to mention the depth available if and when injuries strike.

Sure, Pesce is only under contract for one more year with nothing set in stone on an extension front yet. And Carolina doesn’t like letting players walk for nothing if they can help it. But it has happened before (see Dougie Hamilton) and more importantly, the time to win is now for this team. They dove headfirst into the free agency pool which is counter to their typical past actions. So why not depart from the typical “trade if no extension is in place” plan when aspirations for a Stanley Cup are on the short list? It’s not like if they don’t sign Pesce this summer he will walk, there’s still time throughout the season and next offseason for a re-sign. But beyond that, the time to win is now and Pesce fits in that plan.

Keeping Brett Pesce and Other Options

With the addition of Orlov and potentially Karlsson, Carolina also could look at the market for Skjei versus Pesce to keep the stylistic balance of the defensive pairings in place. Skjei is also a very good defenceman for this Hurricanes team but with a career high in goals last year, he might could be the piece to bring in additional help up front while his value is highest. But whether they keep or trade Skjei, Pesce has an extremely high value to this team. While there are always exceptions, keeping Pesce should be the goal for Carolina walking into the 2023-24 season.

Main Photo Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports


More Posts

Send Us A Message