For something different, more positive and for a good cause, please stop by today’s post on our “Caniac Ice Cream Challenge.”
If you were away from hockey over the weekend and through Monday afternoon, the NHL trade deadline came and went on Monday afternoon. There were some big deals for rental players, but the marquee players with contract term past the 2017-18 season stayed put. The Carolina Hurricanes only a minor deal sending depth forward Josh Jooris to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for AHL center Greg McKegg. I covered that trade in a short article earlier this afternoon that you can find HERE.
The bigger story for the Hurricanes is what they did not do and what in means in the bigger picture of a 2017-18 season that seems to be quickly deteriorating.
As I said on Twitter just as I was starting to write this article…
Sitting down to write post trade deadline @NHLCanes article. I feel like I could literally write 12 different articles coming at it from completely different angles. My newest slogan for my Caniacness….#NeedsMoreIceCream
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) February 27, 2018
The Caniac Ice Cream Challenge!
And just like that, the official Canes and Coffee sponsored “Caniac Ice Cream Challenge” is born.
Pulling together our entire team and leaning heavily on the “coffee” part of our name, the plan is to work into the wee hours of the night and come up with………………..something. So please check back tomorrow for details on what will hopefully be something fun for March. Goodness knows the Caniac Nation could use something fun and positive for March.
So check back on Tuesday to see what we figure out and how you can play.
Back to your regularly scheduled program…The 2018 NHL Trade Deadline for the Carolina Hurricanes
Important to note that final grades are still premature
The vast majority of all assessments written about the Carolina Hurricanes right now either formally in media outlets or informally via social media posts are written from the angle of the team missing the 2017-18 playoffs. With Columbus adding players today and winning and the Hurricanes sputtering mightily that has most definitely become the most likely outcome. But it is not the only outcome. While the odds are certainly against the Hurricanes right now, the odds of a rebound and playoff berth are not 0 percent nor are they that close to 0 percent. If the team beats the odds and does make the playoffs any interim assessments of all things Hurricanes for the 2017-18 are suddenly viewed in a completely different light.
Going back to last summer
At the most basic level, I do not fault Ron Francis for the lack of activity at the trade deadline (details on that below). From my final trade deadline preview part #2 that laid out priorities, I was not a fan of adding rental options of players who are scheduled to become free agents at the end of the current season. Without rehashing that article, I wrote off broad categories or trade types based on likely high costs combined with the potential to get nothing in return especially given that I think the Hurricanes issues (‘iffy’ goaltending, consistency issues, etc.) are not so easily addressed by one player anyway.
Initial disclaimer noted, if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs again, I do consider this season a failure even if there are (which there would be) positives to be also claimed. And if that happens, I think that in terms of personnel moves that are the responsibility of Ron Francis that the driver for the lack of success does not reside with the trade deadline but rather with his work last summer. The Canes entered the last offseason with two primary needs – improved goaltending and the addition of a scoring catalyst ideally in the form of a top 6 playmaking center. I talked about that in part 3 of the trade deadline series which was entitled “Identifying the need” and also linked to my original article from last May. At a basic level, Francis tried but missed (at least so far) in terms of addressing the goaltending issue when he added Scott Darling. In terms of adding an offensive catalyst, he mostly passed possibly because prices were too high. Instead, Francis’ big addition was Justin Williams who is a great player who does make the team better but who in my opinion does not meet my requirement of being a pure offensive catalyst. Then I think Francis compounded the problem by following that up by building a fourth line that was unlikely to help with scoring depth. The combined result is that the Hurricanes have not significantly (if at all) improved in net which has them still 21st in the league in terms of goals allowed and even worse at 26th in the league in terms of goals scored. Not surprisingly, that equates to being about similar in the standings which is below the playoff cut line which includes only 16 teams.
Shorter version is that if the 2017-18 continues in the current direction and ends in a ninth straight playoff miss, I pin it on the miss and the pass from last summer and not at all the 2018 trade deadline.
And Francis did not really miss on any players who made sense in my opinion
Rather than just looking at player after player and saying, “Ohhh! He’s good. He could help.”, my starting point was two things. First was focusing on players who had contract term past the 2017-18 season and in the process immediately excluding all rentals. Then I followed up by focusing only on players who I thought could be true difference-makers, ‘offensive catalysts’. I do not think the Hurricanes can make significant headway from here by simply adding to the volume of depth scorers.
With a process that started from the top down by setting pretty stringent requirements, the list of players I was interested in entering the trade deadline quickly screened down to a total of six players. Three players met the playmaking center requirement fairly well. Two wings offered the potential to provide high end finishing in the form of a player who could support the generation of a playmaking center from within (Aho or Necas). And one offensive generational talent was worth creating his own category for to be considered. Of that, only one of the six players was traded and for a pricey cost of a first round draft pick, a third round draft pick, a prospect and another UFA who was later flipped for another third round draft pick.
And the two biggest names on my list, Erik Karlsson and Max Pacioretty, seem destined to return to the trade list when the offseason starts. So in that regard, it is not so much that the Hurricanes missed out or were outbid. Rather, the bidding war and negotiation just shifted forward into the offseason.
