When lunchtime finishes up on Friday, the 2020 NHL trade deadline will be almost exactly 10 days away. In the coming days, the rumors and rumblings will grow by leaps and bounds.
The Hurricanes suddenly sit four points out of playoff position (though with two games in hand).
CapFriendly shows the team able to add about $5.5 million of salary at the deadline.
And the team has a pool of an extra draft pick in each of the first three rounds of the 2020 NHL Draft in addition to a deep prospect pool if it wants to spend futures to boost the current team.
There is a good chance that the Carolina Hurricanes will make a move or two in the next 10 days.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a shot at handicapping Waddell’s priorities, process and actual results.
Some important background
Awhile back I suggested that it made sense for the Hurricanes to go unconventional at the trade deadline and not focus on the rental market but rather look to add a player with term, specifically a contract that went through the 2020-21 season. I mentioned a few defensemen like Jonas Brodin and Alec Martinez whose contracts met this target awhile back and wrote about the situation in more detail on February 4. Within a couple days national hockey media had the Canes tied to Alec Martinez and Brodin. More recently, there has been talk that the Hurricanes would be willing to trade one of its first-round picks to add a player with term. Funny how that works sometimes.
The need and the tiers of options
Even before Dougie Hamilton was felled by injury, my opinion was that the biggest need was adding another top 4-capable defenseman to solidify the blue line. Tripp Tracy singing a player’s praises for just not being bad defensively is the single biggest indicator in the Canes universe that a player has issues defensively. That was Jeff Skinner for many years. That is intermittently Sebastian Aho, Ryan Dzingel and Martin Necas on the current team. And that more than anyone right now is Jake Gardiner. He has been better of late, but even in his better games like against Vegas, he is still prone to too many costly lapses. When the ceiling is hoping for nothing too costly, there is room for improvement. Especially with Hamilton out of the lineup, I will be pretty surprised if Waddell does not add at least #4/#5 type defenseman to put another option in the mix and increase depth.
The potential market for defensemen is an interesting one with a decent number of players potentially available from different tiers.
The top tier would include established top 4 defensemen with term on their current contracts. Since these players are not automatic rentals, teams have the potential to shop but ultimately keep these players. Pair that with the shortage of legitimate top 4 defensemen, and the players in this tier are likely to be pricey. I guess theoretically this is where the Canes being willing to spend a first-round pick comes into play. Matt Dumba from Minnesota has had his name floated, and I saw Jeff Petry‘s name recently too. But as I do not see either Minnesota or Montreal going full rebuild mode, it seems to make more sense to keep these players. As such, it probably takes a king’s ransom to pry one of them loose. Though the Hurricanes do have the assets to pull this off, I would be moderately surprised to see the Hurricanes shop in this premium tier, especially when there could be some pretty good options available for less.
I see the second tier as including a few players who have the perfect two-year term and a top 4 pedigree but maybe a bit less to offer than the top tier. This tier could include Jonas Brodin and Alec Martinez who were actually the first players I identified as being good fits awhile back based on skill set and contract. Petry who included above probably costs more and might not be available at all, but he is another whose contract is up after the 2020-21 season. Again, though the Hurricanes do want to improve for 2019-20, killing two birds with one stone by adding blue line help for 2020-21 is also a positive. My best bet is that the Hurricanes lose both Trevor van Riemdsyk and Joel Edmundson not so much because they do not want to re-sign them but instead because they do not want to commit #4-ish salary long-term with Andre Svechnikov, Martin Necas and possibly Dougie Hamilton’s next contracts coming down the pike. So these players signed through 2020-21 help fill gaps through next season but also bring maximum salary cap flexibility heading into the summer of 2021.
The third tier would be the standard rentals who are available this time of year and expected to depart when their contract is up at the end of the season. Sami Vatanen and Brenden Dillon top this list. The number of more depth defenseman type rentals is pretty extensive, but my thinking is that Waddell makes a cut line that includes players who are at least potentially capable of filling a #4 slot. For me, that eliminates most of the list below Vatanen and Dillon.
