With the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals on Sunday night, we are officially in the off-season. This week has the potential to be a busy one leading up to the expansion draft.
If you are catching up, check out our “2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes Roster Building Central” which has a complete list of article links for the articles thus far.
Also check out Canes and Coffee’s Off-Season Fantasy Hockey Contest with a Tuesday entry deadline.
The expansion draft has the potential to yield a very interesting week for the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL in total. The regular NHL draft and free agency which are on the way are a staple of every NHL off-season. But the expansion draft is unique and potentially powerful. First, the expansion draft sets a firm deadline for a unique category of trades. Second, the expansion draft puts 30-50 players into play before and after that deadline from teams considering the option of collecting a trade return for a player destined to be lost (before) and Las Vegas considering trades of players that the team just acquired (after).
So there is a straightforward analysis of what the expansion draft means for the Hurricanes in terms of who they expose and who they ultimately lose to Las Vegas. I have written about this some already and mostly stand by what I wrote on March 29. I will write an updated vanilla version of the Hurricanes’ expansion draft either Monday or Tuesday, but at a basic level, I stand by my March 29 article that suggested Francis would protect veteran Lee Stempniak and expose and lose one of Brock McGinn or Phil Di Giuseppe.
But allow me first to take the unique situation and enter the realm of creative, spit-balling with too much free time realm first and come at it from an angle of Finance and or Economics 101.
Market inefficiencies created by the NHL expansion draft
In a normal NHL off-season, there are multiple simple elements of supply and demand that play into how much players cost both in terms of salary and trade cost. Certain positions have more free agents or players theoretically available than others. The pool of free agents is richer in some off-seasons than others which can impact the cost of especially second-tier free agents. And the seemingly constant shortage of top 4 defensemen regularly drives their prices high.
But the expansion draft creates an entirely different set of supply, demand and market dynamics specifically for the rarest commodity of them all — top 4 defensemen.
Before the expansion draft
Extra supply pre-expansion draft: I count at least six teams that have more quality top 4 defensemen than they can protect. My list includes the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks and New York Islanders. In a normal off-season, none of these teams would be eager at all to unload their fourth best defenseman. But facing the prospect of losing their fourth defenseman for nothing, these teams have an incentive to at least consider trading their fourth defenseman to receive a trade return instead of watching them leave for Las Vegas for nothing.
Many teams wanting a top 4 defenseman cannot shop until AFTER the expansion draft: Just the same as any other off-season, there will be no shortage of teams seeking to add a top 4 defenseman. But the expansion draft throws an interesting wrinkle into the timing of that. Teams that already have three good defenseman who they must protect in the expansion draft cannot add their fourth defenseman until after the expansion draft; otherwise they run the risk of adding a top 4 defenseman next week only to lose them less than a week later to Las Vegas in the expansion draft.
Teams that can fit another defenseman on their roster and protect the player: There are a reasonable number of teams that can fit another defenseman on their roster and protect him for the expansion draft. The Hurricanes are such a team. My quick back-of-the-envelope check suggests that most, if not all, of Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Vancouver, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Washington could accept a top 4 defenseman and protect him. But I think the list of teams that would even consider doing this is smaller. A couple teams like Tampa Bay and Washington have salary cap challenges to consider. A few others might not want to add a top 4 defenseman. When I add it up, my rough math says that there is roughly enough teams that could theoretically add and protect a defenseman to match up against teams that might want to unload one. So it is not such a crazy buyer’s market that players will be given away for nothing. In addition, in the event that bids were just way too low, teams could instead negotiate directly with Las Vegas to keep certain players from being selected.
Preferred currency for expansion draft-related trades: There are exceptions with rebuilding teams, but in general teams trading a top half of the roster player will want to receive a similarly good player back, not just a collection of futures. But that is not necessarily the case with pre-expansion draft trades. Just like with teams who want to add a top 4 defenseman but cannot do it because they do not have an expansion draft expansion slot left, the same is true for teams with too many defensemen who are looking to trade one. They definitely cannot take a defenseman who needs to be protected back. If they do, the team ends up right back in the same situation. Though it is possible some teams could have room to protect a forward received in exchange, many teams with depth will prefer a return of futures that do not need to be protected.
