It was just announced that the Carolina Hurricanes acquired Kris Versteeg in a 4-player/2-draft pick trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. How cool is it that I received an official-looking press release via email from Mike Sundheim from the Hurricanes PR time. It is almost as if Canes and Coffee is a real thing instead of some random guy playing pretend hockey writer. Pretty cool. Right?
More seriously, in case you have not read the details, it is:
The Carolina Hurricanes acquire:
–Kris Versteeg – 29-year old veteran wing of the offensive variety. He is coming off a ‘meh’ 2014-15 season and has 1 year on his contract for $2.2M.
–A 3rd round pick in the 2017 draft.
–Joakim Nordstrom – 23-year old AHL/NHL fringe player who has some NHL experience but has yet to stick at that level. His issue thus far is lack of scoring which has him pegged as a 4th-liner or AHL/NHL depth player unless he finds another gear.
The Blackhawks acquire:
–A 5th-round pick in the 2017 draft.
–Dennis Robertson – 24-year old defense prospect who has yet to crack the NHL with the Canes.
–Jake Massie – defenseman who was Canes 6th-round pick in 2015 draft, so he is a lower-tier but young prospect.
So what happened?
From the Chicago side:
The Hawks have been trying all summer to wiggle just under the league salary cap and they are close, but importantly for this deal, not there. They are technically under but still have Marcus Kruger (no doubtedly with an agreement already place waiting for this to happen) to sign.
The Hawks priorities/options for solving this problem were like this:
1) Trade Bryan Bickell (even if they had to eat 1/2 of his deal). The problem is that he is worth nothing close to his contract price and immovable I think even if the Hawks ate part of his deal.
2) Trade Versteeg who was surpassed by some kids in the scoring role last year anyway.
3) Punt on Marcus Kruger and trade his rights to someone else. Kruger is an up-and-coming 25-year-old who was real good in the Hawks bottom 6 last year and has upside offensive potential from there. No way were they trading Kruger, so when Bickell proved immovable, Versteeg was next in line.
But even that is not simple. No one in the Western Conference really wanted to help the Hawks out of their predicament and even $2.2M is hard to fit in many budgets right now. Shorter version: There is very little, if any, market for underperforming veteran forwards right now. We have decent players like Boyes, Glencross, Tlusty, etc. unsigned or signed to PTOs which tells you the going market price.
So the Blackhawks had no choice but to give Versteeg away to fit Kruger.
From the Canes side:
Francis probably talked to them 2 weeks ago and was asked to actually trade assets to get Versteeg. Seeing where the market was, he laughed and walked away. So now with training camps starting next week, Chicago came back and tried to negotiate again. Francis pointed out that he could go sign any of Tlusty, Glencross, Boyes or a couple others for about $1M/year without trading anything. At that point, the terms for Versteeg were set at somewhere between the Blackhawks getting absolutely nothing or possibly even paying a little bit to unload him.
When you break down the deal it goes like this:
1) The Canes get a veteran top 6-capable scoring wing. He is coming off a down years, so there are no guarantees, but that is what you get when you are shopping from the bargain bin in September. That is fine as long as you do not overpay given the risk element.
2) Dennis Robertson for Joakim Nordstrom is a sideways trade that actually helps the Canes sort out the numbers position-wise. I wrote it up in more detail recently, but the short version is that the Canes do not have enough defense slots at the NHL and AHL level if everyone is healthy. Robertson is a 24-year old prospect who rates lower than 5-6 younger defense prospects, so as I said in that other article, a couple players needed to be moved. Nordstrom so far has not proven to be more than a 4th-line/fill in NHLer because of his offensive limitations and he is a similar age. But he is on a 2-way contract and is at least a forward where the Canes have a bit more room and could need depth help at the NHL level.
3) The Canes upgraded from a 5th to a 3rd round pick in 2017. This is the part where I think you could actually argue that the Blackhawks paid to unload Versteeg. Jake Massie is the other piece. He is a 6th-rounder from a couple months ago and too early in his development to really project. 6th-round picks who are still 18 years old are more like lottery tickets than projectable NHLers. Question is would a team give up a 3rd-rounder for a 5th and a 6th-rounder? Maybe, but I think you could argue that the 3rd-rounder by itself is worth more.
When you net it out, this is a very good trade for Francis:
1) He capitalized on weakness created by the salary cap to get a decent player for free or maybe even get paid a little to take him.
2) It is not a sure-fire solution for the top 6, but in Versteeg the Canes get a veteran with the right skill set and previous experience in that role.
Nice work by Carolina Hurricanes GM Ron Francis today!