If you missed it yesterday, I started into building the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes roster in earnest. Part 1 identified three needs (one already addressed with the addition of Scott Darling in net) plus a fourth that was option/less urgent.
Part 2 and to some degree part 3 will focus on sticking to the needs and priorities and avoiding the shiny stuff.
Large pool of NHL players available
What does that mean? The expansion draft will make an additional 20-40 players potentially available. The salary cap will continue to press down on some teams and force them to make players available to make the math work. And there is also the usual round of free agency. Because of this unique combination of factors, the summer of 2017 probably has the greatest volume of players at least potentially on the market than any year since the the summer of 2005. That was the season following the full-season labor stoppage that saw two years of free agents hit the market plus the initial implementation of the salary cap that forced teams to do deals.
With the volume of players available from free agency, pre or post-expansion draft options and salary cap casualties, one could literally go team by team and make short lists of players who have some value and could theoretically make the Hurricanes better in 2017-18. But per my article yesterday, going player by player and saying “What about this guy? Is he good?” misses the stage that the Hurricanes are at. The team is deeper in terms NHL-level players and also prospects who could be ready fairly soon.
Identifying and adding need-targeted difference-makers
The project for the summer of 2017 is not for General Manager Ron Francis to just opportunistically add a couple of any variety of middle of the roster players regardless of skill set or cost. Rather, the project for Francis is to strategically identify and add a couple difference-makers who address specific weaknesses and needs.
In adding Scott Darling, Francis did exactly that. He added a player from at or near the top of the list of options available to improve the Hurricanes’ goaltending which was near the bottom of the league last season as it has been for other recent seasons.
The next step is to add a player who can make a difference offensively. This is not a good checking line center. This is not a speedy, forechecking wing with ‘meh’ hands and finishing ability. And it is not a lot of other things that include good players. The need is fairly specific, and if one focuses on the need instead of all varieties of shiny stuff on the overstocked shelves this summer, the sorting process becomes easier and the targets clearer.
The blue line is a little bit trickier and the area where I will be curious to see where Francis’ head (and possibly budget) is. I am on record as thinking the team needs to step above the pretty well stocked and fairly inexpensive tier for 5/6 type defensemen and instead needs to shop one shelf higher in more of the 4/5 range. There are not enough pure top 4 defensemen to go around, but if Francis does decide to go this direction, there are a couple options. First, the expansion draft and teams generally only being able to protect three defensemen could make a handful of very good defensemen available for a reasonable trade price before the expansion draft. (Prices go right back up to market value once the expansion draft is over.) Alternatively, Francis and his scouting staff could try to find a borderline 4/5 who maybe costs a bit less coming off of a down season but is due to rebound and fits well in the Hurricanes system and with potential partners.
Regardless, over the next 3-4 weeks, something like 100 names of potentially helpful NHL players will be thrown out in the “What about ___?” conversations, but if one starts from matching players to needs, I think the list quickly falls by 75-80 percent.
Types of players who do not fit the primary need
At forward, I see two types of players who do not particularly fit the Hurricanes’ needs. First is pure sniper type wings who really need a playmaking center to be effective. My starting assumption is that the Hurricanes will only have budget, trade assets and wherewithal to add one top-end forward. As such, I am not a fan of adding a pure sniper. I just do not like the idea of taking a player who posts 55ish points playing with a playmaking center who generates bunches of scoring chances and then dropping into the Hurricanes lineup next to maybe Jordan Staal or Victor Rask. It is not inconceivable that the player has a decent season but still drops from 55-60 points to 40-42 simply because of getting fewer chances. Instead, I want the kind of player who generates offense in bunches both for himself and for his line mates. The goal is to add a 55-point player who does not need a ton of help to achieve that and equally significantly can boost two line mates.
At a basic level, I like players like Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon who are do-it-all offensive centers, and I am much less fond of a player like T.J. Oshie who put up 56 points regularly logging ice time with Backstrom and Kuznetsov at even strength and on special teams.