Where I land for priority is a matter of price versus quality balance. I would not be in the mode to go all in at any cost. The Hurricanes are a young team that is still building, so it is not last ditch effort time. As such, I would be moderately surprised to see Waddell winning a bidding war with a super package for a long-term addition. More likely, I think he adds someone in one of the latter two tiers. I really like Jonas Brodin. I think he could be a great fit with Brett Pesce both for 2019-20 but also 2020-21 if Gardiner does not grow into that slot. I view Martinez as a modest but not insignificant downgrade, but with Los Angeles being much more in pure seller mode, maybe the discount makes him worth. Finally, if there is not a reasonable deal to be had with term, I like Vatanen as hopefully being a Calvin de Haan-like steady veteran who does not wow you but does not kill you either. Dillon could be similar.
If I had to bet, I think Waddell gets the two-year term in the form of a left defenseman who could pair with Pesce through 2020-21 if they click. Most likely is probably Martinez, but if he is available, I think Brodin is a player that Waddell might bid a bit more for.
The defensive disclaimer
While I do think adding another defenseman could help solidify the back end, I think it is important to note that such an addition will not likely be an instant panacea. Much of the Hurricanes issues on defense stem from the intermittent issues with the forwards. The young group that leans offense has few too many costly pauses. Martin Necas still has shifts where he floats in the defensive zone instead of identifying his responsibility and fulfilling it. Ryan Dzingel’s greatest strengths are on the offensive side of the puck. And in my opinion, Sebastian Aho has taken a small step backwards defensively in 2019-20. So while I do think adding another solid defenseman will help, my fear is that the Canes defensive struggles are more so a team issue than a blue line issue.
Potential wild cards
I think the most likely ending to the trade deadline for the Hurricanes will be the addition of a single defenseman who is at least a potential #4. But again reaching back to my hypothesis that Waddell uses the trade deadline to also work on the 2020-21 lineup early, I could see two other types of moves.
First, I could see the Canes adding a center preferably or a scoring wing with that same through 2020-21 term. If the team can somehow make the math work for this season, they will have some cap space this summer when Marleau’s contract comes off the books with no re-signings that will break the bank. For the same reason as van Riemsdyk and Edmundson, I would be surprised to see Erik Haula return. I think he could fit short-term in the role he is in, but I think the Hurricanes will pass if he wants a longer-term deal to maintain maximum flexibility for Svechnikov, Necas and Hamilton. As such, I think Haula like Edmundson and van Riemsdyk are likely to depart for longer-term deals elsewhere. While it is possible that Lucas Wallmark could step up into that role, I also think it is possible that Waddell adds a player from outside. I have not had time to research the center options in as much detail as the defenseman, but an interesting possibility is Eric Staal whose contract runs through 2020-21 at a modest $3.25 million per year. Marcus Johansson is another middle-six center who could fit.
If the Hurricanes do take on two players, the salary cap math gets tricky with only $5.5 million available. But if the Hurricanes parted ways with a roster player like Haula in such a deal, it could work.
The other interesting wild card could be Robin Lehner. The Blackhawks have sort of played their way back into the playoff hunt, so maybe he is off the board. But if available, Lehner is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so he more so fits the rental model. Though there have been some ups and downs, I am mostly inclined to ride with the current goaltending tandem. But Lehner is interesting for two reasons. First, I do think he is an upgrade at the position. Second, if the Hurricanes could package Reimer in such a deal partly to clear cap space, that might also fit well with planning for 2020-21. If Lehner excels and likes it in Raleigh of course he could re-sign. But if not, trading Reimer would finally clear a spot for Alex Nedeljkovic at the NHL level for the 2020-21 season.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you also see adding a top 4-ish defenseman as a top priority? If so, who would you target and how much would you be willing to pay to shop in a higher tier?
2) Do you think there is any chance that the Hurricanes surprise by adding a forward or goalie instead of or in addition to a defenseman? Following my theme, does anyone have interesting options for a center (or possibly wing) with contract term through the 2020-21 season?
3) Here’s your chance. Predict at least one trade that we will see the Canes make before the trade deadline.