On Saturday morning, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that the team had come to terms with Brock McGinn on a two-year contract that averages $2.1 million per year ($1.9 million in 2019-20 and $2.3 million in 2020-21). The deal narrowly averted an arbitration hearing scheduled for the same day that probably freed up time for sightseeing for Canes execs who were already in Toronto for the hearing.
Saturday’s transaction checks off another box and leaves only one big situation to be resolved and a few smaller ones. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe addresses all of them.
The article has some overlap with last week’s article that similarly considered unfinished work but comes at it more on a player by player basis.
A first glance at CapFriendly might suggest that the Justin Williams ship has sailed because it shows only $2.5 million of salary remaining which would be a sizable pay cut from the $4.5 million he earned in 2018-19. But deeper inspection suggests that the Hurricanes would actually have $3.9 million if one moves Clark Bishop and Brian Gibbons down to the AHL. And that is exactly what I think would happen if the Hurricanes signed Williams. Williams would give the team 13 forwards at the NHL level, and Bishop and Gibbons sitting at the NHL level on CapFriendly is not indicative of the team’s likely intentions.
So $3.9 million would be a decrease but not a sizable one. A related question is if the Hurricanes would put themselves in a tough spot if they spend exactly the to cap. This can be onerous because it makes it difficult to carry an extra player if someone is hurt short-term and could even create problems if an inexpensive player like Wallmark is injured and the desired call up earns even just $150,000 more on his NHL contract. But this is easily solvable if Williams would be willing to take a portion of his contract as a bonus. The team could set up an easily achievable bonus of say 20 games played and make maybe $1-2 million depending on this bonus milestone. What that does is make it possible for the Hurricanes to defer the bonus amount to the 2020-21 season. With Marleau’s contract coming off the books, the team would not be pinched too badly if that came to fruition, but more likely the Hurricanes would gain a bit more wiggle room as the season wore on with an injury or two.
So in the end, I think the situation with Justin Williams is roughly where it started the summer. The team will welcome him back, so it is really for him to decide if he wants to go out on a good note from 2018-19 or take another shot at an even better one.
My belief is that the value of one more year of Williams’ leadership is underappreciated as the Hurricanes try to transition to being a team that must now play with the extra weight of expectations.
My hunch: Without any insight into Williams’ family and personal considerations, I think the hockey side is slanted toward a return. The team has done what it can to boost prospects for the 2019-20 season such that Williams’ chances of bettering a strong 2018-19 finale as as high as possible. As long as family does not overrule, I think he returns.
Restricted free agents on the NHL/AHL fringe
Past the big outcome for Justin Williams, the Hurricanes do still have a handful of other contract situations that will in part determine how deep the team is at the AHL/NHL fringe.
At the top of the list is Saku Maenalanen. Maenalanen was what I call a veteran rookie. He played his way up in Finland and then caught NHL scouts’ attention with his strong play in world competition. Physically, he had an NHL skill set with a bigger frame and as a capable skater. He had a bumpy transition to North America after not making the Hurricanes roster out of training camp and then shortly thereafter getting a kick in the pants at the AHL level as a healthy scratch with questions about his effort and commitment level. But he rebounded and ultimately found his way into an NHL audition in the second half of the season. As originally hoped, he proved capable of matching NHL pace and playing a decent two-way game. But he was also limited offensively with only four goals and eight points in 34 regular season games. Maenalanen then raised his stock a bit by again proving capable under the bright lights and with the physical intensity of the playoffs. The highlight of Maenalanen’s season for me was him being the player in Ovechkin’s face when he exploded at the end of game 6 in Raleigh. While the veteran Ovechkin blew up, Maenalanen calmly couple-skated backward in front of him just watching calmly without being fazed in the slightest. But similar to the regular season, his playoffs were again a story about being capable or serviceable not necessarily productive as Maenalanen logged no goals and only a single assist in nine playoff games.
On a team that was not very deep at forward, Maenalanen would easily slot as a bottom half of the roster checking line forward. But on a Hurricanes team that is suddenly very deep at forward, my current depth chart has him as the #14 forward if Williams returns.
Maenalanen is coming off a one-year contract that paid him $925,000 at the NHL level. He was eligible for arbitration but did not file. Arbitration would almost certainly have yielded a two-way contract to match his 2018-19 split between the AHL and NHL. As such, Maenalanen’s greatest leverage in terms of trying to get a better deal or possibly a one-way contract is threatening to return to Finland. The question is whether Maenalanen would truly want to return to Finland if not sure of an NHL spot or if he would be willing to battle for NHL ice time like he did in 2018-19. The answer to that question will determine if the the Hurricanes are able to retain a very good depth forward who comes with the flexibility of not needing to clear waivers to return to the AHL.
