In case you missed it, none other than our Carolina Hurricanes kicked off what could be a busy week trade-wise with a deal that sent a 2016 second round pick and a 2017 third round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell.
I mostly stand by that basics of that plan obviously with the potential to adjust to opportunistically take advantage of other teams’ situations just like with today’s trade.
But I think with one deal done and the draft week quickly approaching that it is also an interesting time to assess where the Canes are right now and what makes sense for next moves.
Impact of Teravainen/Bickell deal
An important starting point is understanding the impact of today’s deal. First it is important to note that I LOVE this deal simply because it adds another desperately needed young but NHL-proven forward to the mix without giving up a roster player. This is simultaneously a step in the right direction for both adding depth and youth but also improving for the 2016-17 season.
But there are a couple of interrelated downsides to this deal:
1) The Canes added $5.4 million of salary which is roughly one-third of what I figure Francis has available (not counting money to re-sign Rask and Murphy).
2) Despite spending a chunk of money, I do not view this deal as addressing either of the Canes 2 biggest needs for 2016-17 which are to add a #1-capable goalie and a catalyst, preferably a center, for a first scoring line. (Important to note is that Teravainen could development into the offensive catalyst and will definitely help scoring, but I would not try to build a playoff team for 2016-17 assuming that is a sure thing.)
So while the deal does fill 2 forward slots, it does also squeeze the budget remaining for what I view as the 2 biggest needs in building a 2016-17 roster than can compete for a playoff spot.
The budget math
I wrote about the Canes budget math heading into the summer way back on May 4. The short version is that I viewed Francis needing to spend about $15 million (including re-signing Rask and Murphy) just to reach the cap floor probably with upside of another $3 million for there.
Checking in after the addition of Teravainen and Bickell and $5.4 million of salary (cap hit about $5 million), it is now like this:
–Team sits at $44.4 million (General Fanager=>GREAT cap site).
–There are a couple adjustments to be made. First, it makes sense to add Sebastian Aho (who is in AHL list right now) and also budget $1 million for Ryan Murphy and $3.5 million (slightly high could be a bit less) for Victor Rask. In addition, the ACTUAL salary is about $2 million less than the CAP HIT.
–So after adjustments, the Canes would be at about $47.8 million in total ACTUAL salary for 2016-17. That total includes 11 forwards, 7 defensemen and 1 goalie leaving the team to add 2 forwards and a goalie.
–The Hurricanes started the 2015-16 season with $61.3 million in actual salary. My wild guess says that after a rough season attendance-wise that the team will look to pocket some of the money saved. I put an ACTUAL salary budget at $58-$60 million.
–And I think that is enough to do what Francis needs to do which is add a #1-capable goalie and an offensive catalyst forward and another depth forward. My rough math says Frederik Andersen for $4 million, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins $6 million and Riley Nash $1.2 million. This would put the opening day roster at $59 million which would be a $2.3 million decrease from 2015-16.
–But importantly, I think GM Ron Francis will have built a team that attempts to address 2015-16 weaknesses and with a legitimate chance to push for the playoffs.
Small moves first
The ghost of Pavel Datsyuk: Per my post from June 8, the second thing on the list below the Teravainen/Bickell deal was a puzzling move to add Pavel Datsyuk. The idea is that he is going to retire. His retirement will not eliminate the cap hit for the Red Wings. So instead and especially if they want to chase Steven Stamkos, the Detroit needs to move his contract and cap hit. If I was Francis I would be generously offering help for this service right and be willing to do it for a small cost. Unlike other similar deals where the player has an actual salary or could hypothetically return from injury and be a financial albatross, this deal has virtually no risk. The wild surprise would be if Datsyuk changed his mind and returned to the NHL in which case the Canes would add a top 6 center to the roster at a salary of only $5 million. Oh how Francis would love to have that problem. Because the risk is non-existent, the Wings should be able to call around to the 4-5 teams who can do this deal and pay only a small fee to do it. But this said, Detroit GM Ken Holland does have some incentive to put this to bed, so he can get started spending the savings.
I would call Holland and offer to trade a 2017 fourth round pick for a 2017 second round pick and the help of taking Datsyuk’s contract. Then whatever Holland counter-offered with I would just take it as free money. If it is a fifth for a third, a fourth for a seventh…whatever. It’s free unless I am missing something.
Riley Nash: I would actually consider signing Riley Nash right now to lock in the last depth forward. With Bickell’s addition, I think he is an even better fit for what the Canes need. First, if I am correct that Francis needs/wants budget for a higher-end forward and a #1-capable goalie, the team needs to also find a cheap final forward. Nash fits the bill there. Riley Nash was the only free agent that I voted to keep (on a 1-way NHL contract) in my final ‘stay or go’ evaluation of the Canes impending free agents. I think he is underrated, and I also think his versatility is a huge plus. He is a right shot centerman but can also play right wing. He skates well and adds speed to a fourth line that could now include Bryan Bickell and Jay McClement and be mobility-challenged. He looked good and scored on the power play and 5v5 in a bigger role after the trade deadline deals afforded him more ice time. My hunch is that Eric Tulsky sees what everyone else sees with Jay McClement’s underlying stats from 2015-16 such that there is even a chance that Nash steals the fourth line center slot in training camp and pushes McClement or Bickell to #13.
