If you are checking in with Canes hockey for the first time in awhile during the 2017 NHL Draft weekend and can use some reading to catch up, check out one or both of our clickable menus of Hurricanes hockey reading. First up is a long series of articles focused on building the Carolina Hurricanes 2017-18 roster building. Second in line and timely for today is our 2017 NHL Draft coverage series if you want to catch up.
If you just want the latest and greatest, on the draft front, here is a preliminary reading list to get acquainted with the Hurricanes 2017 first-round pick, Martin Necas. And here is an expert panel free form mock draft.
That trade and roster-building front is the subject of this Saturday NHL Draft day article.
What we know
1) The Hurricanes are still in the market for a difference-maker at forward.
I pegged this as priority #2, behind adding only a goalie, back on May 31. Exactly who Francis likes and is targeting, what discussions he is in, etc. is obviously not public information. But the fact that he is shopping or at least trying to shop is public information. He identified this need in his post-season press conference, and Michael Smith from the team website tweeted late Friday night: ”
Francis said trade talks ongoing, especially re: acquiring a forward. “Hopefully if we get something that we like we can do that tomorrow.”
Of course there are no guarantees that a deal gets done, and it is not as if Saturday is the deadline with training camp still about three months away, but it is reasonable to believe that Ron Francis will at least be exploring options to add a forward on Saturday.
2) There are a decent number of higher-end forwards likely available
The guys from TSN and a few other insiders with legitimate information have told us as much. In addition, in many cases the teams have said as much. And in those and other cases, there is enough circumstantial evidence roster-wise to suggest players are available.
I suppose there could be bad information, but everything everywhere seems to indicate the following players being available for the right price:
–Alex Galchenyuk from Montreal.
–Matt Duchene and/or Gabriel Landeskog from Colorado.
–Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from Edmonton (though he is likely less urgent and possibly not available at all with Edmonton clearing some cap space by moving Jordan Eberle this week.)
I had Duchene, Galchenyuk and Nugent-Hopkins in a top 10 target list awhile back. That list has dwindled a bit with a few deals getting done and a few of the players who were long shots from the beginning seeming even less likely to actually be available.
3) The preferred return via trade in most cases includes a top 4 defenseman.
Eberle was moves for another forward. And there is no assurance that teams trading forwards will get exactly what they want. But there is enough chatter to suggest that the defenseman preference if not requirement is real.
4) Ron Francis’ preference is not to part with a top 4 defenseman but rather to put together a package of futures to gain a forward.
I think the key word here is ‘preference.’ The biggest decision that Francis might have to make for the rest of the summer could be deciding if he is willing to part with a young top 4 defenseman for the right deal. And I think there is some possibility that he will ultimately choose to do so. And Francis has been mum on any specifics related to dealing a defenseman.
But we do have some clues and even some facts. First, Francis did talk about using some of the extra draft picks that he had in hand to bolster his roster. He spent a third-round pick to add Scott Darling and a second-round pick this week for some combination of adding Trevor van Riemsdyk and keeping Lee Stempniak from being selected by Las Vegas.
But maybe more significantly, I feel strongly that if Francis was readily willing to part with a young defenseman to add a forward that he would already have done so. The same situation existed last summer, and Francis did not elect to trade one of his young defensemen even at a time when all except Faulk were significantly less proven than they are today. In addition, there were certainly conversations at the trade deadline, yet the Hurricanes emerged without adding a forward and with their young blue line still intact. Finally and maybe most significantly, I think Francis has the absolute best assets, trump cards so to speak, in dealing either a young incredibly high ceiling defenseman in Hanifin or a young, proven defenseman in Faulk, and he has not.
Sure it relies on some circumstantial evidence, but I feel pretty strongly that Francis’ actions over the past year suggest a strong preference for creatively finding a way to add a difference-making forward without doing addition by subtraction and parting with a young top 4 defenseman.
My guess for what is happening right now
To be clear before I go down this road, these are NOT rumors. I do not have any kind of inside source that gives me any view into what Ron Francis is working on right now. Rather, this is my speculation based on considering a complex set of facts and clues and from those trying assess what is possible and probable.
Here is what I think the situation is right now…
1) The teams alleged to be trying to pony up a top 6 forward to attain a top 4 defenseman are doing exactly that but are getting offers only for the lesser version of what they want which has them holding out for better.
