Today’s Daily Cup of Joe builds a bit off of yesterday’s article considering players at the AHL/NHL cut line and also pulls in a few other situations that might or might not see more roster changeover before the start of the 2019-20 season.
At a basic level, I think the Hurricanes (signing remaining restricted free agents should be fairly routine) could be set for the start of the 2019-20 season. That is to say that there are no pressing needs that must be met. But at the same time, I think there is still significant potential for the Hurricanes to do another deal or two mostly pruning at the bottom edge of the NHL roster.
Situations with potential for action include:
The biggest open item right now is the status of Justin Williams. I am on record as believing that the need/value of another year of his leadership is underrated. With much greater expectations on the 2019-20 Hurricanes after a return to the playoffs and two series wins, I think the team could face a greater level and different type of pressure if it faces adversity from a slow start or downturn. At some point the team will need to transition to younger leadership, but I think one more year of Justin Williams would be a huge positive. It takes pressure off of other players, and it buys more time and tutelage for the younger leaders who could be next.
I do not have any inside information on the situation and the team’s comments have been fairly vague, but I think there is a decent chance that Williams has decided to return and has been waiting out the financials. He suggested at the end of the season that his decision would be partly based on the team’s prospects for the 2019-20 season. I think the team has done its part in that regard making some additions to at least back fill losses. In the process, the team needed to have and utilize available salary. Again, it is just my hunch, but I think part of the delay with Williams may have been his willingness to sign for ‘what is left’ giving the team maximum flexibility and resources to build a 2019-20 winner. With the Dzingel signing completed and minimal cost uncertainty remaining, I think if Williams is coming back it will be soon. The one open item that could have an impact is Brock McGinn’s next contract but even that should be in a fairly tight range.
Net: With the unknown wild card being his personal and family considerations, I think Williams will return and has maybe just been waiting for the financial math to settle out. With him, the team has made modest improvements and has playoff success and a young group to build on. I think at a hockey level at least that lures Williams back for one more year.
James Reimer and the goalie situation
With the addition of James Reimer in trade for Scott Darling, Don Waddell managed a great step-wise move in unloading Darling’s contract. The Hurricanes did have to take back a non-desirable contract in Reimer’s but unloading Darling without having to pay futures and/or eat a significant portion of his contract to do so was a win. At least in Reimer the Hurricanes have a player who can fill a role with the Hurricanes and/or might be tradeable at some point. So in and of itself, that is an upgrade to a tough situation.
But the other factor in play is that Alex Nedeljkovic had a strong 2018-19 season at the AHL level and seems ready for at least a try out at the NHL level. Reimer blocks that. In addition, Reimer costs $2.4 million more (actual salary not cap hit) for each of the next two years. In addition, Reimer is due $2.25 million in signing bonuses for the 2019-20 that present a financial risk in the event of a reasonably probable lockout.
If the Hurricanes did not have Nedeljkovic waiting in the wings, I think there would be a stronger case to just keep Reimer and at least give him a shot at rebounding to be a solid 1B goalie. But when one considers Nedeljkovic’s development and need to at least try out at the NHL level and the cost for Reimer, I think the team would prefer to trade Reimer. So I think he would definitely be available. But for the same reasons the Hurricanes might consider trading him (fairly high salary and fairly tough 2018-19 season), there might not be a market for him right now. So while I do think the preference would be to trade Reimer, I think the odds are greater than 50 percent that that does not happen before the start of the season.
Also on the topic of goalies, Forsberg figures to be fourth on the depth chart, but as long as his next contract is a two-way deal, I actually think the team would prefer to keep him. If he has an appropriate AHL salary, he represents a viable insurance policy with NHL experience sitting fourth on the depth chart for virtually no cost.
Net: I think the team is likely shopping Reimer now but that a deal is more likely during the season as team’s realize they need goaltending help and hopefully Reimer gets off to a decent start.
The logjam at the bottom of the blue line depth chart
At the point where Trevor van Riemsdyk returns from his shoulder injury (and assuming everyone else is healthy), the Hurricanes will have eight defensemen who are either certain NHLers or have to clear waivers to go back to the AHL. If one counts van Riemsdyk in the core five defensemen, that leaves Haydn Fleury, Gustav Forsling and Roland McKeown sitting in #6 to #8 slots and needing to clear waivers to go back to the AHL. Because of the age and potential upside for these players, I think all three would be a risk to clear waivers. Because of his physical tools, draft pedigree and NHL experience, I think Fleury would be claimed by a rebuilding team for certain. I also think Forsling’s experience would make him appealing to teams lacking #6/#7 depth. And though McKeown is unproven at the NHL level, I think there is a good chance that a team would take a chance on him to at least give him an NHL tryout. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Jake Bean had a strong 2018-19 season as an AHL rookie such that the team likely wants to get him into the mix at the NHL level in 2019-20. So that makes nine players for only six or seven slots.
Because of that and the risk of losing a player or two for nothing via waivers, I would expect that the Hurricanes will consider trading a depth defenseman to clear the logjam and collect some type of futures instead of nothing. Van Riemsdyk’s time line could be a big factor. If he is out, the team can keep Fleury, Forsling and McKeown at the NHL level and send Bean to the AHL without risk of losing him. But at the point where van Riemsdyk reenters the mix, the team is up to eight defensemen at the NHL level.
Who goes could be partly a function of which player nets the fairest return and partly a function of what the team projects for upside for these players.
Net: At the point when van Riemsdyk returns or maybe when his time line becomes clearer, I think the Hurricanes will move one of Fleury, Forsling or McKeown to add futures instead of losing a player for nothing on waivers.
I would be surprised to see the Hurricanes make any more moves past these situations related to the current group. One potentially open item is filling the physical void left by Micheal Ferland’s departure. In an ideal world, the summer’s additions would have included more of a physical element. But I think that is something that will need to be addressed by committee and not from another addition to the current group.
The team does also still have five restricted agents to re-sign. But four of those are AHL players who have minimal leverage/negotiating power and should be routine. Brock McGinn is a bit bigger of a situation but by filing for arbitration his re-signing is guaranteed just at an unknown cost.
Net: Though anything is possible, I would be quite surprised to see the Hurricanes make an NHL level deal outside of what I highlighted above.
Though I think the Reimer and blue line situations will be deferred, I think the team would move sooner if the opportunity presents itself. As such, either of these two moves could fall out of the sky anytime between now and the start of training camp.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you think of the possibility that Justin Williams is decided and just unselfishly waiting for the financials to settle? In general, do you think he returns?
2) Do you think the team is actively shopping James Reimer? Or do you think the Canes are content to at least start into the season with Reimer as a 1B with experience?
3) How do you think the team will proceed with the logjam at the bottom of the blue line? Might it risk sneaking a player through waivers at the end of training camp to try to maintain organizational depth? Or do you think the Canes will instead convert a defenseman to modest futures rather than risking losing one for nothing?
4) Does anyone think Waddell has one more ‘out of the blue’ deal still in him this summer?