Today’s Daily Cup of Joe steps away from the here and now and takes a shot at projecting the Carolina Hurricanes blue line a couple years into the future.
The core — Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce
I think the two mainstays for the blue line are Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Both are in their prime at 25 years old, are established and proven top 4 defensemen and are signed long-term to bargain contracts. Whenever either’s name pops up in some outlandish trade rumor note the source so you can discount it in the future and move on. Both Pesce and Slavin are destined to be half of the Hurricanes top 4 on defense for a long time.
Decisions, decisions — Dougie Hamilton, Joel Edmundson, Trevor van Riemsdyk
Without any sure things in the system right now, the Hurricanes ideally need to keep at least one if not two current players to fill out the top 4. The team has three defensemen whose contracts expire soon. Both Joel Edmundson and Trevor van Riemsdyk are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer. Dougie Hamilton is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2020-21 season. With budget as a consideration, the team will need to decide which of these three players to commit to long-term and which part ways with especially if the price is not right.
Dougie Hamilton is the king pin in sorting out the group past Slavin and Pesce. On the one hand he is thriving right now, especially offensively. On the other hand, management has shown a propensity under Tom Dundon to part ways with good players who did not fit the team or the budget. In just a couple years, the team has dealt top half of the roster players Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk. That history is likely relevant to Dougie Hamilton. If he continues on his current course, his next salary on the open market could reach rarefied air based on his offensive production. And he is only a year older than Pesce and Slavin by virtue of breaking into the NHL very young. So if Hamilton wants to test the open market aiming for $8 million plus on a long-term deal, he just might get it, but in the process he might also price his way out of Raleigh like other players have. But as a player who has already seen three different teams in a short period of time and seems to have become happy and comfortable in Raleigh, might he leave a bit of money on the table to stay? The team will point to the salaries of Slavin and Pesce and also nod in the direction of old pictures of Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. That puts the ball in Hamilton’s court to take a discount to stay versus risking being the next player gone via trade. My hunch is that Hamilton will enough want to stay that a middle ground will be found.
Trevor van Riemsdyk has been a solid Hurricanes defensemen in a third pairing role. He has provided capable depth and stability regardless of the changing partners on his side. But at $2.3 million and probably seeking at least a modest raise, I think he might find a better match elsewhere with a team with less blue line depth who sees him as a possible #4 defenseman. In addition, I think that van Riemsdyk could see himself competing with Joel Edmundson to be re-signed as a #4/#5. My hunch is that the team begrudgingly lets van Riemsdyk leave because he can find a significantly better offer elsewhere.
Joel Edmundson is an interesting case. When he arrived, he figured to be solid veteran depth with size and snarl to back fill Faulk’s slot short-term. He also figured to slot on the third pairing. But with Edmundson meshing well with Pesce and Gardiner struggling in general, Edmundson finds himself in the top 4. If he maintains that role, I could see the Hurricanes re-signing him as a longer-term part of the blue line. He is making $3.1 million per year this year, so his next contract probably slots at a Calvin de Haan-ish $4 million maybe even a bit less. If he wants to say (he is an unrestricted free agent), I think the Hurricanes might be willing to re-up.
To be determined — Jake Gardiner, Haydn Fleury
Jake Gardiner was signed to be a bit of a different player style-wise but still to be a replacement for Justin Faulk. Early on in a Canes uniform, Gardiner has struggled to settle in. On the television broadcast, Tripp Tracy is raving out his recent upswing, but playing the third pairing and logging limited ice time in a sheltered role, it is an even bet whether Tracy is seeing the future or fulfilling a role for the team’s marketing department. Regardless, Gardiner is a TBD right now. Important is that Gardiner is a player who has played at a high enough level in the past not a prospect who might or might not ever get there. Paired with Brind’Amour’s patience and commitment, the odds are good that Gardiner eventually settles in just like Hamilton last year. If he does, he could again be part of the future as a top 4 defenseman. Gardiner is likely to be part of the equation for awhile regardless. If he continues to struggle, his contract will be difficult to move. If he figures it out, the Canes will be right back to liking his bargain $4 million salary for a top 4 defenseman with power play capabilities.
Haydn Fleury is also a TBD. He has grown to be at least a serviceable third pairing defenseman, but it is not definite that his ceiling is more than that. At that level, Fleury could be any combination of expansion draft bait, long-term depth defenseman to back fill a hole left by van Riemsdyk and/or Edmundson departing or temporary placeholder until youth is ready. I think Fleury stays for at least a few years even if he does not progress. He is physically capable depth defenseman with NHL experience and a cheap contract. That is a winning combination for a #6 or #7 defenseman.
The young reinforcements — Jake Bean, Chase Priskie, Roland McKeown and more
The Hurricanes have a couple options but no real sure things for help from the farm system.
Jake Bean made progress in the AHL in 2018-19 but based on his play in training camp and preseason, it is still not clear if he can handle the all-important defensive side of the puck at the NHL level. When injuries make room, the team needs to give him a legitimate audition and go from there. I have never been sold on Bean being more than an offense/power play-capable third pairing defenseman. But if he can be a good one of those, he serves a role.
Chase Priskie is a positive-leaning wild card. His quick acclimation to the AHL level is a positive sign, but he is also already 23 years old which is two years older than Bean. The window is shorter for college graduate prospects which means these players need to mature much more rapidly than prospects who enter the system three years younger.
Roland McKeown is an interesting case. Any time he has been given a chance at NHL-ish ice time in training camp, he has generally seized the opportunity and played well. I do not view his ceiling as particularly high, but I think McKeown could be ready for a depth role if the Hurricanes lose defsenmen to injury or roster changes.
Of this group, I think Bean gets an audition when the opportunity arises, but I am not sure he sticks. I have no idea on Priskie. I like McKeown as an AHL-level #8ish defenseman.
My 2 cents
As noted, Slavin and Pesce are long-timers. Based on believing that Hamilton will really want to stay, I think the Hurricanes re-sign him to be an offensive third top 4 defenseman. Also, if Edmundson continues his current play with Pesce, I think the team also tries to re-sign him to round out a top 4. I think van Riemsdyk is the odd man out in terms of departing and that Fleury is the odd man out in terms of still just being a depth guy. Gardiner is a wild card right now. I am not as high on the Canes blue line prospects as many but am still curious to see Bean and later Priskie audition at the NHL level.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Past Pesce and Slavin, who else would you like to be part of the Canes defense core?
2) Do you think the team will re-sign Hamilton? If so, on what contract terms?
3) Which if any of Edmundson, van Riemsdyk and/or Fleury become long-timers?