Yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe addressed important decisions with a significant monetary component for Jeff Skinner, Noah Hanifin and Scott Darling.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe goes a different direction with building the 2018-19 roster and looks at the potential for a single move to solidify the defense across three levels.
Of the multiple Carolina Hurricanes players making the rounds in the pre-draft weekend rumor mill, Jeff Skinner seems to be getting the most air time. It makes sense. As a player who has twice topped 30 goals, he has value to teams that need to add offense. As a player who has a significant Achilles’ heel in terms of his play without the puck, he is not so perfect that it would be crazy to trade him. And as I said in yesterday’s article, because his contract is up next summer, the time to make a long-term decision and act accordingly is now. One of the teams rumored to be interested in Jeff Skinner is the Los Angeles Kings, and one of the comparable players rumored to be available is Jake Muzzin.
I think a theoretical trade with Jeff Skinner and Jake Muzzin as the principal players in the deal is an interesting one to illustrate a potential domino effect.
Needs for Carolina Hurricanes’ offseason improvements
1) Goaltending — Be it from improvement of the existing netminders, the addition of a new goalie or perhaps better play in front of them, the Hurricanes goaltending proficiency must improve in 2018-19 for the playoffs to be reality.
2) The second defense pairing — Possibly related to the goaltending issues is the need for the team to be better in the second defense pairing. Justin Faulk was not the anchor needed, and though he had a strong season, Haydn Fleury was overslotted in that role on a good NHL team.
3) More scoring — The team needs to score more to relieve some pressure on the defense and goalies and to win more games by running instead of trying to slow opponents enough to squeak out a win.
The domino effect
Let’s look at how a Jeff Skinner for Jake Muzzin trade (without getting bogged down in who needs to add what to make it even) impacts these and a couple other secondary needs.
Primary objectives from above
Let’s start with #2 first since it is what is most directly impacted. Adding a steady top 4 defenseman to the mix could offer a direct effect but possibly an equally powerful side effect on the blue line. If take Muzzin to be the sound half of a second defense pairing you get this…
–Slavin/Pesce can play together both home and away because the need to rebalance capabilities on the road could go away. The first pairing becomes better on the road and maybe just more consistent from always playing together.
–The biggest gain is the direct effect of adding a solid, steady second pairing defenseman to the mix. Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin have the potential to be similar, but by my assessment for 2017-18 neither qualified as a defensively sound second pairing defenseman. At a bare minimum, Muzzin adds one.
–But equally significantly, could having an experienced, steady partner boost Faulk’s play by relieving his defensive responsibilities just a bit?
–And if that happens, the third pairing and depth just looks even better suddenly with potentially capable players pushed down the depth chart.
If the blue line is suddenly more solid, there could be a boost for the goaltending that suddenly faces some combination of fewer but maybe more significantly lower quality chances.
No doubt, scoring takes a hit if Skinner departs via trade. But here’s the thing…Is it possible that there is still a net positive. The Hurricanes were generally losing (despite his goals) with Skinner on the ice in 2017-18 just as has generally been the case throughout his career. In addition to gains on the blue line and possibly in net, it is also reasonable to believe that a Hurricanes team minus Jeff Skinner improves defensively. Is it possible that the team could in fact score less but still improve in terms of goal differential because what it gives up decreases by more. As I have said a few times recently, winning in the NHL is not about scoring goals. It is about scoring more goals than you give up. It is not impossible to think that the Hurricanes could gain in this department minus Skinner.
Then re-adding offense
It is not a huge amount, but the Hurricanes would also save $2 million in such a deal. Tack another $1 – 3 million on top of that, and might the Hurricanes be able to back fill Skinner’s role as a scorer with another scorer who potentially clicks better with some combination of the current roster?
Netting it out
The potential upside of adding just one steady top 4 defenseman is huge. That move could potentially remedy the hole at #3/#4 on the blue line, improve all three defense pairings and be part of the formula that sees goaltending improve.
That is a lot.
The departure of Jeff Skinner would also relieve some pressure defensively. Sure, the team will need to add more scoring from somewhere, but it is not clear that the gains defensively do not already significantly outweigh the losses offensively even before another offensive player is added to replace some of Skinner’s scoring.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you think the potential domino effect is viable, wishful thinking or somewhere in the middle?
2) Is Justin Faulk or Noah Hanifin just a steady partner (not each other) away from finding a higher gear defensively?
3) Is there a version of Jeff Skinner for Jake Muzzin that you would do?