With the Dallas Stars’ thrilling overtime win on Saturday, the NHL off-season has been delayed by at least two days. But it is coming soon with the 2020 NHL Draft and start of the free agent frenzy replacing the usual start of the NHL season in early October.
The Hurricanes are still a young team with room to grow and improve from within. And with consecutive playoff appearances now in the rearview mirror, the team can legitimately claim to be in the top half of the NHL. The team also enters the off-season much closer to the salary cap than it has been historically with challenges potentially looming for next summer when the team must re-sign Andrei Svechnikov and either re-sign or replace Dougie Hamilton.
With no desperate urgency to improve externally and not a ton of budget to play with, the Hurricanes enter the off-season without a critical need to do anything. If the team brought back exactly the same team to start the 2020-21 season, that would not be a problem. But at the same time, there is still room to improve, and Don Waddell has proven to be very active in the off-season. As such, the potential is definitely there for the Hurricanes to make a move or two with the aim of upgrading and taking another step up the NHL power rankings.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a potential shopping list for the Hurricanes
1) A scoring wing
If there is one thing that is a bit closer to a need than a nice to have, it is probably the addition of a scoring wing. Don Waddell made a move to add a second line center in adding Vincent Trocheck at the trade deadline. Though Trocheck’s start in a Canes jersey was a bit slow, he will be given time to fulfill the role for which he was acquired. And in general, the Hurricanes would figure to be set at center at least for now. As far as forwards go, the potential upgrade would be to add a finishing forward. Nino Niederreiter has not been enough of that since a hot start when he was acquired by trade. Ryan Dzingel had flashes but underperformed reasonable goal scoring targets. And in general, the Hurricanes were light on finishing at wing past Svechnikov. Because of salary cap challenges pending for 2021-22, the team needs to be careful what it takes on in salary, but I think this is the one position where the team would be willing to commit some salary longer-term for the right player.
2) A goalie upgrade
I did a whole series on the numerous options that could be upgrades in net. I am on record as believing that the current tandem plus Nedeljkovic is good enough. But if an upgrade can be had in a buyer’s market, I would at least consider it.
3) Salary relief
In addition to considering an addition or two, I think Waddell will also use the busy season to try to broker a bigger deal that unloads a player whose salary is greater than his current role. The two biggest candidates would be Jake Gardiner and Nino Niederreiter. Gardiner is an interesting situation. He is only a couple years removed from being a capable top 4 defenseman who could generate offense and play on the power play. After a tough first half in 2019-20 but a reasonable recovery, is it possible teams needing defense would take on the modest risk of his contract for the potential upside? With Gardiner seemingly at least fifth if not sixth on the blue line depth chart and scheduled to make $4 million for three more years, I have to imagine that Waddell will try to pull off another sideways trade as he did with Victor Rask, Scott Darling and Marcus Kruger. Niederreiter’s contract would be harder to move and likely fits in the category of contract where you have to pay a team in futures to take on his contract, but maybe he fits into a bigger deal with enough salary changing hands.
As aside, I really think the type of deal that could make most sense this summer is if Waddell can find a one-for-one deal that trades Gardiner for a similarly priced, similarly maybe underperforming forward with upside.
4) AHL/NHL fringe depth on the blue line
Especially if the Hurricanes can move Gardiner, I think Waddell could be in the market for a defenseman or two who can be signed to two-way contracts and slotted at the AHL level but with NHL experience and potential to provide deep depth on the blue line.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on this potential off-season shopping list? Is there anything that you would add?
2) Which, if any, of these would you prioritize?
3) Who has options for a possible sideways trade that moves Jake Gardiner for a similarly priced, similar caliber forward?