Generally, the way things go with rating NHL players is that when they are playing well they are untouchable trade-wise or at least very expensive, but when they are struggling it is often hard to even give them away. Aside from the gradual tried and true model of drafting and developing players, the single greatest tool to improve a team is by finding players who are temporarily down on their luck but ready to rebound.
Being opportunistic and buying low has had a significant impact on the greatest successes in Canes history. Buying low on good players was arguably the single greatest ingredient in the Canes 2006 Stanley Cup Win. Ray Whitney was signed to a bargain basement contract after being bought out by Detroit. Cory Stillman was similarly the odd man out for the Lightning and signed for cheap. The 2009 playoff run featured help from bargain cast off additions in Sergei Samsonov and Jussi Jokinen.
The 2015-16 season offers some significant contrasts in what the same player can be worth in up times versus down times that are not that far apart. It would not have been unreasonable to call Ryan Johansen completely untouchable as the leader of a promising young team at the beginning of the season. A couple months later he was traded. During the Flyers struggles early in the season, Wayne Simmonds’ name along with many others was being bandied around as possibly available. With the Flyers making the playoffs today, he is back to being a core part of what is now a playoff team. The Canadiens’ woes this season had young struggling center Alex Galchenyuk’s name in the press. He has since returned to his natural center position and surged to 29 goals. It is impossible to say which of the names that hit the rumor mill are actually available, but the trade of Ryan Johansen proves that at least sometimes smoke does mean fire. And history shows that general managers whose teams are struggling can get irrationally trigger happy.
With the Canes current needs at forward and a system that lacks NHL-ready players, I think the ability of Francis to identify and obtain on the cheap a couple ‘down on their luck’ scoring-capable forwards rates second only between his selection of a second goalie in terms of building the 2016-17 to push for the playoffs.
If I was Ron Francis I would be collecting scouting opinions for and having GM conversations with players on some of the frustrated teams right now:
Edmonton Oilers: It is not clear who is available, but the Oilers seem like they are ready to shake things up. With their run of top picks at forward, very limited success in terms of wins and losses and a need to get better defensively, any/all of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov and more could be available. It seems crazy to consider trading Taylor Hall – Ryan Johansen kind of crazy, but if it becomes possible I would be interested. Nugent-Hopkins is probably actually available. And though I am not that high on Yakupov, there is a price where you take the risk with the upside. Who knows who is available and for what price, but if I was Ron Francis I would have Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli on a “call weekly to check in” list.
Montreal Canadiens: The time to pounce might have been when the Canadiens were falling down the standings but still in a playoff spot. It is at least possible that Alex Galchenyuk was available at that time. Galchenyuk has since rebounded which should knock sense into Montreal’s management at least with regard to him if they had lost it. But I would stay in contact and make regular offers to help if Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin thinks back on going from best in the NHL to out of the playoffs, gets frustrated and wants to shake things up.
Colorado Avalanche: The big name being bandied around here is Matt Duchene who is not seeing eye to eye with coach Patrick Roy. Players of his caliber who are just entering their prime are rarely available. If he hits the market, Duchene is another worth considering. The funny thing with him is that he is really not even in the middle of a down streak. Rather, it simply seems to be a personality/style clash with the coach.
The list of teams looking to shake things up usually grows with playoff disappointments. There are numerous teams that came out of the regular season fine but are really ‘win in the playoffs or bust’ situations. The list could grow by any of Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and a couple others who fail to advance in the playoffs. These teams are all built to win now. If that happens, the GM works to figure out the salary cap to keep the team together. If the team fails in the playoffs, the GM instead looks to shake something up to try something different for the next season. Those situations could present exactly the opportunities that Ron Francis needs to fast forward the improvement of the Carolina Hurricanes in time for the 2016-17 season.
Can Canes GM Ron Francis opportunistically add a higher-end but undervalued forward by opportunistically capitalizing on other teams’ efforts to shake things up?