This week is definitely peak (Apex reference) season for the Carolina Hurricanes off-season. Francis reeled off a bunch of fairly routine transactions qualifying and signing players and then followed that up with a bigger move that shipped out two players who just were not working in Eddie Lack and Ryan Murphy. You can find my thoughts on that trade which was announced Thursday night HERE.
As tensions rise approaching another big NHL deal weekend with the start of free agency on Saturday, I would be remiss not to remind people that Francis did already address what I considered to be the Hurricanes biggest need when he added goaltender Scott Darling. But I would also be remiss if I did not at least acknowledge that Francis has yet to address what I consider to be the Hurricanes’ second biggest need which is a top 6, difference-maker forward.
And in the meantime, prospect camp is chugging forward with the Hurricanes’ youngest prospects on the ice at PNC Arena this week.
If you just want to browse a list of all articles posted at Canes and Coffee, go here to browse a complete chronological list of article links.
On the prospect front
My ‘what I’m watching’ (part 2 of 2 with a link to part 1) for prospect camp. In total, the two-part series work through all of the Hurricanes prospects in camp this week.
See what readers think in polls and discussion in a Thursday Coffee Shop post dedicated solely to the prospects and this week’s prospect camp.
On the 2017-18 roster-building front
Yesterday, I took a broad look at the free agent pool that officially becomes available on Saturday and considered it as a plan B for adding a top 6 forward.
Prior to that I looked more specifically at Patrick Marleau.
And a special Friday/Saturday Coffee Shop article will have polls and an open forum for discussion of the NHL’s free agent season which starts Saturday.
Once you either catch up or pass on catching up, today’s Daily Cup of Joe digs into three avenues for adding a top 6 forward in the near future and names six players who could fit the bill.
1) Sticking to the plan
From the very beginning, I identified the trade market as the best avenue to add the kind of player that the Hurricanes needed. That was very simply because in my opinion, the type of player that the Hurricanes ideally needed was thought to be available in the trade market, and the options in this summer’s free agent crop did not fit the bill.
Even with a couple good forwards (Jonathan Drouin, Artemi Panarin, Derek Stepan ) off the market, that continues to be true. The vast majority of the best targets to improve the Hurricanes scoring are still at least theoretically available.
But the challenge is that for trades it takes two to tango, and all estimations are that the potential dance partners just want a combination of too much or something that Francis is not willing to part with.
A check on my original top 10 list of trade targets to add a difference-making center from June 13 still finds most of the players with their original teams. And though he might or might not be available, my top target is still with his original team that seems destined to do some kind of deal.
In terms of the current status of negotiations, my best guess until information emerges to suggest differently, I stand by the speculation in my article on June 24 during the 2017 NHL Draft.
And that brings us to the here and now. I think the start of free agency on Saturday could be another good opportunity for Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis to see if he can catch Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic at a time of weakness and use it to drive a deal home. The opening of free agency puts a bunch more alternatives on the market for the Hurricanes and other teams who might have been talking to Colorado about Duchene, Landeskog and just maybe MacKinnon. Just maybe Sakic starts to worry that too many bidders will just go the free agent route instead, and he lowers his price, and just maybe Francis is on the other end of the phone during Sakic’s fit of uncertainty, doubt and weakness.
The same can be said for Mark Bergevin in Montreal if he is in fact shopping Alex Galchenyuk.
Doing deals: With regard to Colorado, I am on record as not being interested in Landeskog for a fair price. The deal I really like is ideally catching Sakic not happy with his potential return for Landeskog or Duchene and upping the level of the game to be a deal with MacKinnon and Hanifin being the key components. But if MacKinnon is not an option (seems most likely), I would continue pushing a hefty package of futures (NOT including a top 4 defenseman) for Duchene. On the Montreal front, similar to Duchene, I would actually be willing to overpay modestly as long as the currency is futures – 2018 draft picks, young NHL forwards like McGinn or Di Giuseppe, seemingly ready Haydn Fleury and other prospects would all be available to build a package.
In order of priority: Nathan MacKinnon, Alex Galchenyuk, Matt Duchene.
2) Shopping Las Vegas
Las Vegas’ initial roster has proven to be a marketplace in itself just as predicted. I actually think the Golden Knights have a couple interesting defensemen, but since that priority is so much lower than the desired top 6 forward, I will skip that altogether for now. Las Vegas is not as rich at the forward position, but there are a couple of possibilities.
The big name is James Neal who is a right wing and a proven goal scorer. He is under contract for only one year at $5 million. By my priorities, Neal is not ideal as a sniper type wing who would in my opinion be a better fit for a lineup with more playmaking at the center position. But if the prices in the trade market are as ridiculous as rumored, just maybe Francis goes to a plan B that while not perfect still represents an upgrade offensively.
Doing deals: Prior to Thursday’s Hurricanes trade, I would have liked to see Francis creatively pull together a deal that unloaded Lack’s contract, probably moved Murphy too and then included futures to make it worth Las Vegas’ while to part with Neal. But with Lack and Murphy already off the books, the Hurricanes more simply need to now win a bidding war for Neal. It is sort of a pick your poison between overpaying in assets for a trade or overpaying in dollars for winning a bidding war for a free agent.
In order of priority: James Neal.
3) Shopping the free agent market starting on Saturday
Saturday puts a new bunch of options on the table. I am on record as not liking much from the free agent options, but just maybe we are reaching the point when the price is just too steep on the trade market such that settling for plan B is just the best thing to do.
In such a scenario, there are a number of good players who could make the Hurricanes better even if they are not exactly what I would consider to be an ideal target.
Here are a few forwards I like:
–Sam Gagner: He was incredibly productive for the Blue Jackets in 2016-17 with 50 points despite playing fairly limited minutes. Best bet is that he returns to Columbus. I have also seen him attached to Chicago. But if available, could the 27-year old Gagner be exactly the offensive boost that the Hurricanes need even if he is maybe not as sexy as the top -tier options?
–Justin Williams: He seems destined for a Cup contender, but if available, Williams could bring another dose of leadership in the form of a player who can produce statistically too. I prefer a playmaking center, but maybe putting a smart, capable right wing across from Sebastian Aho with a decent center in the middle is good enough.
Doing deals: As long as the term is reasonable, just maybe Francis’ best path to adding a top 6 forward is to overpay slightly on the free agent market. Francis needs to add at least one bigger contract anyway just to reach the salary cap floor, so just maybe Justin Williams for one year and a little bit too much money is perfect. If the Hurricanes win, Williams mostly gets his playoff wish. If the Hurricanes falter, he becomes a playoff deadline deal to a Cup contender.
In order of priority: Sam Gagner, Justin Williams.
My hope is to have a special ‘free agent frenzy’ Coffee Shop post up by lunchtime on Friday, but if anyone wants to chime in on forward targets for the Hurricanes at this point in the game, feel free to also do so here.