On Saturday, it was announced that the Hurricanes had signed right wing Jesper Fast to a three-year contract for $2 million per year.
Below are my initial thoughts on the addition.
At the top level
At the most basic level, Jesper Fast is a good hockey player and also unmistakably a positive add in terms of the locker room. At a salary of $2 million per year, Fast represents a quality depth addition. His scoring is not such that he dramatically changes the Hurricanes, but Fast adds quality depth that makes a difference when trying to ice a balanced, competitive lineup.
Fast was an assistant captain, leader and positive influence for the Rangers. He is a strong defensive forward capable of playing against other teams’ best players and also playing on the penalty kill. Fast has scored between 20 and 30 points in each of the last five seasons, so he is not so much a scoring spark as the addition of more depth scoring. Because of that, he ideally slots more as a third line forward, but he skates well enough and is sound defensively which means he is not out of place in the top 6 when lines get shuffled or injuries make it necessary.
Fast also fills a few needs. He adds a right shot and true right wing. The Hurricanes have regularly had to use players like Foegele and McGinn on the right side to balance the lineup. Though his skill set is different, he adds a right shot to replace Justin Williams. He also skates well and should fit well in Brind’Amour’s forechecking system in that regard.
Where he slots
For me the most intriguing thing about this trade is the Fast’s potential to boost Jordan Staal’s line and try to turn back the clock a few years to when Staal’s line was among the best checking lines in the NHL. There was a time a few years ago when Jordan Staal plus almost any two forwards made for a great defensive line. Staal was often able to win pucks in the defensive zone and transport it to the offensive zone without much help. Hard to say if it was just a slightly down year or a trend now that he is north of 30 years old, but Staal was not nearly as dominant in that regard in 2019-20.
With a bit more help on the wing, can Staal find a second wind leading a top-end checking line? I think that question is intriguing on multiple levels.
Change in skill set: For me, peak Staal in a Hurricanes uniform was playing with Nestrasil and Nordstrom simply because paired with two depth forwards, the line was incredibly good matching up against other teams’ best lines. Nordstrom was underrated in that role. More than any other player that Staal has played with as a Hurricane, Nordstrom knew how to support Staal when he had the puck. With Staal carrying the puck out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone, Nordstrom understood where he needed to be and what he needed to do to give Staal an option if multiple defenders converged to take away his skating lane. Sometimes it was making a passing lane. More often it was charting a course to a dump in right behind the area that an opposing player would have to vacate to help defend Staal off the rush. Other times it was understanding spacing 2-on-2 to keep a second defender honest and give Staal left or right options as he cut and used his size to defend the puck. Without the puck, Nordstrom also excelled at taking away angles and passing lanes in the neutral zone such that Staal could read and react behind him. Brock McGinn and Warren both pair well with Staal in the sense that they forecheck well and work hard and are competent defensively, but neither really fill the cerebral Nordstrom role that meshed so well with Staal. They are more heat-seeking missiles that just generally charge hard versus playing a read/react type of role. As such, I think there is a possibility that adding another veteran defensively-skilled forward could be just what is needed to boost Staal’s line defensively at a time when he needs a bit more help. Could Fast fill that role?
That makes for a second interesting consideration. Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour has so far leaned strongly toward balanced lines over purpose-build lines. He tends to mix offensive players with better defenders for balance. The question is whether that was personnel-driven or just how he wants to build his forward lines. The addition of Fast could be an indication that Brind’Amour and the organization recognize that with three more years on his contract, a ‘meh’ 2019-20 campaign and light offensive production the best path to getting value from Staal is to add some help to build a strong checking line around him.
The contract is good value. The $2 million salary is right for a third line role. But there are a couple interesting angles on spending to add a free agent. First, CapFriendly now shows the Hurricanes with $5.8 million of cap space remaining. If one adds to that the salaries for Jake Bean and Alex Nedeljkovic who figure to stay at the NHL level because they are no longer waiver-exempt, the cap space drops to $4.2 million. Then if you add restricted free agents Haydn Fleury and Warren Foegele at $1.8 million each, the available cap space falls to just $0.6 million. With the current lineup, that would not be enough to carry an extra forward or another defensemen if one was injured. Though it is possible that the Hurricanes are ready to wiggle and dance right up at the salary cap ceiling like many other teams, but maybe a more interesting explanation is that the team still expects to make a trade or two to add a bit of flexibility. The other interesting angle financially is the three-year term. The $2 million salary is not a budget breaker by an stretch of the imagination, but with Svechnikov’s new contract next summer set to make things even tighter a few million can sometimes be the difference between being able to keep a higher-end player like Dougie Hamilton or having to let him go.
At a basic level, I like the deal simply because Fast is a good player on a reasonable contract. More intriguing and possibly the case where 2+2 = more than 4 is if he clicks with Jordan Staal and the duo becomes two-thirds of a top-end checking line turning back the clock a few years for Staal.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on the Canes signing Jesper Fast?
2) Where do you figure he slots in the lineup and what significant roles does he fill?