I think Francis’ potential to win either these players would have been higher at the trade deadline with fewer bidders and the chance to make an offer that caused the seller to jump early. But that said, I have no way of knowing whether Francis tried in earnest to do exactly that but was rebuffed or if he was just inactive on this front.
Deals I would steal
In the past, I have written an article entitled “Deals I would steal” after trade deadlines and the start of free agency. The idea is to note any deals that I would steal for the Hurricanes if given the opportunity. And on this count, there really is not much there except for one oddball category. I liked Derick Brassard but would have pulled up short of giving up a first-round pick plus to get him. Patrick Maroon is useful and not crazy expensive for a third-round pick, but I already voted against any and all rental type trades.
Interesting goalie option might have been worth stealing
The only thing that jumps out to me as interesting is Philadelphia’s acquisition of goalie Petr Mrazek for third and fourth round draft picks. IF the Hurricanes plan to mostly ride out the 2017-18 season with Cam Ward in net. And IF the Hurricanes plan to part ways with at least one of Cam Ward (contract expires) or Scott Darling (would need to be bought out or somehow traded with salary retention). Then adding an impending free agent goalie with re-signing potential could have been interesting. Worst case is he does not work out, and you just part ways at the end of the season minus a fairly modest trade cost. But if instead, he works out, the wins are potentially double and both fairly significant. First is that 10-12 games of a hot goalie could be just what the Hurricanes need right now to reverse course and push up into the playoffs for the 2017-18 season. Second is that with the Hurricanes having two failed transitions under their belt on their last two tries in Lack and Darling, bringing in a goalie for an audition before committing for three or more years seems like an incredibly prudent and worthwhile thing to do right now. One downside to the Mrazek deal is that he is only a restricted free agent but with a qualifying offer of $4 million per year, he is more or less an unrestricted free agent. By having him on the roster, the Hurricanes could have had exclusive negotiating rights to him until July 1 pretty similar to what they had with Darling last summer when they acquired him from the Blackhawks.
The press conference
The press conference that followed the passing of the trade deadline was in itself a somewhat newsworthy event despite the lack of actual activity to discuss.
Shortly after it concluded, I tweeted:
Two big picture things jump out right now. 1-I fear the team is out of touch with the state of @NHLCanes fan base rigth now; 2-I fear that Jordan Staal being out of lineup could incorrectly influence the upcoming offseason with "If we didn't lose Staal in crunch time…"
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) February 26, 2018
In hopes of diligently parsing through a number of different things that are significant from the press conference, I am going to save that for a separate article but will note a couple high level things.
First, the vast majority of conversation from the team lately gives me the impression that the front office is growing increasingly more out of touch with the core fan base. I am not suggesting that Francis’ job is to take direction from fans, but I think where there is a growing gap is at least recognizing where the fan base is and addressing their issues head on in a way that understands the situation.
Second, thank goodness for Mark Armstrong from ABC-11/WTVD. In my opinion, too many of these press conferences go by with what I call standard fare for questions from the formal local media. They only touch the obvious surface and mostly settle for addressing the easy stuff that stops short of any tension and uncomfortableness. But today at about the midway point of the press conference, Mark Armstrong took the mic and made a strong but respectful push for additional levels explanation, harder to get at details and with it another level of depth into where Ron Francis is right now. That is invaluable right now as we try to figure out which end is up in terms of Francis’ effort to rebuild the Hurricanes into a winner.
Keeping up with the Joneses and potentially trying to jolt the system
Finally, while being on record as not wanting to spend futures for short-term rentals focused only on the 2017-18 season, assessing what other teams in the same group of teams fighting for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is worth noting. The Columbus Blue Jackets moved most aggressively adding scoring help in the form of Thomas Vanek, blue line depth in the form of Ian Cole and more forward depth in the form of Mark Letestu. The New York Islanders were not as aggressive, but they did add blue line depth in Brandon Davidson and forward depth in Chris Wagner. The Florida Panthers who are quietly creeping up under the radar because they have so many games in hand were quiet.
One of my concerns with inaction is the potential message it sends to the team at a critical time. At a point in time when team is struggling and has to have some amount of self doubt about playoff possibilities, Francis only move was to subtract a potential NHL player at the same time that Blue Jackets who are ahead of them are adding three. While I would not do a deal simply to make a statement, deals this time of year can make strong statements. As far as Hurricanes history goes, the move by then General Manager Jim Rutherford to move early and aggressively to add veteran Doug Weight for the pricey cost of a first-round pick made an unmistakable statement that the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes were gunning for a Stanley Cup.
Jofa helmets and a promise of bobble heads
And somewhere along the way, my list of nonsensical requests/demands from the Carolina Hurricanes organization grew from one to two.
We didn't even get bobble heads. My list of bizarre, unreasonable and for most unexplainable @NHLCanes requests now includes two items — Darling & Ward practicing in Jofa bucket helmets & the GM making an official announcement on bobble heads.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) February 26, 2018