This one is a tough call. The downside is that it does spend some $ and another roster spot. Last summer, there was a pretty decent collection of players who lost the game of free agent musical chairs and were really cheap in August, so there could be a case for hoping for a really good deal from the bargain bin much later. My issue is that many of these players fit the bill of ‘one-time scorer/reclamation project which may not be a great fit anyway. But there is also a risk that another GM looking for cheap depth that fits today’s skating NHL sees Nash’s wheels, versatility and modest price tag and scoops him up. If I can get a fair price similar to last year’s $1.25 million, I think I just do it and collect a good versatile player who can skate.
Ryan Murphy and Victor Rask: Murphy and Rask are restricted free agents, so there is not really an urgent time table to re-sign them. This said, getting them under contract adds some clarity to the budget situation, so it is possible that Francis will work to get them, especially Rask, signed and added to his salary tally before the broader shopping excursion starts in earnest.
Then I think it is time for patience. If things go down as I suggest, Francis will have left his 2 most important summer moves for last. I actually think this is the right way to do it.
Priority 1A – #1 goalie
Everything in interviews and the media seems to suggest that the Carolina Hurricanes and Ron Francis are walking their way up to re-signing Cam Ward. The stronger this story becomes publicly, the more suspicious I become that this is all a brilliant ruse by Ron Francis. In 2 years, the guy has let NOTHING escape the offices on Edwards Mill Road and has generally offered nothing in media interviews. Now suddenly he is telecasting his intention to re-sign Cam Ward publicly? Right before the draft and the frenzy of GM trade discussions? We will see, but the louder the “we might re-sign Cam Ward” suggestions get, the more skeptical I become.
If I am right that Francis will at least first explore better options, I think it will be a slow tap dance. There will be a bunch of calls between now and the draft with each opposing GM requesting a fair market value for their solid goalie option. Francis will take notes, gauge how intent each is on unloading his extra goalie and then patiently wait. As noted in the post from this morning, there are potentially more goalies available than teams that need to add a #1 goalie by up to 4-5 goalies. At some point in this sorting out process, the game of musical chairs should favor Ron Francis. I think it is at this point that he pounces. My best guess is that this would happen sometime after the draft and right before free agency opens. At this point in time, GMs looking to trade goalies will have completed their initial shopping with no sale completed, will hopefully have seen a few shoppers do deals that takes them out of the market and they will also be staring at the chance that a couple more options (Reimer, Ward and to some degree Johnson) will be adding to the supply on July 1.
If I had to take a wild guess, I will say that Francis swing will swing a deal for either Frederik Andersen, Marc-Andre Fleury or Jake Allen sometime during the 4 days after the draft ends and free agency starts.
Priority 1B – playmaking catalyst, ideally a center
With the addition of Teuvo Teravainen and to a lesser degree Bryan Bickell, the Hurricanes offense took a step forward. But I actually think the addition of Teravainen amplifies the need to make one big splash to add an offensive catalyst to the mix.
The current puzzle pieces
If you break down the Canes forwards right now, I think it is like this:
Nestrasil/JStaal/Nordstrom: Incredibly good second/checking line from December-end of February (when Nestrasil was injured). This line was the single biggest driver of the Canes surge during most of the second half of the season. But even when playing well, it is below the average for scoring for a first or second line. That is fine as long as you complement it with a line that leans scoring first. But the Canes did not have that. Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg anchored the other top line. That line played a different style but was similarly good at controlling play but not especially good at converting it to goals. Nonetheless, Jordan Staal’s line was incredibly good and seems almost certain to exit preseason as one half of the Canes top 6 forwards.
So if that line is a little light scoring-wise, how does Coach Bill Peters build a line that is heavier on scoring production? Let’s look at the individual options:
Jeff Skinner: He had a very good 2015-16 season, but it is important to note that 28 goals and 51 points is light for being a team’s top scorer. I think there is potential for Skinner to score more if he gels with a line mate who can help him get more scoring chances, and I am also fine with the fact that he seems to be able to generate enough all by himself.
But after Skinner, the options are heavy on potential but light on proven production:
Elias Lindholm: Unless he is a late bloomer, Lindholm is not cut out of the mold of a dynamic scorer, but he does have a decent all-around combination of skill, smarts and shot that. But his 39 points in 82 games with a decent helping of power play ice time, reasonably decent line mates and a good volume of ice time is decent third line production but does not scream top 6 scorer.
