This week has been a busy one in terms of building out the Carolina Hurricanes 2018-19 blue line.
On Tuesday, the team announced that it had signed free agent defenseman Calvin de Haan to a four-year contract for $4.55 million per year. I initially evaluated that signing HERE, and then followed up with a second round of thoughts the next day HERE.
Then book-ending the Fourth of July with defenseman deals, the Hurricanes announced that the team had re-signed restricted free agent Trevor van Riemsdyk to a two-year deal worth $2.3 million per year. My analysis on that signing is HERE.
Finally, prior to this week, the Hurricanes added Dougie Hamilton (along with Micheal Ferland) in a draft weekend blockbuster for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. I offered initial thoughts on that deal HERE, and followed up with another round of analysis in this article on the multiple side effects from that deal.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at the 2018-19 blue line looks at the 2018-19 blue line from multiple angles.
As part of my analysis of the Dougie Hamilton addition and before Calvin de Haan even entered the mix, I said that I thought Justin Faulk was highly likely to be dealt to clear the logjam on the right side of the defense and possibly add a forward who might replace Jeff Skinner as the dominoes fall one by one. Once de Haan was signed, the probability of a Faulk trade increased. While there are always complexities to trading players with nearly $5 million of cap hit and with significant value, I will be surprised if the Hurricanes do not find a way.
Between now and when that happens, Don Waddell will do some posturing in talking about how important depth on the blue line is and his willingness to start the season with Faulk in two if a fair return does not materialize. And with Faulk having two years remaining on his contract, the possibility does exist to ride into the 2018-19 season if a fair trade does not materialize. But make no mistake – plan A is to unload Faulk ideally for proven scoring-capable forward. And when a few teams looking to add a higher-end right shot defenseman miss out on the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes, that could put Faulk front and center as the next defenseman to be dealt.
I still think Faulk for Kadri as a starting point makes sense.
And though Elliotte Friedman suggested that the Blackhawks would not give up Brandon Saad to land Faulk, just maybe it takes a bit more. The Hurricanes could take the Marian Hossa contract that the Blackhawks are looking to unload, so maybe that plus adding another future or two gets it done? As a decent all-around wing, Saad could fit on any line.
Regardless, I think best offer above some minimum probably soon after the Karlsson sweepstakes ends nets Faulk.
One thing that surprises me in watching people piece together the lineup with the additions is the volume of people whose first jump is to split up Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. That duo has obvious chemistry that goes beyond just basic familiarity from logging a good amount of ice time together. Both players are aggressive at the defensive blue line which comes with some risks, but the two read and react well off of each other such that even errors are mostly covered up. The pairings are likely to shift over the course of a long 82-game season with injuries or stretches where things become stagnant, but the obvious starting point in my opinion is to see how Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan mesh together. At least in terms of basic skill set the two are a good match. Dougie Hamilton is a Joni Pitkanen-ish freelancer of sorts who loves to advance with the puck on his stick. And Calvin de Haan plays a bit more of a simple, efficient game with more of a stay-home style. At least theoretically the two newcomers are a great fit and as such should be paired in a first attempt to build out the 2018-19 top 4.
Filling out the penalty kill
The penalty kill which was a strength in 2016-17 sagged in 2017-18. There were many elements to this, but a big one was the ‘meh’ at best play on the back end defending passing lanes through the slot and the front of the net. Jaccob Slavin was on the ice for a whopping 41 goals against on the penalty kill which was the highest total in the entire NHL and 95.3 percent (41 out of 43) of the team’s total power play goals allowed. Slavin’s volume of ice time was a factor, but the numbers are still disproportional and worth considering as the team rebuilds its penalty kill. Personally, I think Slavin’s single greatest strength is defending man on man in 5-on-5 situations, so if there are better options for penalty kill perhaps his ice time is better spent there. Calvin de Haan adds another capable penalty killer.
Building the power play
Dougie Hamilton is more or less guaranteed to take one power play point position. If Faulk is traded as expected, the team will be down two power play point men in Faulk and Hanifin. I would expect the Hurricanes go with a four forwards/one defenseman mix as for most of 2017-18 which leaves the team looking for one more defenseman. I do not see Haydn Fleury, Brett Pesce or Calvin de Haan as natural fits. More likely is that either Trevor van Riemsdyk or Jaccob Slavin steps into that role on the second power play unit. Van Riemsdyk saw very little for power play ice time in 2017-18 but did play some in that role for the Blackhawks. This will be something to sort out in training camp, but my early guess is that van Riemsdyk will take this on as an additional role in his second year with the team.
The #7 slot
If/when Faulk is traded, I would not be surprised to see the Hurricanes add a veteran #7 defenseman on an inexpensive contract. The team does have options in fringe AHL veteran/older prospect Trevor Carrick, Roland McKeown and Jake Bean (whose readiness I am not as optimistic about as some others) who could fill the #7 slot. If Carrick is capable, he would be fine in this role as a player who has minimal gains to be made rounding out his game with more AHL ice time. But if not Carrick, it would not really make sense to slot McKeown, Bean or any other young prospect at #7. These young players are much better off logging 20 plus minutes per night in a leading role in the AHL than sitting in an NHL press box. As such, I think there is a decent chance that the Hurricanes add one more defenseman. Requirements would be a low price (sub $1 million) and a one-year deal. Even better would be a player on a two-way deal, but oftentimes the quality is not there for players in that contract category. In taking a quick look at what’s available, a few possibilities that jump out are:
Alexei Emelin: He is a rugged and physical veteran who should still be able to step in on the penalty kill.
Dan Hamhuis: The 35-year old is not too far removed from being a top 4. If his price falls enough, he would represent a good veteran down shifting to a lesser role.
Luca Sbisa: He has been much-maligned largely for being overslotted and overpaid for it, but as a deep depth defenseman he brings a physical element and is also capable of playing on either side which is a valuable benefit for a #7 defenseman.
The key decision is whether the team thinks Trevor Carrick can fill this role. If not, I think an addition makes sense to spare developing young players time in the press box with minimal ice time. From there, price will be key. This is the kind of role where you trust your scouts to help identify a player who is adequate but not with a price premium because of it.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Would you consider splitting Slavin/Pesce despite their track record and chemistry in the first attempt to set the defense pairings? If so, why?
2) Would you consider adding a veteran #7 to keep the kids on the ice in the AHL and out of the NHL press box? Or do you maybe think Carrick is right for this role?
3) What are your thoughts for filling the special teams slots for defensemen?