I also am not high on good depth scoring level centers whose strength is two-way play. The Hurricanes have exactly that in an elite version in Jordan Staal and a pretty good version in Victor Rask. Martin Hanzal and Nick Bonino come to mind as players who will be available this summer who will command a medium-high salary and who are good players but just do not fit what the Hurricanes need.
The Hurricanes need one player who can be a second scoring line likely to go opposite a line led by Skinner and to somewhat offset the fact that Jordan’s Staal’s line will likely be scoring-lite even if it is excelling at its primary job of eating up the hard minutes against the other teams’ best.
So show me a great two-way, defense-leaning centerman whose ceiling even if things go well is something like 45 points, and my inclination is to quickly admire his positive traits and and then equally quickly say no thank you. Show me a sniper type wing who lacks the ability to create his own offense but complements a great playmaking center, and I will similarly pass. And show me any forward, even if a good player, who does not at least have the potential to be a leader not just a complementary player on a newly-built scoring line likely with Sebastian Aho, and I immediately start looking to see if there are better options available.
On defense, my assessment starts with asking whatever contacts I have from the player’s 2016-17 team to see if they think the player is capable of playing in a top 4 role. If the answer is no, he quickly gets bumped down into the “depth defenseman” role that is a different need and price range.
But then there is the potential effect of market realities…
As much as I think Francis needs to stay focused and be willing to spend to improve the team, there are limits, and there is a point at which I step down a little bit in terms of how much I get and how much it costs.
A short list of players who easily fit the need who might be/could be/allegedly are available includes Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Alex Galchenyuk and even a few more. But as I said in Part 1, if the cost is a young roster NHL top 4 defenseman, a first round pick and more, the tier below these players starts to look more interesting.
Is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as intriguing as the players listed? No. But if the cost is a second round pick and lesser prospect because Edmonton knows they need to cut salary before next summer, then he becomes more interesting. Jordan Eberle is an even bigger compromise because he is not even a center, but again, at some price differential, he comes into play.
I think the key is that while not being as pure of a scoring catalyst as the other players noted, but the range of 60-65 points is at least within the realm of possibilities, and they do have the skill set such that with the right chemistry, they could be part of a first/second scoring line. If the market forces it, Francis might need to compromise a small amount on the level of play or possibly on contract/financials, but that is significantly different that just adding a good player who just does not even if things go well fit the team’s needs.
Depth is different and more flexible
In addition to trying to make the one or two remaining additions that are at the top of the needs/priority list, there is the possibility that Francis makes another move to add some depth. Think Viktor Stalberg and his $1.5 million contract for 2016-17. That is a different thing altogether. In the sub $1.5 million price range, Francis can be a bit more opportunistic and simply look for the best available player. He might want to add another penalty killer to the mix, but in general, such an addition could aim more at adding the best player he can for the price.
Other articles relevant to building the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes roster
Finally, if you were away in May, here are a couple more articles relevant to building the 2017-18 opening day roster. I looked specifically at 2017-18 salary math and then followed up with look at longer-term Hurricanes’ salary math. There will certainly be more as we get closer, but I already offered a few thoughts on the expansion draft. I also took a took a look at the Hurricanes’ free agents, some of whom could return and help fill out the roster.
What say you Caniacs?
The Thursday Coffee Shop will take on a similar theme, but here are a few questions for those who want to bandy stuff around here and/or before the Coffee Shop opens on Thursday.
Do you think I am wrong to write off good scorers like T.J. Oshie and others simply because of skill set?
What is the maximum you would pay to shop in the top tier of potentially available true scoring C1 or C2s versus stepping down a level possibly to avoid giving up a young roster defenseman?
Do you think Francis will be able to find and afford more of a 4/5 defenseman, or do you think he will have to settle for more of a 5/6/7? Do you think the team even needs a 4/5?
IT’S JUNE! IT’S TIME TO START BUILDING A 2017-18 PLAYOFF TEAM!