With the Monday trade deadline now only a weekend away, today’s Daily Cup of Joe and part 5 of my Carolina Hurricanes trade deadline coverage gets to the good stuff, evaluating players, naming names and doing deals.
But if you are tuning in late, you can catch up on how we got here below.
From the category of dramatic, exciting and admittedly unlikely, I wrote about why I actually think a deal for Erik Karlsson could make more sense than most might initially believe.
From the category of less spectacular NHL trade deadline coverage, thus far we have:
Next I turn to trying to actually do a deal or two to improve the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes and at the same time the future Carolina Hurricanes.
Quickly eliminating areas where I think the team has no interest
Per my previous articles, my thinking is that there are a number of types of deals/players that can be pretty quickly screened out. Most of this has been covered in the previous articles (Part 1 and 2), but I will rehash it briefly here.
Depth defensemen — By no means has the Hurricanes defense been air tight, but there really is no deal for a depth player here. The team will ride with the young group and with Klas Dahlbeck being serviceable as a #7, I do not see the need to add deep depth even if it is inexpensive.
The goalie position — If I get around to doing a miscellaneous trade deadline article for Saturday or Sunday, I have some thoughts on the goalie situation as relates to the trade deadline, but at a high level it goes like this. The Hurricanes could improve in goal right now, but with Darling being immovable right now and Ward being the guy, the only way would be to add a third goalie which brings all kinds of ‘looking forward to 2018-19’ complexity with it. So I will be very surprised if anything happens on this front.
High-end rentals whose contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season — With the combination of Francis’ steadfast commitment to building for the future and the Hurricanes’ borderline playoff situation, I would be very surprised to see the Hurricanes part with a bunch of futures for a high-end rental focused on the 2017-18 season. The broader issues with the team just make for too great of a chance that the team still misses the playoffs and is significantly lighter prospect-wise anyway. That broad swipe rules out a ton of exciting possibilities including Evander Kane and Rick Nash.
From TSN’s top 30 list, nine of the top 20 are eliminated (including two Hurricanes players and Michael Grabner who was traded today).
At a basic level, that leaves two types of deals that I think could make sense for the Carolina Hurricanes.
First would be a deal to add a higher-end scoring forward with term on his contract past the 2017-18 season such that the Hurricanes get at least two playoff tries before needing to deal with a next contract.
Second is a depth forward addition but only if the cost is discounted and really low. To keep this from turning into a full novel, I will focus on the more exciting first category.
Seeking an offensive difference-maker to help boost the lagging offense
This need dates back to the very first articles (“Identifying the needs and shopping list” and “Remembering the needs and mostly avoiding the shiny stuff,”) I wrote in last May for last summer’s offseason. The whats and whys are also the focus of part 2 of the current series.
There are two types of players who could fit the bill.
A playmaking center capable of centering a top scoring line and boosting the scoring totals of whoever plays on his wings. Not surprising given the value and scarcity of such players, there really is no pure version of such a player that seems to be available right now. But there are a couple good players who are maybe just a tier below that.
Playmaking (or close) centers
With the Oilers cratering back to earth in 2017-18, seemingly everyone not named Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl are available from Edmonton for the right price. Nugent-Hopkins is an interesting case. Since the emergence of McDavid, he slid back into a C2 role and has largely been used as the defensive complement to McDavid’s scoring line. Because of that, he might not look like what the Hurricanes need in terms of eye test and offensive production. His 43 points in 82 games in 2016-17 scream depth scoring, but the burning question is whether that number is simply tamped down by role, utilization and line mates. He put up 56 points in consecutive seasons before McDavid. As a young NHL veteran at only 24 years old, could centering a young line with players like Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen rekindle his scoring touch? After the 2017-18 season, Nugent-Hopkins has three years left on his contract at a reasonable but not cheap $6 million per year. Could he be good enough offensively and help build a bridge to someone like Martin Necas or a Sebastian Aho transition back to the center position.
Brassard is another player whose skill set matches what the Hurricanes need from a top 6 center even if maybe not at anything close to an elite level. Brassard would add experience, decent size and good playmaking ability to a Hurricanes scoring line. His ceiling of 60 and 58 points a few years back is similar to Nugent-Hopkins in that it does not scream ‘elite’, but in today’s NHL perhaps it is enough for a scoring line to complement a defense-leaning line centered by Staal. Note that would require a boost from his 39 points in 2016-17 and his respectable but not eye-popping high 40s pace thus far for the 2017-18 season. Like Nugent-Hopkins, the goal would be to gain immediate help in the form of a more offensively-minded center and build a bridge to Necas or an Aho transition. Brassard’s contract is favorable too. He is signed through 2018-19 with an actual salary of only $3.5 million despite a $5 million salary cap hit.
Never to be left out of any trading season until he is finally traded is Alex Galchenyuk. He is 24 years old and potentially with a ceiling higher than the two players listed above. But here’s the thing…24 is not that young (actually the same as Nugent-Hopkins), and it is increasingly unclear if Galchenyuk will ever reach that ceiling. The questions surrounding Galchenyuk are many. Does he have it in him to be an NHL center, or is he destined to be a wing because of defensive issues? Are his substance abuse issues behind him? Is he just being held back from being constantly jerked around by Montreal and is ready to break out with a change or scenery or if he just is what he is at this point? Therein lies a make or break scouting brain teaser for whoever eventually acquires him. He seems to represent either a bargain to be had or fool’s gold in paying a high price to take another team’s bust. Like the other two players, Galchenyuk comes with two more years after 2017-18 at a reasonable but not inexpensive $4.9 million price.
