With the off-season officially here, possible ways to improve the Carolina Hurricanes has been a regular entry for the Daily Cup of Joe in different varieties.
Seeking an area where difference-making improvement is possible
While it is possible for the team to improve in pretty much any area, that task has become harder with the team improving becoming competent or better in pretty much every area.
From here, I see the path to winning a Stanley Cup as being one of two ways. First is simply making modest upgrades and more so having a ‘peak season’ and/or riding a hot streak in the playoffs mostly because the current group finds a higher gear. Second is finding a way to make a significant upgrade that significantly changes the makeup and trajectory of the team.
If I work through the Hurricanes lineup seeking such an upgrade possibility, it goes like this…
In net, I do think the potential is there for the Hurricanes to upgrade, but at the same time I do not think Mrazek/McElhinner or Mrazek/Reimer in any way held the team back. So I think it is unlikely that a change in net significantly changes things.
On defense, the blue line was at the core of the Hurricanes 2018-19 success and especially at the top of the depth chart was a strength again in 2019-20. If anything, I think the blue line represents a risk for a drop off. When a team reaches a high level, the risk of less is greater than the potential for more.
At forward, the Hurricanes FINALLY have the components for a legitimate first scoring line with Aho and Teravainen to anchor it and Svechnikov a perfect third if the team wants to go top-heavy. But with Staal being limited offensively to the point where his line is a checking line, the team has lacked a true second scoring line. Improved depth scoring has made it possible to overcome, but following a theme I have touched on in a few different ways, I really think finding a second center who can be an offensive catalyst could dramatically change things. Vincent Trocheck was acquired with that aim and could fulfill that role if can settle in and find chemistry with a line mate or two. I am on record as thinking that despite his failed start as a center that Martin Necas still represents the greatest potential for the Hurricanes to have a top-tier playmaking center. He maybe gets his next turn if Trocheck struggles and/or if an injury or two opens a center slot.
But is such a player ever available?
But is it possible that the Hurricanes could land a high-end center via trade. Often, people’s initial reaction is that this type of player is never available via trade or free agency. But recent history says that that is not true. The Predators obtained Ryan Johansen via trade, and the St. Louis Blues acquired cornerstone Ryan O’Reilly via trade as well. The recipe for players like this becoming available seems to have two key ingredients. First, the player must be playing a struggling team which has the team seeking changes. On top of that, both Johansen and O’Reilly’s unhappiness seemed to play a role.
Enter the remote but exciting possibility of Jack Eichel
Interestingly, this week’s rumors and rumblings seemed to suggest that there is at least a remote possibility that Jack Eichel could become available. Though the possibility seems remote, timing is perfect to dream a bit. I actually am probably in the minority in that I actually have mixed feelings on Eichel. He is an elite player offensively but in my opinion still falls short of being a truly great player whose defensive play also holds up. The offensive part of Eichel’s game is much more well-rounded, but I actually think he is a bit like teammate and former-Cane Jeff Skinner in that he is a bit overrated as a complete player because other areas of his game hold him back. His $10 million salary is not outlandish, but it is not really a positive either. But the huge upside is if a change of scenery and playing for a coach who gets the center position can help Eichel take the last step to being a truly elite, all-around center. At that point, the Hurricanes suddenly have a 1-2 punch that compares favorably to any in the NHL and in the form of two 23-year olds signed long-term. At that point, I think the Canes make a sizable step forward, and the team’s Cup window opens much wider.
If in fact Eichel goes the O’Reilly route and manages to grumble his way out of a tough situation in Buffalo, the challenge is figuring out what it would take to snag him. Sebastian Aho is a non-starter for me. I actually think he is as good of a player. Trading Andrei Svechnikov would seemingly fill one hole and just create another. I would not be a big fan of giving up Slavin or Pesce. Such a deal would eat up $4-5 million more salary and create a big hole in the top half of the lineup. The question is if a deal could be had with a number of pieces instead of trying to offer something closer to an equal player. If this starts Buffalo on another round of building, just maybe that is possible. The Hurricanes could offer the #13 overall pick for 2020 and Martin Necas who could theoretically grow to fill Eichel’s slot. Add in Haydn Fleury as a young, potential top 4 defenseman and Vincent Trocheck for more immediate help too. The net is two first-rounders (Necas plus the pick), a potentially top half of the roster young defenseman and a more immediate veteran replacement for Eichel. Best bet is that the Sabres would prefer something closer to an equal return in the form of a higher-end player plus adders. But if the Sabres cannot find a deal like that to their liking I would start with an offer close to above and just keep adding middle/bottom of the roster players or mid-tier prospects until Buffalo says yes.
More generally, once the 2020-21 starts I would be watching for teams that start slow and maybe look to shake things up. Neither O’Reilly or Johansen would have figured to be available at all only months before they were traded. Such deals are about being aggressively opportunistic when a big opportunity presents itself.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Aside from a offensive catalyst type second center, do you see any other areas where a single upgrade could make a sizable difference for the Hurricanes?
2) What are your thoughts on Jack Eichel? Anyone else think that the current version of him maybe is overrated just a bit because of lack of balance to his game?
3) If Eichel was in fact available, what would your maximum offer be as the Hurricanes general manager?