Jake Guentzel traded to the Carolina Hurricanes
(Photo Credit: Shatteredlenstx/ Wikimedia Commons)

In a stunning move just before the NHL trade deadline on March 8th, 2024, the Pittsburgh Penguins have traded star winger Jake Guentzel to the Carolina Hurricanes.

The blockbuster deal sends the 29-year-old Guentzel and defenseman Ty Smith to Carolina in exchange for forward Michael Bunting, prospects Ville Koivunen, Vasily Ponomarev, and Cruz Lucius, along with conditional 2024 first-round and fifth-round draft picks.

Guentzel had been the subject of trade rumors for months as the Penguins struggled this season and looked to retool their aging core.

The homegrown winger, drafted by Pittsburgh in 2013, spent his entire NHL career with the Penguins. He won a Stanley Cup in 2017 while playing on Sidney Crosby’s wing. In 503 career games, Guentzel racked up an impressive 219 goals and 247 assists.

“The decision to trade Jake Guentzel, with his contract set to expire this offseason, was one of the most difficult decisions that I have had to make in my time in management,” said Penguins GM Kyle Dubas. “Jake’s competitiveness, tenacity and spirit, combined with his talent, have produced some of the greatest moments of this era of Penguins hockey.”

Several teams were reportedly in the mix for Guentzel’s services, including the Vegas Golden Knights, Vancouver Canucks, and Edmonton Oilers. However, the Hurricanes ultimately won the sweepstakes, bolstering their already talented roster for a playoff run.

“Jake is an elite goal scorer and playmaker who has produced at a high level for his entire NHL career,” said Hurricanes GM Don Waddell. “We’re thrilled to bolster our lineup as we compete to bring the Stanley Cup back to Raleigh.”

Guentzel, who is currently out with an upper-body injury but is expected to return soon, has recorded 22 goals and 30 assists in 50 games this season. His $6 million cap hit will be retained at 25% by the Penguins.

In return, Pittsburgh receives the 28-year-old Bunting, who has 13 goals and 23 assists in 60 games with Carolina this year. The Penguins also add to their prospect pool with Koivunen, Ponomarev, and Lucius, who were ranked as the Hurricanes’ 6th, 7th, and 9th-best prospects, respectively.

The conditional draft picks are dependent on the Hurricanes’ playoff success. The 2024 first-rounder becomes a second-round pick if Carolina fails to reach the Stanley Cup Final. The Penguins will only receive the 2024 fifth-rounder if the Hurricanes win the Cup.

Early reaction to the trade has been mixed. Some analysts see it as a clear win for the Hurricanes, who acquired an elite winger without giving up any of their very top prospects. Others question if the Penguins got enough of a return for a player of Guentzel’s caliber, especially with the draft picks being conditional.

What’s certain is that Guentzel’s departure marks the end of an era in Pittsburgh and a major shakeup for a franchise accustomed to contending for championships. The Penguins now look ahead to an uncertain future, while the Hurricanes gear up for what they hope will be a long playoff run with Guentzel in the fold.

Only time will tell who truly won this landscape-altering deadline deal.