I have written about the approaching 2019 NHL trade deadline sporadically over the past few weeks.
If you missed those articles, you can find them here:
Most likely scenario
Before venturing into the fun but less likely scenario for the upcoming trade deadline, let me set the baseline for expectations. Most likely is that the Hurricanes do nothing. The blue line is a strength as is, and Haydn Fleury is capable #7 depth. The goaltending has been a strength. Though there are questions to be answered this summer, the duo in place is playing well at the right time and not in need of upgrade for the rest of the 2018-19 season. I do think the Hurricanes could use another top 6 forward, ideally a second-line center, but I doubt the Hurricanes will play in the pricey rental market to do so. And with Jordan Staal returning and the bottom half of the forward group generally playing well, I do not think the Hurricanes can significantly improve by adding a depth forward to the mix.
Jordan Staal is nearing return from injury after being out of the lineup for an extended period of time. That makes one significant addition to the roster. And if the team decides to keep pending unrestricted free agent Micheal Ferland as is most likely, that would be what is being termed a ‘self-rental’ that further boosts the forward group.
So best bet is that the Hurricanes stand pat, and even as a fan who desperately wants a return to the playoffs, I am mostly okay with that outcome.
Ironically, I think the Hurricanes are more likely to be involved in a big trade (top 4 defenseman for top 6 forward) than a small one.
But what might be possible?
Though nothing is most likely, I do think there are some possibilities that the Hurricanes could do a deal. I think those possibilities sort pretty neatly into two categories. The first is trading a top 4 defenseman for a top 6 forward with term on his contract aimed at rebalancing the roster a bit and improving not just for 2018-19 but for the long-term. The second is opportunistically spending modest futures to boost 2019 playoff hopes. Below is a short set of deals for each category.
Trading a defenseman for a top 6 forward with term
I have addressed this a couple different ways already. Most directly was the article that considered Justin Faulk trade possibilities. Increasingly, I think the time is now to sell high on Justin Faulk. He has had a much better season defensively which potentially boosts his value from the summer, and as a right shot defenseman, his position is a hard to find commodity in today’s NHL. Equally significantly, I just do not see Faulk as a long-term part of the core defensively. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are locked in long-term on very reasonable contracts. Though Dougie Hamilton started slowly in a Canes uniform, he increasingly looks like the offensive catalyst/difference-maker that the Hurricanes thought they added in July. That is three already and likely as many as the team can protect for the next expansion draft. That leaves Faulk and de Haan as in jeopardy for the expansion draft, and that is only if the Hurricanes can re-sign Faulk after the 2019-20 season. Though it might be easier to trade Faulk during the off-season, my instinct tells me that General Manager Don Waddell will at least be exploring possibilities in the coming days. In that vein, deals I would do include.
Justin Faulk + Brock McGinn + 2nd round pick for Jonathan Huberdeau
Most likely Huberdeau is not actually available or if he is available it is likely to broker the big deal for Bobrovsky and Panarin from Columbus. But if by chance Florida is looking to shake things up a bit and Huberdeau is the Matt Duchene of the franchise, I would bid aggressively. Young, proven top 6 forwards with contract term at a reasonable price are a rare commodity on the trade market. To be honest, I would not be against just throwing in more middle-tier futures to get a deal done if it is possible. Huberdeau fits nicely right now as a second line center but also brings the flexibility to shift to wing later if Martin Necas matures to become a second line scoring line center down the road.
Justin Faulk + Brock McGinn + 3rd round pick for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
This is basically the same deal. Nugent-Hopkins is the same 25 years old as Huberdeau. He can also play center or wing. And he is signed for a reasonable $6 million per year (Huberdeau is $5.9 million). One key difference is that Huberdeau is signed for four more years to Nugent-Hopkins’ two years. My guess is that Edmonton waits until summer to try to sort things out once they have a permanent general manager in place, but if instead they try to get a head start at the trade deadline and Nugent-Hopkins is available, I would definitely be a bidder.
Justin Faulk + Micheal Ferland for Kasperi Kapanen + 1st-round pick + mid-tier prospect or Justin Faulk + Micheal Ferland for William Nylander +2nd round pick
Ideally, this trade looks more like the first two with the Hurricanes trading Faulk+ to land a top 6 forward, but I think this trade might need to be bigger to make sense for both sides. First, Kapanen is a good player and easily a top 9 forward. The question with him is whether he is truly a top 6 scoring forward or more of a great high-end depth player. If the Leafs really want to go for it in the 2019 playoffs, Micheal Ferland makes this trade happen as much as Faulk. Ferland adds some size to the Leafs lineup but in the form of a player who can skate and score. The Hurricanes come out of the deal with a replacement forward for Ferland who is not an unrestricted free agent this summer and another high draft pick.