The oddball: Erik Karlsson
Obviously, Erik Karlsson is not a center. But with the idea of adding a single higher-end player who can distribute the puck, generate scoring chances for the wings and in the process boost scoring for a top line or maybe more, Karlsson actually fills a similar role. Like the others he has term after the 2017-18 season in that he is signed through the 2018-19 season. I get that this would be a long shot, but I continue to believe that it makes more sense than first glance might indicate when you consider both teams’ needs in a big trade like this. The details are HERE.
Other wild cards who could qualify
Henrik Zetterberg: I had another short exchange in the comments for Thursday’s article. All indications (with consistency dating back more than a full year) are that Zetterberg intends to ride it out and retire with the Red Wings, but if he became available, he could be an interesting bridge for the center position.
Ryan O’Reilly: As a young do everything center, I have no idea why Buffalo would consider trading O’Reilly as part of their trade deadline house cleaning and prospect collecting, but if he becomes available he is interesting. I actually think his game is too similar to Jordan Staal’s to be a great addition, but at some price level, you simply take a great young player and figure out who fits where afterward.
Max Domi: Domi is another that I am unsure about. He is 22 years old with three years of NHL experience and a decent tool bag of skills. The question is whether he is a scoring line center or less than that and of course trade cost. Because of age and upside, he is at least worth noting if in fact he is on the trading block.
Top-tier scoring wings
As I noted above, I do not think adding another 18ish goal, 45ish point depth scoring forward really moves the needle for the Hurricanes at this point. The team has improved its depth over the past few years. What it needs to push up offensively is one true scoring line that can lead the way. One way to accomplish that is adding a playmaking center. With the hope that one of Sebastian Aho or Martin Necas to center a scoring line sooner rather than later, the other way could be to add a high-end scoring wing to support a young centerman and also just boost scoring. Again, the aim is to find a true difference-maker who is capable of 30+ goals not just add redundant depth.
I first talked about Max Pacioretty in my January 2 article that is becoming an early flare for the Hurricanes trade deadline and even summer. Last year, I was fairly early on the Matt Duchene thing on January 2 before that blew up over the next 6-7 months. Somewhat similarly, I have been seeing Pacioretty’s name in the same sentence as the Hurricanes at a growing rate lately. Pacioretty found his way into 3-4 January articles, but the one with the most detailed explanation for why I thought it made sense was on January 18.
Pacioretty has picked up the pace of late, but is tracking behind his recent goal scoring totals on a Montreal Canadiens team that has had a tough time of it in 2017-18, but he entered the 2017-18 season with three consecutive seasons north of 30 goals. As a veteran high-end finisher with a broader skill set than that and leadership abilities to boot, Pacioretty could be a tremendous addition as part of a plan to play Aho or Necas at center in 2018-19 and to surround him with quality veteran help and finishing to aid in success. Sticking to the theme of adding players who can help past 2017-18, Pacioretty is signed through 2018-19. As such, he could be a perfect veteran scoring left wing for a Sebastian Aho transition to center or a rapid rising by Martin Necas in 2018-19.
Like Pacioretty, Mike Hoffman brings higher-end finishing ability from the wing. Hoffman’s goal totals are notch below Pacioretty’s but still impressive and consistent at 27, 29 and 26 respectively in the three previous seasons. Hoffman is similarly a proven veteran but not necessarily too far past his prime at 28 years old. His role and benefit would be nearly identical to Pacioretty’s as a veteran scoring wing who could work well if the Hurricanes try to grow the playmaking center that they need from within. Like the other forwards mentioned, Hoffman is signed for two more years at $5.65 million per year (salary not cap hit), so his potential benefit is not limited to the 2017-18 season.
Other wild cards who could qualify
Gustav Nyquist: Nyquist fits the bill as a scoring wing with term (one more year on his contract) from a team that will be a trade deadline seller. My question with him is whether he is good enough to be up in a “difference-maker” type category with Pacioretty and Hoffman or if he is really just another depth scorer that is mostly redundant with what the Hurricanes already have. He did have 28 and 27 goal seasons a few years back but has declined since then with 17 and 12 goals respectively in the past two seasons.
Tomas Tatar: Tatar’s evaluation reads fairly similarly to Nyquist’s. At a basic level, his skill set is that of an offensive-minded wing. His 29, 21 and 25 goals respectively in each of the past three seasons matches up well with Hoffman’s totals, but I am torn on whether he fits in that higher category. If he is acquired and works out, the remaining three years on his contract at $5 million (salary not cap hit) per year are reasonable for a top 6 role.
My 2 cents on prioritization
Much of my prioritization would have to include trade cost. I see pros and cons to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Derek Brassard in terms of adding a bridge offensive center, so perhaps getting a bargain on one of them sways me. I have gradually soured on the risks related to Galchenyuk. With the Hurricanes desperately needing to push over the playoff cut line, boom or bust is not appealing to me. I am on record as really liking Zetterberg as a 2-3 year solution, but again, word so far is that he is not an option at all.
I like Pacioretty over Hoffman. I do not think people realize how good of a player he is and how close he is. Everyone I talk to locally seems to just generically put him in the group of good players below the elite tier. As a player with 102 goals in the past three years, he really is an elite scorer. If Montreal was winning, he would instead be on the untouchable list. When players like him suddenly become available, as a general manager, you have to capitalize. Look where it got Nashville who opportunistically added previously untouchable Ryan Johansen and PK Subban to fill out the top half of their roster.
Oh…And that Erik Karlsson thing easily fits into that last conversation as well.
My hope is to do at least one more article that spells out specific deals, but in the meantime Greg Wyshynski at ESPN.com offers a thorough article that takes puts players on the trading block into tiers and estimating the returns required to get them.
What say you Caniacs?
1) Do you buy my narrow target categories, or should Francis also be considering something else?
2) Who did I miss?
3) Who do you like?
4) What, if anything, is going to happen?