One of the things that gets bandied around about the new ownership and leadership group is whether or not it is cheap. In going in house for the majority of the coach and staffing hires, the team definitely saved money. And it is also true that the Hurricanes currently sit at the bottom of the NHL in terms of salary cap committed and will enter the 2018-19 season either in that slot or at most a couple higher. And the team did dump salary this summer trading Jeff Skinner for prospects, passing on re-signing a couple unrestricted free agents and also trading away two young players due raises in Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin.
On the spending side of the ledger, there really is not a whole bunch so far. The team did sign Calvin de Haan for $4.5 million per year, but otherwise has completed more cost-cutting than spending. And the potential biggest sign that the team will spend when appropriate is still in limbo with Sebastian Aho still not inked to his next deal.
So at least theoretically there is evidence that the team under Tom Dundon is cheap or I guess more kindly, extremely frugal.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe will leave the coaching and organizational stuff to the side, as I believe that deserves its own separate analysis and will consider the player part of it. The burning question is whether the cost-cutting this summer is just plain cheap or if instead it represents a series of individual decisions that make sense in the realm of making sound risk versus reward type decisions on individual players and salary considerations.
From order of highest salary to lowest
I am on record as saying that I thinking that Jeff Skinner’s departure has Rod Brind’Amour’s finger prints all over it. I believe that the brain trust made a decision early in the offseason that Jeff Skinner was not part of the long-term plan and instead was part of the changeover the needed to happen to reset in terms of mindset, attitude, leadership, etc. As such, I do not view Skinner’s departure and the salary cut that came with it as a cost-cutting move, but rather as a change in direction type of decision. I would feel better about that if some of the salary shed was redeployed, but that could still happen if Justin Faulk is traded for a forward.
In a span of a few short days, rumors swirled about the Hurricanes having issues re-signing Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin for favorable prices, and then all of a sudden both were gone in one swoop in a trade with Calgary. Just day, Noah Hanifin signed a new deal with Calgary for $4.95 million per year for 6 years. His deal is in the same ballpark as the deals that Jaccob Slavin ($5.3 million) and Brett Pesce ($4.0 million per year) signed last summer and also the two new Canes top 4 defensemen’s deals with Dougie Hamilton at $5.75 million and Calvin de Haan at $4.55 million.
Right now, Calgary fans are still in the honeymoon phase with Hanifin and just like Hurricanes fans for three years are enamored with the potential ceiling that Hanifin could reach.
But here’s the thing…As of right now, Noah Hanifin is not in same category of the players listed above who have all established themselves as top 4 NHL defenseman. As of last April, Noah Hanifin was a #6 defenseman. Might be convert his potential into something much more? Certainly. If he does, he might be worth what? $6 or $6.5 million which is a modest discount. But because that is what he is right now, the possibility exists that Calgary just signed a third pairing defenseman to a nearly $30 million deal at about $5 million per year for a whopping 6 years. The upside seems minimal. The good version of Hanifin looks like maybe…Dougie Hamilton? Who is already proven and signed for $5.75 million per year? But the downside sees the Flames overpaying a depth defenseman by $3-5 million per year for 6 years.
Only time will tell, but I think there is a good argument to be made for trading Hanifin as being sound risk versus reward decision-making and not just being cheap.
Though not as extreme, I think Lindholm’s situation is somewhat similar to Hanifin’s He also signed long-term for just under $5 million per year (6 years at $4.85 million per year). Lindholm had played his way a bit higher up the depth chart, but because he has yet to put it all together offensively, I view as a capable two-way top 9 forward but not really much more. At a mid-40s level for points thus far, and suddenly entering his sixth year, I think it is fair to consider that maybe Lindholm just is what he is right now. And I am not sure that is a player who is worth a long-term commitment at almost $5 million per year. Rather, I think Calgary again made a fairly expensive bet that Lindholm can reach a higher level than what he has thus far. As with Hanifin, the question is whether the Hurricanes were cheap or just cautious in terms risk versus reward for contracts, especially of the expensive long-term variety.
One could say that the 2018-19 season is an important one for Hanifin and Lindholm in terms of taking the next step. But in terms of salary, that really is not true. Calgary has already committed to six years of play at level that assumes the transition goes smoothly and both players not only match their 2017-18 season but (especially in the case of Hanifin) significantly exceed it.
The Hurricanes did cut a bit of salary when the team decided to part ways with Cam Ward and replace him with Petr Mrazek. But as with Jeff Skinner, I think this transition was more about moving forward and aiming for as much of a reset as possible for 2018-19. Increasingly, it seemed like maybe the presence of Cam Ward contributed to the struggle to find another goalie who could perform. And he also represented a part of the past the team seemed to be trying to put in the rear view mirror. As such, I do not view the departure of Cam Ward as a financial decision but rather as a change of attitude, leadership, culture, etc. type of decision.
Seeking more evidence
Though I do think the moves detailed above were born more out of evaluation of various possibilities for each individual situation, at some point the team does need to make a move or two to suggest that the new regime will spend when the risk versus reward metrics suggest that it makes sense.
I see two near-term opportunities to do so. First, re-signing Sebastian Aho to lock in a core part of the forward group long-term seems like a no-brainer. In this regard, I will be looking to see if the team can get a deal done and also if it goes all in for a maximum term type of deal at a premium price. Second is that I think a Justin Faulk trade that nets a forward with a similar salary would also be a sign that the team is not so much looking to cut costs no matter what but rather make sound risk versus reward type decisions.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What is your assessment of Dundon and Company financially on the player side thus far? Do you see him as cheap as some say? Do you think my risk/reward explanation holds water? Or do you think the truth is somewhere in between?
2) What do you think about the long-term deals of Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin?
3) How does your crystal ball say it ends for Hanifin and Lindholm as they play out their new six-year contracts?