Teuvo Teravainen: In addition to the Blackhawks salary cap woes, the reason he is available is because he has yet to find a groove as a scorer like Artemi Panarin did last season in what was previously thought to be his role. His 35 points in 78 games are decent depth scoring just like Elias Lindholm’s scoring is not top 6 type production.
Phil Di Giuseppe: He made a nice transition from the AHL to the NHL. He looked better than I expected defensively and away from the puck and also showed enough skill and scoring ability to hang with Jeff Skinner. And he did so during Skinner’s hottest stretch of the 2015-16 season. Di Giuseppe’ s 17 points in 41 games is in the same neighborhood as Teravainen and Lindholm as decent third line numbers but not much more.
Sebastian Aho: His play in international tournaments this past season suggests that he could be on the path to being the higher-end scorer that the Canes desperately need. But as a 19-year old rookie making his debut in the NHL and in North America in general, it is unfair to ask him to shoulder the responsibility of leading a scoring line. Much better to let him earn a roster slot and grow based on his play not based on the roster holes above him.
Victor Rask: His step-wise progress from year-to-year for consecutive seasons now has been impressive. He unexpectedly seized a roster spot for the 2014-15 season and had a solid rookie season with 33 points. In 2015-16, he built upon his rookie season and increased his point total to 48. He is a solid 2-way center whose offense continues to grow, but I do not see him as a pure playmaking catalyst for a scoring line (would love it if 2016-17’s next step proves me wrong!). And even if he was, just moving Rask up leaves another hole below him.
When you net it out, I love the idea of pushing Victor Rask down to a third line role where his scoring is solid and his 2-way play balances the roster depth. When you look at the wing possibilities other than Skinner, I think it is fair to say that none of them has yet performed at the level of a scoring line wing at the NHL level but that the skill set is there such that it is possible.
The need for a leader and catalyst
Enter my demand for an offensive catalyst with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being the closest thing this side of Steven Stamkos who is thought to be available. The Hurricanes do not need another goal scoring wing like a Kyle Okposo. What they need is a more of a pure playmaker who can score himself but maybe more important boost 2 decent young players to another level. The goal is to add a 55-60-point scorer who can also find chemistry with 2 other players and boost them from 35-40 points up to 55-60 or in the case of Jeff Skinner from 50ish points to more like 65-70 and that becomes the purer scoring line to complement Jordan Staal’s line.
That is why I think 1 of the last 2 forward additions for Francis needs to be an offensive catalyst that is the driver of a scoring line to complement what Jordan Staal’s line did so well in 2015-16.
The challenge is that 55-60 point playmaking centers do not grow on trees or become available for inexpensive prices either via trade or free agency. The free agent market is especially light on this type of player. Past the elite model in Steven Stamkos who will NOT be in Raleigh next year at least in a home jersey, the best I see is Frans Nielsen who is maybe interesting for the right price but not a pure playmaker and also a significant downgrade.
Again, the need for patience and negotiating savvy
I think the play here is very similar to goalie situation.
Francis should make calls on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Matt Duchene to express interest and check availability and should poke around for other unknown trade possibilities. He should also at least try to do a deal for 1 of the 2 or a similar player using only a collection of futures before the draft (when some of the draft futures are spent). But I think the deal happens later – possibly even into the season later. Francis has the trump card to win Nugent-Hopkins in Justin Faulk who is exactly the top 4 right shot defenseman that the Oilers covet. I would NOT consider that deal for a second. I like Nugent-Hopkins, but I think Faulk is better and also from a harder to fill category as a young top 4 defenseman who adds scoring. Same is true for Duchene in Colorado.
The plan is to play a waiting game and hope that neither GM gets what he really wants but decides to make a move anyway either at the draft or as the summer stretches on and nothing better than what Francis will offer materializes. If nothing reasonable materializes, I do think Frans Nielsen is interesting for the right price. And though it is risky, I might also consider adding cheaper scoring help and saving some dry powder in terms of trade collateral and budget to make a trade during the season. That is especially true if Francis first adds an upgrade in net that in itself could be enough to push the Canes up a notch.
We erect the Ron Francis statue if…
In writing that I was thinking to myself that I think there is already enough cause to erect a pair of really cool statues of Ron Francis and Rod Brind’Amour outside PNC Arena.
But I digress…With the Teravainen/Bickell deal, Francis added a good young player without giving up a first round pick, top tier prospect or roster NHL player. He has a nice collection of futures that he could draw from to do deals. That deal is a good one and shows savvy, but the bigger challenges are still ahead. If Francis could somehow add a playmaking center and #1-capable goalie to the mix without giving up any of Brett Pesce, any of 3 first round picks for 2016 and 2017 or 1 of our few elite prospects (Aho, McKeown, Fleury, Nedeljkovic), I would be absolutely flabbergasted.
Until then I will wait optimistically in hopes that Francis has 2 more big moves in him and hope constantly that when it does happen that Brett Pesce is not a casualty of needing to boost the offense or goaltending.
Consider that a challenge for Ron Francis over the coming weeks.