Upon seeing that the Hurricanes made AHL-level trade today netting Philip Samuelsson in return for Keegan Lowe, my comment on Twitter was that hopefully this was a warm up for Ron Francis now barely over 1 week away from the NHL trade deadline.
Maybe most notable in the trade is that Philip Samuelsson is the son of Charlotte Checkers’ coach Ulf Samuelsson. The younger Samuelsson is a 25-year old stay-home defenseman. Samuelsson has logged only 13 games at the NHL level and mostly brings AHL-level depth. At just under 24 years old Keegan Lowe was deep on the Hurricanes’ young and deep blue line depth chart and similarly represented AHL-level depth. IF the Hurricanes are unable to regain their footing quickly and instead fall completely out of the playoff chase, whether Samuelsson sees NHL level ice time in March and how he performs would provide a read both on what the team thinks his ceiling is and also how capable he is of playing above the AHL level. Best bet is that Samuelsson simply slides in a #9/#11 slot on the team’s blue line depth chart and provides veteran experience and leadership in Charlotte.
The small deal today does serve as another reminder that the NHL trade deadline is now about 1 week away on next Wednesday, March 1. I will begin my a series of trade deadline articles in earnest either tomorrow or otherwise Friday but will use this opportunity to put out a few early thoughts on how things might progress.
Matt Duchene (or Gabriel Landeskog) unlikely
As I continue to read about the collection of teams where 1 or both of these players might fit and who might be interested, I think it is increasingly unlikely that the Hurricanes add either of these players at the trade deadline. Sakic’s alleged asking price is exorbitant, and I do not think he will get quite that, but I do think the price could be heft for 1 key reason – neither player is a traditional rental whereby you pay a fortune to make a single chase for the Cup and then lose him in summer. Eric Staal was in this category and near the top of it at this time last season and garnered a pricey haul of 2 second round picks and a recent third round pick. That is a lot. But important to note is that both Landeskog and Duchene have term (at a reasonable price) on their contracts. So in addition to the big-time rental value for the 2016-17 season, they also represent a longer-term addition much like also adding a free agent this summer. Because of that different value, I think 1 of 2 things happens with Duchene and/or Landeskog. Either Colorado general manager Joe Sakic gets a haul greater than Staal’s return or otherwise he waits until summer. The advantage of waiting until summer is that the bidding pool could be significantly higher as teams shed a few contracts and more teams can make the salary cap math work. Though it is not impossible, I think the odds of Francis winning a bidding war during the season is remote. If you are checking in late, I wrote recently about the possibility of Duchene for Faulk and also included links to my short series on the Duchene possibility dating all the way back to the start of 2017.
The obvious trade list if the Hurricanes are out of the playoff hunt
If the Hurricanes continue their losing ways leading up to the trade deadline, the team could truly be all but mathematically eliminated from the playoff chase. If that happens, I think Francis returns to a familiar routine of selling off anything and everything that is not bolted down. I have written this elsewhere, but as a refresher the obvious list of possible players to be traded includes impending unrestricted free agents Ron Hainsey, Jay McClement, Viktor Stalberg, Derek Ryan and Matt Tennyson. I already voted to trade Ron Hainsey in my “5 wishes…” post earlier this week (and for well-wishing NOT snarky/negative reasons).
Add 2 wild cards and subtract 1
In addition to the unrestricted free agent list, I think there a 3 wild cards to make an adjusted list.
The first 1 is fairly obvious which is to include Ryan Murphy on the players to potentially be traded away either as part of a bigger package or possibly in a ‘change of scenery’ type of deal that sees Murphy swapped for a similar age, similar pedigree player who also just has not worked out so far.
Another player not so much on anyone’s list who could be interesting is Lee Stempniak. He is not regularly considered trade bait because he has an additional year on his current contract, and as such is not the usual short-term rental. He has been a serviceable top 9 forward for a reasonable price of only $2.5 million per season. As such, I do not think Francis will by any means be urgently shopping Stempniak with the goal of unloading him at any price. But he has yet to really find any kind of chemistry, important role or higher gear with the Hurricanes. His current 39-point pace fits very clearly into the realm of “serviceable,” “lukewarm,” “okay” and other descriptive words that suggest better is possible. His current year contract fits neatly into almost any salary cap situation, and the same $2.5 million price for next season is reasonable and could even be a positive for a team that knows it needs to add at the forward position this summer but is limited in terms of cap space. For a reasonable return in terms of futures, might Ron Francis add to his stack of futures that he can use to either build the system or do another trade later and figure that he can probably find a new Lee Stempniak this summer with the $2.5 million back? Though this is less likely than the more obvious rental trades, aside from a blockbuster, I think this is an interesting ‘off the radar’ type of deal would surprise people but make sense once they thought about it.
The last wild card/adjustment to the trade list is Viktor Stalberg. He has played well enough that I think Francis could be happy to pull him off the trade list and just re-sign him if he wants to stay with the Hurricanes for a price similar to his current contract. The Hurricanes have young players who could surprise and push up into the top 9 next season and also (per my post evaluating the team’s forwards in detail) a need for another difference-maker scoring-wise. But I think regardless of how all of that sorts out, Stalberg makes sense as a #10-#13 forward who brings a big body, great skating/forechecking for a fourth line, penalty killing and some depth scoring to boot. Of all of the Hurricanes unrestricted free agents, I think he is the 1 that it makes sense to re-sign rather than collecting whatever is possible.
But with a couple wins, the yard sale might not be as aggressive as in years past
This time last year, Ron Francis had some assets with high value with Eric Staal leading the list but also with John-Michael Liles playing well and Kris Versteeg having value as a veteran depth scorer. The prior year Andrej Sekera netted a first round pick and also a recent second-rounder in Roland McKeown. Francis moved aggressively and even a few days early in both cases to make sure he leveraged the situation to restock his prospect pool.
The Hurricanes play 4 more times before next Wednesday’s trade deadline. If the team continues to stumble such that it is more or less eliminated from playoff contention, look for an all out sale reminiscent of years past with Francis holding auctions and collecting what he can for every player except possibly Stalberg. The assets he has this trade deadline are likely only to garner mid-late round picks (though I would be happy to be surprised with a third-rounder or 2) and that is dependent on a team having a need for a specific skill set (i.e. penalty killing) from a depth player. So while the current trajectory sees Francis toting all his stuff out into the front yard, there is a chance that despite best efforts, some of it comes back. In addition, even if the sale is successful, the return to be had is not as great as in years past.
The best chance might be a domino effect
History suggests that some team will overbid to win a key player at the trade deadline such that it is an expensive time to shop for anything. As such, I think the probability of Francis winning any kind of bidding war for a prized player like Duchene or Landeskog is very low. I think what might be more interesting to watch is domino effects if/when teams that are looking to add win these bidding wars and then consider second deals either to make the salary cap math work or to clear out a player who was previously in the slot to be filled by the newly added star. The scenarios and names who could be part of this kind of deal will feature in my upcoming trade deadline series.