After the expansion draft
After the expansion draft, the demand side of the equation increases: Once the expansion draft concludes, another 6-10 teams will emerge on the scene looking to bolster their defense with a top 4 defenseman, and anyone who has four defensemen will mostly be happy to keep them. And the off-season will return to its usual course with not enough top 4 defensemen to go around and teams bidding crazily to land one.
So short version is that there are a few unique supply/demand situations in the pre-expansion draft time period that at least have the potential to be exploited.
The Carolina Hurricanes situation
Part 1 of my series building the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes roster started by identifying the team’s needs. The short version is that adding a scoring top 6 forward is the highest priority remaining after already addressing goaltending with the Scott Darling trade.
The usual price for top 6 forwards obtained via trade: Top 6 scoring forwards, especially younger ones available via trade, are rare, arguably as rare as top 4 defensemen. The prospect of obtaining such a player without giving up a good roster player in return is minimal. Whenever players like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Jonathan Drouin and similar is brought up, the expected return changes based on trade partner obviously but almost always includes a top half of the roster player in return.
More specifically for the Hurricanes, mention of players like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Drouin, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or similar is quite often followed by discussion about which young defenseman the Hurricanes would consider parting with.
Francis seems unwilling or at least reluctant to part with a young roster defenseman: But Francis watching Taylor Hall go to New Jersey for Adam Larsson when Justin Faulk might have trumped New Jersey’s offer suggests that Francis might not really want to trade sideways with a defenseman for forward deal. Similarly, Duchene slipping through the trade deadline still with Colorado might (no certainty) mean that Francis again held tight to his young blue line. At the same time, the Hurricanes started the off-season with a full allotment of draft picks plus two extra second round picks and two extra third round picks. In an end of season media session, Francis and Coach Bill Peters joked about how many of those picks the team planned to use. In addition, the Hurricanes suddenly have a deeper prospect pool that could be drawn upon to improve the 2017-18 roster.
It is unclear whether Francis would trade a young roster defenseman to land a top forward if he absolutely must, but I feel confident in saying that his preference would be to instead deal from the team’s cadre of draft picks and prospects if he can.
As an aside, I am on record as believing that the Hurricanes should consider adding a #4/#5 defenseman, importantly prioritized behind the forward addition. But I think what the team ideally needs is a short-term bridge that keeps the youth from being rushed but can also move aside when the time is right. More directly, I think ideal is a proven #4/#5, ideally with only one or at most two years remaining on his contract and also ideally with some ability to play on either side. Most of the players that teams might be considering trading out of expansion draft selections are higher-end players, many with fairly expensive and longer-term contracts.
Where the unique expansion draft market and Hurricanes’ needs meet
At first glance, the two situations do not seem to line up. The extra supply is top 4 defensemen. The Hurricanes ideally need a top 6 forward.
But follow me on a bit of a diversion…
Because there is a decent size collection of teams who ideally need to collect value for a top 4 defenseman before the expansion draft, and a set of teams who want a top 4 defenseman but cannot add such a player until after the expansion draft, could Francis buy low before the expansion draft and then flip the defenseman to get the forward they want after the expansion draft?
Remember that the primary desired trade asset before the expansion draft if futures. That is exactly what Francis wants to spend. There will be some competition from teams that want and can fit a defenseman now, and there could also be another team or two like the Hurricanes who take advantage of the situation. But it could still be a creative way for Ron Francis to add a high-end top 6 forward while trading only futures to do so.
How about a combination of three prospects and/or draft picks for a good top 4 defenseman like Travis Hamonic, Jonas Brodin, Ryan Ellis or similar on Wednesday who is then flipped maybe with another future to add a top 6 forward like Matt Duchene or similar within two weeks of the first trade (i.e.the end of the regular draft weekend)?
What say you Canes fans?
Too outlandish to even be possible? Interesting at least? Maybe right up Francis’ ally to creatively exploit a unique situation just like he did for the Versteeg/Nordstrom and Teravainen/Bickell trades?