When the Hurricanes traded for Dougie Hamilton and defense prospect Adam Fox during the 2018 NHL Draft weekend and then added Calvin de Haan via free agency a week later, the team became one of the deepest on the blue line in the entire NHL.
Though things have not worked out exactly as planned with Dougie Hamilton struggling a bit in his transition to a new team, the Hurricanes have still been much stronger defensively in 2018-19. Meshing well with newcomer de Haan, Justin Faulk has rebounded and been much better defensively. De Haan has worked well. And reuniting Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce has pushed Hamilton to the third pairing which also has Trevor van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury as options. The team is not incredibly deep with NHL-ready depth, but Adam Fox and Jake Bean both have the potential to become difference-makers offensively.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe considers possibilities for how it could all shake out when projecting the Canes blue line out 2-3 years.
The left side
First, because they are both signed long-term and playing well and because the team is not as deep on the left side, I think Jaccob Slavin and Calvin de Haan are both very likely to still be on the Hurricanes’ roster in 2-3 years.
As a depth defenseman who has yet to produce much offensively at the NHL level, Haydn Fleury is by no means locked in long-term, but at the same time he has become an established NHLer and should still have a contract that fits the role when he re-signs this summer.
Jake Bean is a wild card on the left side. He brings a next-generation skill set that can generate offense from the back end, but it is still unclear if and/or when he will be NHL-ready.
The right side
The Canes already have a logjam on the right side which makes it most likely that there will be a departure or two from this group.
Right now, Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk are filling the two top four slots on the right side. Based on salary and past performance, Dougie Hamilton makes for three top four defenseman. Then behind him there is Trevor van Riemsdyk who more appropriately slots into a bottom pairing but is a steady and proven version of that.
Prospect-wise, Adam Fox is the player to watch. Obtained in the trade with Calgary, Fox is a high-end prospect who ranks near the top of the Hurricanes futures. The question is whether the Canes can get Fox under contract before he graduates from college in two years and becomes a free agent. Roland McKeown also offers a depth defenseman option.
The basic math
When one nets it out, the Hurricanes have the needed two top 4 defensemen in Slavin and de Haan on the left side, one experienced depth defenseman in Fleury and a potential future upgrade offensively in Bean. So that set works well for 2-3 years out with Slavin and de Haan signed long-term and Fleury and Bean still in their restricted free agent years.
On the right side, the Hurricanes have one extra top 4 defenseman with Pesce, Faulk and Hamilton in tow. The team also has van Riemsdyk for proven depth, but if Fox develops to be as good as advertised, the team would want to use van Riemsdyk’s slot for Fox. McKeown does not figure to be in the NHL simply because of the depth but could be a depth defenseman if others are moved.
So what happens?
Because the math works, I think the Hurricanes hold tight on the left side.
During last summer, I suggested that Faulk would be the last domino to fall during the summer’s maneuvers. Had Faulk been traded, the team would have entered the 2018-19 season with two top 4 right shot defenseman and a solid third pairing defenseman in van Riemsdyk. That did not happen likely because the team could not get a fair return.
But I still think the team will trade from this position of strength for three reasons. First, the benefit relative to the cost for having a third top 4 defenseman on the roster does not make any sense especially for a team that is spending less than the salary cap. Second, the team could desperately use another scoring forward who could be obtained via trade for a top 4 defenseman. Finally, the team needs to clear space that paves at least a potential path to NHL ice time for prospect Adam Fox in order to be a desirable destination versus finishing up college and becoming a free agent.
With Faulk playing well and Hamilton struggling with his transition to a new team, it is possible that the Hurricanes trade Hamilton or theoretically even Pesce and re-sign Faulk when his contract is up after the 2019-20 season. Though Hamilton’s struggles add some risk to doing so, I still think Faulk is the defenseman most likely to be dealt. Given his combination of age, level of play and reasonable salary with term, I do not see the Hurricanes trading Pesce unless the return is huge. And Hamilton comes with the advantage that he is signed for two more years versus only one for Faulk.
So I think Faulk is most likely to be traded but also recognize the possibility that it is one of the two other right shot defensemen who is traded instead.
Projected 2020-21 blue line depth chart
Slavin / Pesce
De Haan / Hamilton or Faulk
Default third pairing: Fleury / van Riemsdyk
Preferred third pairing if ready and capable of providing offense: Bean / Fox
The bottom pairing has two players with NHL experience, but in an ideal world one or both of Bean and Fox will prove to be capable defensively and a significant upgrade offensively.
If Fox is signed and proves NHL-ready quickly, he would at least initially fill van Riemsdyk’s slot and in the process make van Riemsdyk expendable when he becomes an unrestricted free agent before the 2020-21 season.
I will optimistically project that Fox is in fact NHL-capable in a hurry but that Bean is not and also that Faulk is traded by this summer.
If that is correct, the blue line for opening night of the 2020-21 season would be:
Slavin / Pesce
De Haan/ Hamilton
Fleury / Fox
Depth either from within or via signing a veteran free agent.
Expansion draft considerations
The other wild card is the expansion draft set for before the 2020-21 season. If the format is similar to the Las Vegas draft, the Hurricanes will almost certainly destined to lose a good defenseman. With the ability to protect only three defensemen, the Hurricanes would lose a proven top 4 defenseman. I am not a huge fan of working too far in advance to minimize expansion draft losses. Good teams that have depth and win are destined to lose a pretty good player. That beats losing and avoiding such losses. Regardless, the Hurricanes as constructed right now would be likely to lose a defenseman before the start of the 2020-21 season.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you agree that the Hurricanes are still likely to trade a top 4 right shot defenseman by early this summer? If so, who do you think is most likely to depart?
2) Do you think the Hurricanes will make room for Adam Fox, and if so, how?
3) What do you project as the Hurricanes blue line for the 2020-21 season?