The big news last week was the trade of Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres for a prospect and four draft picks. I covered the on-ice and locker room angles on that trade HERE.
Just like with the trade with Calgary, the trade prompts the question, “What’s next?”
A plan in process
On July 3 before the signing of Calvin de Haan, I suggested that a series of three moves that I believed would remake the Carolina Hurricanes roster heading into the 2018-19 season.
You can read the article for a deeper dive on the rationale, but the upshot was two somewhat similar scenarios including this one:
Justin Faulk is traded for a scoring forward => Calvin deHaan is signed as a free agent => Jeff Skinner is traded primarily for high-end futures possibly with a depth forward or defenseman included
By adding de Haan via free agency instead of trade, this version of dealing sees the Hurricanes replace Faulk, replace Skinner and still net a nice pile of futures to boot.
The order is off, but two of the three deals have happened with Calvin de Haan being signed as a free agent and Jeff Skinner being traded for futures.
The last piece – Justin Faulk
During the rounds of interviews following the Jeff Skinner trade, General Manager Don Waddell said that he was happy with the team and ready to enter the season with Justin Faulk in tow.
And I have a bridge to sell you…
Because Justin Faulk is under contract for two years, there is no John Tavares game of chicken pressure as there was with Jeff Skinner. It is true that the Hurricanes could enter the 2017-18 still with Justin Faulk and at least in terms of taking on risk of losing him for nothing, that would be okay.
But I think all that means is that if there really is just no reasonable offer right now, the team could go the Matt Duchene route and just hope to wait it out for better offers.
But that is a far cry from saying that the team in any way wants to go this route. The reasons for doing the last of the three deals that I proposed actually increased with the Skinner trade:
1) The need to replace Jeff Skinner
Though Waddell would never say so, the departure of Jeff Skinner, with only rookies available to fill the slot, does leave the team even lighter on proven NHL scoring. If the team hopes to push for the playoffs in 2018-19 and not instead go the route of a rebuild and a roll of the dice (on the rebuild happening ahead of schedule), then the team really needs to add another proven player to replace Skinner.
2) Justin Faulk is an expensive duplicate on the current blue line
If you put salary to the side, Justin Faulk would fit very nicely into the Hurricanes lineup as a decent third pairing defenseman who would boost the power play. But you do not invest $4.8 million of salary cap hit in that narrow role. And in terms of just being a third right shot defenseman for the third defense pairing, I do not think Faulk is enough of an upgrade over Trevor van Riemsdyk to justify keeping him. I guess the team could bump Haydn Fleury out of the lineup and play either van Riemsdyk or Faulk on his off side. But again, I think Faulk is just too significantly overpriced role-wise, and if the Hurricanes thought Faulk fit the long-term plans in a higher role in the top 4, it would not have made the additions that it did this summer.
3) Faulk is likely part of the bigger transition
Like Skinner, Faulk’s name popped up early and often in the trade rumor mills prior to the 2018 NHL Draft weekend. Just like with Skinner, there is a good chance that the team, likely with heavy input from Rod Brind’Amour, had decided that Faulk was not part of the long-term plan and maybe was part of the transition that needed to happen leadership-wise. So while contractually there might not be nearly the urgency to reach a fast resolution as with Skinner, the desire to push fully forward into a new era could still add a different kind urgency to get this deal completed before the start of training camp or at least the regular season.
So what is to be made of Don Waddell’s comments?
I say that it is purely posturing for trade negotiations.
Best guess is that Waddell has received interest in Faulk. There are any number of teams who need another of the ultra-rare right shot defensemen, and the fact that Faulk brings goal scoring to boot should make for interest. But that gets tempered by his ‘meh’ 2017-18 season defensively and his current trajectory in that regard and then again if the trade demands are high.
With Skinner, I think the team made the hard choice to just get it done even if the price was low partly due to the contract situation with the no-movement clause that could impede deals and also the potential to lose him for nothing next summer. But in taking a small pile of futures for Skinner, the stakes are very high for a Faulk deal. Waddell and company need to get a comparable level forward capable of back filling Skinner’s roster slot in this deal. That somewhat decreases the number of teams who might be willing to ante and limits the potential suitors in the process.