From the Hurricanes standpoint, Maenalanen would be a great player to keep if the team can do so on a two-contract such that he at least initially probably slots at #13-#15 and probably at the AHL level if the team is healthy at forward on opening night. I think the sweetener that the team could offer would be a high guarantee of $300,000 to $350,000. That would boost Maenalanen’s pay even if he does log more time at the AHL level, and the risk to the Hurricanes would be modest as Maenalanen would figure to see at least some NHL ice time as injuries make room over the course of the season.
My hunch: It is really hard to say with Maenalanen. On the one hand, I do not think the team will offer a one-way contract nor will he be assured an NHL slot to start the season. He and his agent are smart enough to realize that his path to the NHL for the 2019-20 season will require he win a roster battle and possibly even benefit from an injury or two to crack the NHL lineup. My wild guess is that the lure of the NHL (which is why he signed with the Canes to begin with) will be enough for Maenalanen to begrudgingly take a two-way contract and begin battling for NHL ice time.
Goalie Anton Forsberg was obtained in the deal the sent Calvin de Haan to the Chicago Blackhawks. As a player who likely slots fourth on the Hurricanes depth chart, one might figure that the odds are low that Forsberg is a factor at the NHL level for the 2019-20 season. But the goalie position can be strange that way. Jordan Binnington started the 2018-19 season as deep depth and improbably played a huge role in winning the Stanley Cup for the Blues. Especially with James Reimer coming off a tough 2018-19 season and Alex Nedeljkovic being unproven at the NHL level, Forsberg is exactly the type of NHL-experienced depth the Hurricanes would want in his slot. There are two questions related to that. First is cost. Forsberg is coming off a one-way contract but did play the 2018-19 season at the AHL which would suggest that his arbitration hearing, if reached, will yield a two-way contract. The second question is whether he will clear waivers to reach a slot in the AHL. As a goalie who has yet to be more than depth at the NHL level, I would not expect issues with waivers unless there are a number of goalie injuries in preseason.
My hunch: Playing only at the AHL level in 2018-19 should set Forsberg up for a favorable two-way contract and a trip through waivers to the AHL where he represents a very good #4 option on the goalie depth chart.
As a restricted free agent without arbitration rights or much NHL experience, McKeown’s contract situation should be pretty straight forward. He should get a two-way deal probably with a modest raise for the AHL portion. What is more complicated is figuring where he will land to start the season. McKeown must clear waivers to go to the AHL which means there is a decent chance that he would be claimed by a lesser team who gets him for free to give him an NHL audition. Because of this risk, I continue to think that the Hurricanes will need to trade one of Haydn Fleury, Gustav Forsling or Roland McKeown at some point. If Trevor van Riemsdyk opens the season on the injury list that could allow time to keep all three and use 2019-20 NHL play to determine who stays and who goes. McKeown has a few positives going for him. First, he is the only right shot of the three listed and also including Jake Bean who also figures to see NHL ice time in 2019-20. Second, McKeown has shown a knack for dialing up his game and playing his best hockey in NHL action (including preseason). He actually came from way down the depth chart to win the last NHL blue line spot for the 2017-18 season before the team decided instead to add more experienced options via the waiver wire. Finally, because he has yet to see much NHL action, he is arguably the player with the most upside and therefore risky to trade before seeing what he can do with an extended run at the NHL level.
My hunch: If van Riemsdyk is unable to start the season, my hunch is that the Hurricanes give McKeown at least some of the ice time on the right side of the third pairing to see what he can do. How that goes likely determines whether he or another of the depth options is traded.
Carrick has established himself as a very good AHL defenseman but while doing so has repeatedly seen players leap frog him on the way to the NHL. The 2019-20 version of that projects to be Jake Bean and/or Roland McKeown. Fair or unfair, the Hurricanes have not shown a propensity to give Carrick a shot at the NHL level. I would put him 10th on the Hurricanes defense depth chart right now. As a restricted free agent, Carrick does not have leverage to do much about this. Best he can do is have a strong 2019-20 season and then possibly flee to greener pastures like Patrick Brown and Andrew Poturalski did this summer.
My hunch: Carrick seems to have little choice but to re-sign and put up another strong season in Charlotte to position himself for an opportunity elsewhere.
What say you Canes fans?
1) It is another slow hockey day in July. Who has a newest round of thoughts on Justin Williams given Brock McGinn’s re-signing and the current financial situation?
2) Without knowing his personal preference and situation, what is your guess for whether Saku Maenalanen returns?
3) Do you see the Hurricanes proactively making a trade to break the logjam at the edge of the NHL and AHL on the blue line? Or will the team risk getting a player through waivers to the AHL?