In a game with significant long-term financial commitments without much for an out or any requirement for expected performance to be met and a salary cap that limits flexibility if things do not work out as planned, a significant part of roster building is or at least should be risk management.
There are many different types of risk that come into play with contracts. Simple performance risk comes into to play for both young players who maybe take a step back and also older players who fade. Some players have injury risk. And there is simple risk from term with things being increasingly less predictable the farther you go into the future.
Under the management that took the helm with the arrival of Tom Dundon, the Carolina Hurricanes very clearly get the need to consider this.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at how the Hurricanes have managed and in many cases passed on taking on risk with players/contracts.
Term and age risk
In consecutive summers, the Hurricanes chose to part ways with a top half of the roster player because management decided not to re-up for a long contract at top dollar for a player who would be into his mid-30s for the final years of the deal. Two summers ago, the Hurricanes parted ways with Jeff Skinner in a trade that netted only a collection of mid to low futures. Then this past summer, the team traded Justin Faulk again because it did not want to commit to seven years at top dollar for a contract that would stretch to Faulk’s mid-30s.
It is too early to make a final declaration on these two decisions, but early on the decisions look positive. In the first year of an eight-year contract averaging $9 million per year that stretches until he is 35 years old, Jeff Skinner has just 12 goals in 52 goals and would have to hustle to even reach 20 goals. In his first season in St. Louis with his new contract not even starting until next year, Justin Faulk has seen his scoring drop, and he is toward the bottom of the team in plus/minus.
The Hurricanes have also moved on from a couple quality players that carried significant injury risk. This past summer, the Hurricanes let Micheal Ferland walk to free agency seemingly without making a serious push to re-sign him. The Canes also traded Calvin de Haan after only one year in a Canes uniform after he injured a shoulder that had been a problem for him in the past.
In the first year since they departed, both of those decisions have been on target. In the first year of a four-year contract, Micheal Ferland has played only 14 games and has been ruled out for the rest of the 2019-20 due to recurring concussion-like symptoms. Calvin de Haan started well in Chicago, but only 29 games into the season, he reinjured his shoulder and is out for the rest of the 2019-20 season.
Unrealized draft pedigree risk
Another interesting category of risk is the risk that comes with signing young players who have not yet peaked to pricey, long-term contracts that sort of assume that the player’s high-end potential will be reached. Increasingly, in today’s NHL players coming off entry-level contracts are signing long-term deals for full value. If the player does not grow into that full value, the salary can be too high for the player’s role and/or level of production.
I think Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin fit into this category when they were traded. Both players were coming off of modest contracts both in terms of salary and term and looking for a next contract that was more dollars, longer term and therefore higher risk. Hanifin was still living largely off a draft pedigree and potential as a player who was a third pairing defenseman the prior season. Lindholm had established himself as a capable middle six forward, but it was not clear if his ceiling was much higher than that. When neither player was willing to settle for less, they were shipped out together in the trade for Dougie Hamilton. Lindholm ultimately signed a new contract for six years at $4.85 million per year, and Hanifin signed for six years at $4.95 million.
Fast forward to today, and I would say that the Canes went one out of two on the pair. Hanifin has played some in Calgary’s top 4, but I am not sure he is really more than a #4/#5 type. Lindholm has thrived as a goal scorer primarily playing on Calgary’s top line. He had 27 goals and 78 points in a break out 2018-19 season, and though his point total is tracking a bit lower in 2019-20, he has already matched the 27 goals.
The often treacherous unrestricted free agent market
Arguably what the Hurricanes have not done could be the team’s greatest risk mitigation. The Hurricanes have steered clear of the long-term, expensive contracts that often get handed out during the peak of free agent signing season. The Hurricanes signed Petr Mrazek for only two years last summer and in the process passed on pricier options. And the Hurricanes have avoided risky, long-term deals for unrestricted free agents.
A recent shift?
Interestingly, the Hurricanes took on two players at the trade deadline that I think carry a bit more risk. Vincent Trocheck has had two leg injuries recently. His contract has only two years remaining, so the injury risk is mitigated to some degree. The Hurricanes also added Brady Skjei who has four years remaining at $5.25 million per year. The risk with Skjei is that his contract is a bit inflated for his level of play. But I guess the flip side is that Skjei looks a bit like Hamilton as a defenseman who can skate and has the physical tool set but has some detractors in terms of his defensive play.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you agree that the Hurricanes have made a concerted effort to avoid taking on risky contracts?
2) Who has other examples of where the Hurricanes avoided risk?
3) Do you think the acquisition of either Brady Skjei or Vincent Trocheck was a diversion from a previous strategy of mostly avoiding risk?