In case you missed it with the Fourth of July holiday, the Hurricanes announced yesterday that the team had traded a fifth round pick acquire center Marcus Kruger from the Las Vegas Golden Knights. I offered my initial thoughts on that deal in this article.
And if you were away from Hurricanes hockey for the entirety of the four-day holiday weekend, you have even more catching up to do. I offered my thoughts on Justin Williams’ signing in a part 1 with initial thoughts and part 2 with a deeper dive and followed up with a similar article for the other four depth players signed on Saturday’s opening of free agency.
With most of the major players off the board after four days of free agency and a decent number of trades completed, today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at all of the deals completed thus far, and identifies ‘deals I would steal.’
Important to note is that I am NOT suggesting that Francis could have had all of these deals. There are a few specifically where he had zero chance with players choosing a destination for a reason. And there are likely others that he similarly might not have had any reasonable chance of winning. But for the sake of discussion, I will not get bogged down in whether they were possible in building the list.
The overriding theme of the list is adding more offense on the cheap. My math still has the Hurricanes stuck at eight top 9 forwards and ideally needing a bit more offense, so not surprisingly that is what I went looking for.
NHL free agent signings I would steal
(Not in priority order)
David Desharnais – Rangers: One year at $1 million
He is undersized, coming off a ‘meh’ at best 2016-17 season and is not a pure high-end scorer, but for $1 million for a one-year risk, I would have taken a chance on the veteran. He is skilled and has a decent dose of the playmaking element that the Hurricanes need. He is only two years removed from 52 and 48-point seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively and perhaps just needs a change of scenery.
Sam Gagner – Canucks: Three years at $3.15 million per year
He is the closest thing to a pure playmaking center on the free agency market this year. His game is not nearly as well-rounded as the elite centers, but he rates well in terms of sheer offense. The three-year term is maybe a year long, and the $3.15 million not a sheer bargain like a few other deals listed, but if given the opportunity, I would have leaned forward a bit for a player who posted a 50-point season in 2016-17 despite averaging only 13:42 of ice time.
Mike Cammalleri – Kings: One year at $1 million
Cammalleri looks very much like a player who hand-picked a return to a former home with minimal regard for the contract, so he probably was not available to the Hurricanes. But if he was, he is similar to Desharnais as a player who has the potential for some scoring upside with virtually zero risk because of the low salary and one-year contract term. Cammalleri was not worth his previous contract (hence his buyout), but his 40-ish point pace (prorated for 82 games) is solid production for his contract and looks dirt cheap when one looks at the 38 points that Cammalleri had in only 42 games in 2015-16.
Patrick Sharp – Chicago: One year at $1 million
Sharp very clearly chose a return to Chicago over more money, so no way was this deal or anything even close to it available for Francis. But if it was, Sharp looks a lot like Desharnais and Cammalleri as veteran depth scoring on the cheap.
NHL trades I would steal
Marcus Johansson for a second and a third-round draft pick in 2018
If I had to identify one trade where maybe Francis missed, this would be it. Again, who knows that the negotiating terms were, but this deal was Washington cutting salary and collecting what it could. Since the deal was made in-division, it seems reasonable to speculate that the Hurricanes could also have won Johansson with a modestly higher bid. After seeing the Johansson trade, I described him as Duchene-lite. Johansson probably does not have as high of a ceiling offensively as Duchene, but he had a huge 58 points in 2016-17 and rates out as a consistent mid-40s scorer for the previous three seasons. Johansson is slated to make $4.75 million per year for the two years remaining on his contract, so he is not the bargain that a couple other players are. But with nothing seeming to materialize on the trade front for a bigger name like Galchenyuk or Duchene, Johansson could have been a pretty decent bridge to the future in the form of a player who has the playmaking skills identified when I set specific priorities over a month ago.
Jonathan Drouin for a top defenseman prospect and a conditional second round pick
For me, Drouin actually has a few more question marks than a couple other high-end forwards available. But as they say, beggars can’t be choosers. The Hurricanes equivalent for this deal would likely have been to part with Haydn Fleury which would be tough to do, but if given the chance to add a potential top-line forward for only futures, I think you just take it.
Based on recent history, there likely are winners to be had
Important to note is that there are regularly winners found every year in the bargain bin. Last season, Sam Gagner’s big 50-point season came on an astonishing one-year deal for $650,000. Michael Grabner put up 40 points in 76 games to provide solid depth scoring for the Rangers in the first year of a two-year deal for only $1.65 million annually. Just $950,000 for a one-year deal for former-Hurricane Kris Versteeg netted an impressive 37 points in 69 games for a better than 40-point full-season pace if prorated. On the trade front, the Oilers acquired Patrick Maroon from the Ducks in an inexpensive housecleaning deal for only a fourth-round pick a mid-tier prospects. Maroon went to post a solid 42 points for only a $2 million salary cap hit.
Common among those four teams that found strong depth scoring on the cheap is that all of them made the playoffs. Maybe more significantly, of the four only the Rangers probably entered the season with a chance of making the playoffs at higher than 50 percent.
From a Hurricanes angle…
After meandering away for a bit, I think there is an interesting Hurricanes angle to all of this. As a team that finished 20th overall in the NHL in scoring, the Hurricanes could obviously benefit from adding a bit more offensive fire power for the 2017-18 season. Justin Williams does help but is not what I would consider to be the high-end offensive catalyst that I ideally wanted. As such, it seems reasonable to think that the team could benefit from adding as many potential scoring options as possible hoping to find a Gagner, Maroon, Grabner, Versteeg or similar. But instead, since signing Justin Williams at the start of free agency, Francis has been spending forward roster spots adding players seemingly with minimal offensive upside in Josh Jooris and Marcus Kruger. The ‘for’ logic says that adding good players without to much bias toward scoring versus defense improves the team. The ‘against’ logic worries that the Hurricanes will again struggle to score and that they will lose one of the final playoff slots to a team that took a shot on offensive upside and found a winner.
What say you Caniacs?
Which of my deals would you steal? Do you see any others that you like?
Does anyone else worry a bit that in spending a couple forward slots on checking line players like Jooris and Kruger that the Hurricanes will ultimately lose to a team that takes a bit more risk aiming for scoring upside?
From the picked over free agent pool, do you see any players left who could have substantial offensive upside for a reasonable price? Do you think there is any chance that Francis would pursue such a player with 13 forwards already signed and Di Giuseppe already qualified and likely to be signed?