Best bet is that Waddell has at least a handful of forward targets and probably even offers out, but thus far he has been only counter-offered. Rumors awhile back had the Blackhawks balking at a Faulk for Brandon Saad deal. Edmonton is another team that could use blue line help, but perhaps they are also trying to offer a lesser package of futures instead of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
The stakes are high
I think the next deal to be done makes or breaks the summer in terms of deciding if the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes enter the season with a reasonable chance of pushing for a playoff spot (pending goalie play as always) or if they are just so young, inexperienced and light on scoring at forward that they are really more in rebuild mode with some hope that the rookies arrive ahead of schedule and expedite the rise by a year.
Waddell knows this and needs to figure out how to make a trade happen. Does he need to work the phones more in August? Or more likely does he need to put the phone down, somehow spread some credible rumors that a team or two are close and then wait for his phone to ring with a better offer from someone who balked earlier but gets fearful and now does not want to miss out.
Speculating at deals
Chicago and Brandon Saad
There at least seems to be interest though no deal here. Is there enough credibility in Waddell’s alleged willngness to enter the season with Faulk in tow? Better yet, can he get a credible rumor or two out there the forces a team like Chicago to reassess given a scenario where they could miss out? If the negotiation restarts, might Waddell sweeten the deal with a modest amount of futures after adding some in the Skinner deal. I like Saad as a good complementary player who is well-rounded enough to slot on a scoring line with Aho/Teravainen or on a checking line with Staal.
Edmonton and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins
Nugent-Hopkins could be a good fit adding veteran strength at the center position, but he could also slot at wing if necessary. Regardless, he offers another option who has some contract term at a reasonable price and adds a proven NHL veteran who replaces some of the scoring lost with Skinner’s departure.
Montreal and Max Pacioretty
At first glance, Pacioretty maybe does not seem like a great fit. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, so he could be here and gone in a year. But a few things line up…First, Montreal has pretty much punched his ticket out of town, so there could be some urgency to just get it over with. Second, if the Hurricanes want to put some emphasis on making the 2018-19 playoffs, he is a very good fit, and I think a short-term upgrade over Skinner. He brings similar scoring acumen, but as more of a prototypical receive/finish scorer, I think he fits incredibly well with Aho/Teravainen, whereas Skinner did not. Third, remember that Faulk has only two years remaining on his contract, so yes the Hurricanes could lose Pacioretty after a year, but if Faulk is not part of the long-term plan, he is gone only a year later. Finally, this is not a trade deadline deal that only sees him around for 4-6 weeks. Pacioretty would have a full season to settle in. If he meshed well with Aho and Teravainen who both figure to be long-term Canes and the team made the playoffs, does Pacioretty like his new situation and want to stay? It’s not inconceivable.
Part of me feels like the Canadiens need to sweeten the deal a bit to make up for the one year difference in contract term, but regardless, the message that this deal would send would be immense. To the fan base that has endured a tough summer seeing fan favorites depart, this would send a very clear message that the team was pushing hard for the playoffs in 2018-19. For the rumblings about Dundon’s potentially spend-thrifty ways, this would be another mark in the opposite direction. And to the team, adding a proven veteran and leader would send a strong message that the time is now.
Minnesota and Nino Niederreiter
Adding a 25-year old power forward with term on his contract to boot — What’s not to like? For whatever reason, his name has seemed to make recurring visits to the rumor mill over the past few years. Right now, Minnesota seems to be stocked on the blue line in general and maybe even more so on the right side. But if the Wild suddenly deals away Matt Dumba who has also been a regular in the trade rumors, that could be a domino and a sign that just maybe they are interested in Faulk. Until then, I am looking elsewhere first.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on the potential of keeping Faulk and the team’s overstock on the blue line into the 2018-19 to wait out a better deal or simply see how that works out?
2) In a similar vein, do you think Waddell’s comments in this direction credible or merely posturing as I suggest?
3) What do you think of the trade options that I offered? Which do you like? Do you suggest any other potential targets?