A couple notes on the Canes offered. Including a run of Faulk trades might suggest that I am down on him. Quite the opposite is true actually. I was down on his defensive play for most of the previous two seasons, but I give him credit for rebounding strongly in 2018-19. But I do rank him below Slavin, Pesce and Hamilton on the depth chart and per my comments above just think the time is right to sell high relative to the past couple years. Brock McGinn is also included twice. Similarly, I am not down on McGinn. I actually think his 2018-19 has been pretty similar and possibly even a small step up from his 2017-18 campaign, as I am not overly concerned about his decrease in goal scoring. As a player with an inexpensive contract, he would fit into the bottom half of many teams’ lineups. But that is just thing for me. McGinn is a solid bottom six forward who brings a physical element and the ability to kill penalties. I think he would be missed by the Canes, but I also think he is replaceable and maybe not as critical with Martinook re-signed.
Opportunistically seeking rental scoring help
By no means do I expect or hope that the Canes pony up a first-round draft pick and whatever else it takes to win a bidding war for one of the premium rentals expected to be dealt a the trade deadline.
But put me firmly in the camp that thinks making the playoffs sooner rather than later is worth spending for within reason. Many who extol patience talk about it as if you automatically improve from year to year such that if you miss the playoffs this year, you will make it next year. It does not work like that in the NHL. There is not necessarily a step-wise progression if you just wait. The Hurricanes missing the playoffs for nine years should make that clear. And I also think there is significant value in getting the Hurricanes young group exposure to the playoffs. The playoffs are a significantly different animal. Even if the Hurricanes squeak into the last playoff spot and then lose to the Lightning in five games, I think there is significant experience value in that.
So in that vein, I would consider opportunistically spending a modest amount of futures if there is a bargain to be had in the waning hours leading up to the deadline. The target would be scoring help ideally in the form of a center.
He was a good middle 6 type center who was capable on the power play only two years ago but never really found his way playing in the C3 slot in Pittsburgh. The burning question is whether he is on the decline or just needs a change of scenery. I would be hesitant to bet a new three-year contract on Brassard, but depending on what the team’s scouting staff thinks of him, he might be an interesting addition. While maybe not a legitimate C2, his skill set as that of a more offense-leaning center and playmaker is a match for what the Hurricanes need. Florida took him to help the Pens with the salary cap. As an impending unrestricted free agent, Florida figures to trade him to the highest bidder. If no one else is really interested and the highest bid is a 4th-round pick, is he worth a flyer? Just maybe.
The Red Wings are another team that figures to unload players for futures at the trade deadline. Lost in the Red Wings struggles is the fact that Nyquist is quietly having a solid season. His 48 points would put him third on the Hurricanes in scoring behind only Aho and Teravainen by a 10-point margin. He is a wing not a center which is maybe not perfect, but for the right price he would be a nice scoring boost that bumps a 15-20 point player out of the lineup. Again, I would not be aiming to win a high-end bidding war. But if when the game of musical chairs is coming to an end mid-afternoon next Monday he is still available, I would be willing to spend a mid-round draft pick.
Johansson maybe has a lower ceiling offensively than the other two, but he is a versatile all-around forward who can play any forward position. And his 45-ish point pace while not eye-popping would still be an upgrade over the Canes current bottom 3-4 forwards. Same as the others, if no one else steps in aggressively, I would be waiting in the wings to snap him up for a mid-round pick mid-afternoon on Monday.
I do not see the Hurricanes playing in the higher-end rental market for players like Matt Duchene, Mark Stone or Artemi Panarin (if he becomes available) unless the ask plummets relative to the early rumblings. But just maybe the attention focused on the marquee players makes it possible for the Hurricanes to scoop up someone from the second tier at a bargain price.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you think the time is now to trade Faulk in a package for a forward? Would you consider shopping a different defenseman if the return is higher? What do you think of the deals detailed, and do you have any others?
2) On the rental front, would you even consider it or just pass altogether? If you would consider it, what would be your limit in terms of what you would give up, and who would you target?