Drafting Noah Hanifin at #5 was smart but really in the category of no-brainer. Per my other blog, I think the James Wisniewski trade was an incredibly good one. But the Eddie Lack trade was arguably Ron Francis’ best over the draft weekend in terms of raw smarts, savvy and ability to ability to play the GM game.
When you net out what happened in total, the Canes gave up third (2015) and seventh (2016) round picks to swap backup (we will see if it stays that way) goalies saving $1.2M in 2015-16 salary and adding a top 4 defenseman. The Canes are plus one in terms of roster players making a key top half of the roster addition, increasing salary (not cap) only $2.8M to do so and not opening up any new holes to be filled.
The mathematics of the deal are wonderful, but I think what is even better is some of the more subtle stuff of how it all went down and how Francis brilliantly played the situation.
As background, the draft weekend first had the Buffalo Sabres pay a pretty high price to make young and promising Robin Lehner the team’s goalie of the future. The cost was a first round pick and a roster player (though Legwand at his salary was maybe more of a favor to Ottawa). Then the media was chock full of Cam Talbot all day Friday. The Rangers were rumored to be demanding a first round pick or possibly two second round picks to win the services of a goalie who has a whopping total of 57 games of NHL experience that looked pretty good but also benefitted from being behind a pretty solid Rangers defense. Per rumors and media reports, the Rangers bidding war seemed to mesmerize any and all teams looking to add a goalie this summer. While that circus had the crowds distracted, Ron Francis swooped in and added a goalie in Eddie Lack whose resume is arguably stronger than Talbot’s. Lack and Talbot are both 27 years old. Lack has a slight edge in NHL experience (82 games versus 57). Talbot’s basic stats like Win-Loss record and save percentage are better, but I think it is hard to tell if that is a true reflection of his ability or if he received a decent boost from the Rangers defense.
Regardless of the debate about who is better, Francis proved to be very savvy in executing this move. He managed to get Lack for only third and seventh round picks when Talbot went for a second and a third (and a swap of sevenths). That seems like a pretty big discount, and I have to think that part of the reason was because the number of goalie shoppers ringing Trevor Linden’s phone at the time this deal happened were slim. They were still all scrambling around at the Talbot circus. Had Francis waited until after Talbot was traded to Edmonton, might throng of goalie shoppers have showed up at Linden’s door a little bit desperate and not wanting to lose again and also with an inflated expectation of what a goalie costs in the current market? I think that is very possible. At the same time that Francis seemed to be buying low on Lack, he was executing a simultaneous deal to trade Khudobin and get back to two goalies. Khudobin yielded a top 4 defenseman which seems like a pretty good return for a backup goalie. It is not clear whether this return was more a function of Anaheim being a bit desperate to get rid of Wisniewski after a rough honeymoon when he was healthy scratched in the playoffs last year or if it was because Anaheim was at least partly valuing goalies based on what the market for Lehner and Talbot was saying at the time. Regardless, Francis seemed to simultaneously buy cheap and sell expensive on similar age backup goalies.
I go back and forth on Lack versus Khudobin especially because I have not seen Lack in action that many times. At a minimum, it is a sideways trade that replaces one reasonably experienced backup with another (importantly) with a $1.2M salary savings. But I think there is significant upside potential to the swap. Lack actually took the starting job from Ryan Miller last season. Is it possible that he could do the same in Raleigh and become an option to become the starter? If so, that is good on so many levels. First, winning more games is obviously a good thing. But if he wins or even shares the starting job with Cam Ward, it could set up a 1A and 1B scenario that drives Ward’s contract demands to a commensurate level and actually makes it possible to keep him next summer if he really wants to stay in Raleigh versus testing the market.
So when you net it out, I think Francis’ goalie maneuvers on Saturday morning were impressive and a positive sign about his ability as a negotiator and strategist. I think it also has upside potential for the Canes at the goalie position.