Today’s Daily Cup of Joe has three unrelated sets of random notes.
1) The 2022 Olympics
Assuming our world gets back to something closer than normal, we are less than 18 months away from the 2022 Olympics. Things can and will change between now and then, the but even figures to be very heavy on Canes participation. By math the event has an outside chance to stretch up to 11 Canes from the current roster/organization participating across seven different national teams.
Finland (2 possible) — Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are both shoo-ins to be part of Team Finland.
United States (2 possible) — Jaccob Slavin is a likely entry. Most early lists have Brett Pesce on the outside looking in, but he is not out of the picture. His chances probably depend on the ongoing development of young US defensemen like Quinn Hughes, Adam Fox and others and also possibly if there is a need to balance left versus right or add another defenseman who leans defense and can kill penalties.
Canada (1 possible) — Dougie Hamilton has played his way up into the mix from pretty much off the depth chart awhile back.
Czech Republic (2 possible) — Petr Mrazek could be the Czech Republic’s starter, and if he continues to grow in 2020-21, Martin Necas also has a very good chance to make the team.
Switzerland (2 possible) — For a country with a bit less NHL-caliber options, Nino Niederreiter is almost a certainty. The other oddball here is Gregory Hoffman who is a 2011 Hurricanes draftee. Though he is now 27 years old and unlikely to ever play for the Canes, he is still technically in the organization with draft rights. Hofmann has had a solid career playing in Switzerland and will content for a Swiss Olympic roster spot.
Russia (1 possible) — Andrei Svechnikov should appear in the first of many Olympics for him representing Russia.
Germany (1 possible) — For a country that is not as deep with NHL talent, Canes prospect Dominik Bokk is likely to make the team at forward.
2) Increased contract challenges
One of the potential pitfalls of the NHL with a salary cap is when teams end up on the wrong side of expensive, long-term contracts that go bad. Because so many teams are up against the salary cap, it can become nearly impossible to move even a serviceable player if his salary is out of line with his expected level of play production. The result is teams having to just live with buried money while riding out a bad contract or biting the bullet and buying a player out to at least save part of the cap hit and spread it over a longer period of time.
The Hurricanes have mostly been exempt from this stress. First of all, the team traditionally spent well below the salary cap which meant they could just ride out bad contracts. In addition, the team was rarely a big player in the higher-end free agent market which is where many of the bad contracts originate from. So the few bad contracts the team has had arose from players hitting a wall. The most notable of those was the Alexander Semin contract that still pays $2.3 million in 2020-21.
Only a couple years back, the Hurricanes were pretty much free of bad contracts. But as luck would have it, right when the Hurricanes are finally pushing up against the salary cap, the team suddenly has a few difficult contracts.
Because of the trajectory of Victor Rask when the trade happened and Nino Niederreiter‘s significant contribution to the 2019-20 playoff push, I think that trade can already be considered a positive return. But that does not change the fact that the $5.25 million per year owed to Niederreiter for the next two years is steep relative to his recent production.
Jordan Staal‘s contract is another that is teetering on brink of being much too pricey compared to his role. A couple years back, there was a fair debate to be had about whether $6 million per year was too much relative to his modest 3rd-line-ish scoring. But at that time, Staal was among the best in the league in leading a shutdown/match up line. The 2019-20 version of Staal who is now on the other side of 30 years old seemed to be a notch lower and maybe more just a decent checking line center than elite in that narrow role. With three years remaining at $6 million per year, I will be watching how he starts the 2020-21 season to see if he has a higher gear and second wind that sees him bounce back to a slightly higher level of play.
Jake Gardiner is another contract with three years of term like Staal’s that could be ‘iffy’ going forward. When he signed for $4 million per year and projected to be a #4 defenseman who could also contribute offensively, the price looked to be a discount. But now a year later, he is a third pairing defenseman. The team will not say that directly, but that is where he was slotting in the latter half of the regular season and the playoffs, and the addition of Brady Skjei at the trade deadline further demonstrated the shift away from Gardiner as a regular top 4 defenseman. Gardiner’s play was better in the latter half of the season which offers hope, but if he sticks in the third pairing, he is overpriced by about $2 million for even the good version of that role.
Worth watching are Brady Skjei and Vincent Trocheck. Both are only a tiny way into their Hurricanes tenure, so it is too early to really evaluate either. But both have contracts near or above $5 million per year which means the $ matter. And as new players, both have what I have come to call ‘assimilation risk’. Very regularly good players have trouble adjusting to a new team or system. The extreme version of this close to home is Scott Darling who looked like a capable or better goalie pre-arrival but never was anywhere close to that in a Canes uniform for more than a game here or there. Both Trocheck and Skjei slot were obtained to slot into the top half of the Hurricanes lineup.
As long as he can maintain his role as a solid checking line center, I think Staal is fairly safe as a veteran leader even with a smaller role. But I think the Hurricanes would jump at the chance to unload either Gardiner or Niederreiter to free up cap space to re-sign Svechnikov and/or add a player or two. But because of those contracts, both of those players would be difficult to move alone. Either would likely have to be part of a bigger deal and/or see the Hurricanes giving up assets to get a team to take one of them (like Canes taking Marleau last summer).
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are the chances the Hurricanes get all 11 players into the 2020 Olympics? Does anyone track it close enough or remember seeing an article anywhere that has projected totals for all NHL teams? My guess is that 11 would rate pretty high.
2) What do you make of the Hurricanes couple contracts that I identified as problematic? Which of these players do you see as workable through the end of their contracts either because you think they will find a higher gear or because they fill enough of a role even if a bit overpriced for it?