As we push deeper into February and closer to the February 28 trade deadline, the swirling of trade rumors and rumblings is increasing. Today Matt Larkin from The Hockey News wrote an article ranking the top destinations for Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene. I will not completely spoil it for you but will offer a teaser that the Hurricanes were high on the list.
So from here, everyone is figuring that I am about to launch into another long rant about trading for Duchene, and more often than not you would probably be right. But I already mostly said my peace on this way back in the first few days of January and am mostly sticking to that story.
Previous Canes and Coffee musings on Matt Duchene
You can find my only slightly dated thoughts on Matt Duchene here:
On January 2, I identified needs and named some potential targets including Matt Duchene.
Then on January 4, I begrudgingly put together a trade package that might be enough to get Duchene.
To top it off, Andrew Schnittker’s article this week projecting the Hurricanes 2019-20 lineup, Duchene was centering the top line. (And I honestly had nothing to do with it. :-))
But Duchene is a nice lead in to today’s Daily Cup of Joe…
But the mention of Duchene is actually quite relevant to my Daily Cup of Joe topic today which is an analysis of the current Hurricanes’ forward ranks with an eye for deficiencies and room for improvement looking to the 2017-18 season and beyond.
Canes have 7 out of 9 but with improved depth
Whereas I think the Hurricanes have a minor short-term hole in the second defense pairing that has the potential to be filled from within the system very soon, I think the Hurricanes deficiencies and needs are greater at the forward position. When I break down the Hurricanes current top 9, I count 7 players who are bona fide top 9 NHL forwards in Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Lee Stempniak, Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. Brock McGinn has been a recent regular in the top 9, but on a deeper team, his 13 points in 36 games (projects to 30 over 82 games) would likely find him in a fourth-line role on a healthy team. Derek Ryan’s scoring pace is a bit better, but I still think he would like be quality experienced depth that gave way to someone else when the entire roster was healthy if playing for a deeper team. With the fourth line of Nordstrom/McClement playing well and experience in the AHL in the form of Andrej Nestrasil and Phil Di Giuseppe, the Hurricanes depth is improving to build a fourth line and/or fill injury gaps, but I am not sure any of these players are true top 9 forwards on a good team with a healthy roster.
…but are short on pure scoring
So the starting point is that the Hurricanes are arguably short by 2 true bona fide top 9 forwards. Also significant is the make up and scoring ability of the 7 that the team has currently. Simply measuring offensive production and the ability to drive scoring, I would rate only 2 of the Hurricanes (Jeff Skinner and Sebastian Aho) forwards as legitimate top 6 forwards of the scoring variety (measured roughly as being capable of putting up 65-70 points). The Hurricanes do have 3 wild cards in young but experienced players Teuvo Teravainen, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask. I think all 3 have the potential to grow into more but until they do it, I rate all 3 as capable top 9 forwards and decent depth scoring in the top 9 but not truly the type of dynamic player who leads an offense. Similarly, I view veterans Jordan Staal and Lee Stempniak as legitimate top 9 forwards but also more complementary in terms of raw scoring production.
When I net it out, I think the Hurricanes are short 2 top 9 forwards. Maybe more significantly, I think the 2 forwards that the team is currently missing are not the complementary type that are easier to find. Rather, I think the Hurricanes are short 1 if not 2 dynamic offensive players who can score in the 60+ point range and significantly also make the players around them better and boost scoring for their line mates. And that is where a player like Matt Duchene would help fill in the Hurricanes’ top 9 and boost the offense.
Bill Peters’ pair thing as an interesting way to think about the Hurricanes current top 9
Coach Bill Peters likes to talk about forwards in pairs as much as lines of 3. I think that is an interesting way to break down the Hurricanes’ current top 9. For just a second, give me a near elite scoring top 6 forward like Duchene. With such a player in the mix, I think you 3 interesting pairs and have enough left to complete the lines.
Sebastian Aho / Matt Duchene (or another top 6 scorer) gives you 2/3 of top-tier scoring line.
Jordan Staal / Elias Lindholm gives you 2/3 of an elite checking line that has enough offensive ability to score some too.
Jeff Skinner / Victor Rask gives you 2/3 of another scoring line and a pair that has always worked fairly well together.
Staal’s line gets the shutdown responsibility and a little less pressure to score. And having 2 lines capable of getting hot and scoring in bunches makes it such that opponents cannot just focus on shutting down a single line.
Teuvo Teravainen and Lee Stempniak who are both left are good complementary players with enough all-around ability to play on any of the 3 lines depending on what is clicking.
I am fully on board with Francis’ preferred approach to build from within the system, but it is not clear that the Hurricanes have enough NHL-ready help to fill this hole soon enough. Julien Gauthier has the potential to become a power forward who would fit nicely, but could very well be a year or more away. And my estimation is that none of the forwards currently in Charlotte are likely to be the offensive driver that I am seeking.
But what is realistic?
Adding proven top 6 scoring forwards is no easy task. This is exactly why Francis should consider pouncing if someone like Duchene does become available for a reasonable price. The challenge of adding players of this caliber also makes it too much to ask to get 2 of them. But even adding 1 boosts the offense and could be enough to push the Hurricanes up above the cut line for the playoffs. In terms of budget, adding 1 top-tier forward might also be feasible. This summer, the Hurricanes will see Bryan Bickell and Ron Hainsey come off contracts totaling $7 million. A portion of this money will be needed for Teravainen’s new contract, but for the rest of the Hurricanes players coming off contracts, it should be possible to either replace or re-sign them for an amount similar to the 2015-16 salary. That should give Francis a budget to add 1 impact player. In addition, Francis does have a few extra futures at his disposal with an extra second and third round pick in the upcoming draft and also a better stocked prospect pool from adding extra players and picks at the past couple trade deadlines.
Whether it is Duchene, a trade for another forward or a free agent, I think the timing is right for Francis to utilize the upcoming trade deadline or the combination expansion draft/regular draft combination in June to make 1 more big move to boost the top 6 forwards in the form of another young, long-term addition like Teravainen. I also think Francis has both the budget and enough extra futures to do so. It is simply a matter of finding a fair deal for the type of players who often generate bidding wars that can yield unreasonable prices in terms of contract and trade assets.
If you missed it, part 1 offered a similar analysis of the Hurricanes blue line. The team is deeper at that position but for today and the future, but there is still a gap to be filled there too at least short-term.
What say you Canes fans?
Am I crazy to think that Francis will depart slightly from his ‘build from within’ mantra like he did to add Teravainen and make 1 more deal to boost the forward core?
Who do you see how might be available if Duchene is not an option?