I think it is reasonable to believe that both Montreal and Colorado and possibly even Edmonton have offers for the forwards that they are trying to pedal. I also think it is reasonable to believe that at least some of those offers include top 4 defensemen. Travis Hamonic’s name has been in the hockey news/rumors constantly, and he has been in the process of leaving the Islanders for long enough that it seems strange that he is still there. Minnesota survived the expansion draft with their blue line intact which gives them the ability to trade a defenseman as part of an effort to shake things up again and try to build a team that can advance in the playoffs. Anaheim has blue line depth and could be in the mix. And so on.
So I think it is reasonable to believe that there are some offers or at least discussions. But I think the issue is that the players who are available are mostly the lowest rung of top 4 defensemen. I am not sure Hamonic, Scandella or some of the other players allegedly available are really all that enticing.
So if nothing else emerges, I think there is a good chance that deals will eventually get done for players like Hamonic, Scandella, maybe even Emelin plus, etc., But I think as of right now, the teams with the forwards are holding out hope for better.
2) Francis has the trump card, but per my comments above, my bet is that he does not want to play it.
Noah Hanifin is 20 years old with sky high potential. Justin Faulk is a proven NHL defenseman, a right shot which seems to be the more in demand side this summer and in general and is in the second scoring tier below probably only Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. I think if Francis brings either player into the trade market, he will immediately get a deal done.
And likely the delay and possibly frustration right now is that Francis and the other general managers are just talking right past each other. Francis calls and starts trying to offer or work together to build a package heavy on futures. The general managers that he is talking to latch onto the Hurricanes’ young top 4 defensemen and will not let go. So the conversations start and end with each team having something the other wants but there being nothing close to a match.
3) The early market has done Francis no favors.
At the beginning of the whole game, I think the best case scenario for the Hurricanes and Ron Francis would have been a game of musical chairs that had more forwards to be moved and not enough defensemen to cover them all. If that occurred and on top of that one or two of the general managers most desperate to do something/anything were the ones who did not find matches, I think the ball would have come into Francis’ court in a favorable way. At that point, the trade partner would have be more likely to take any reasonable offer, futures package included, rather than doing nothing. In such a scenario, Francis would have had a much higher probability to pay primarily with futures and might even have been able to buy at a discount.
But the market thus far has nearly eliminated that possibility with the early deals not using up any of the available defensemen. Jonathan Drouin returned only a prospect defenseman. Eberle was traded for another forward. Derek Stepan did not net a defenseman. Brandon Saad and Artemi Panarin were swapped forward for forward. The result is that a reasonable number of the forwards slated to move have done so without decreasing the pool of top 4 defensemen on the market.
The net effect is that there now seem to be plenty of top 4 defensemen left to cover the remaining forward deals.
4) This forces a decision from Francis.
What all of this means, is that I think the teams that want to net a top 4 defenseman have the capability to do so. As I said above, I think Francis has the trump card(s) that he would need to step to the front of the line and win a deal. But again, I do not think he wants to do that. If he does not budge, he is likely to watch the players that would fit his needs be moved instead for some combination of Hamonic, Scandella, whoever Anaheim might be shopping or similar defensemen.
Way back on June 5, I wrote an article entitled, “…The tough decisions for Ron Francis,” and that is exactly where I think he is right now. I think that he is being pressed by the current marketplace to decide if he is willing to adjust from his preference out of necessity, play his trump card and win a top 6 forward in the process, or if instead he wants to hold steadfast to his blue line and begin shopping in a lower tier in terms of adding a forward to his 2017-18 roster. The options obviously increase as one decreases the requirements and lowers the level of player required.
5) But is there another way?
Long ago, I took a phenomenal class on the art of negotiating. I learned many things in that class, but one of the things that stuck with me the most was what was usually the best approach in competitive bidding/negotiating situations when you recognize yourself to be at a significant disadvantage to competition. In such cases, most people just try harder to negotiate from a bad starting point and usually lose. Much more promising is trying to change the game, the parameters or whatever else you can to basically chuck the original negotiation/competition and start a new, completely different one in which you have an advantage.
So where am I going? Let’s take at face value the list of players being discussed currently and consider them to be the players actually in play. So at forward, the list probably includes Duchene, Galchenyuk, possibly Landeskog and some others. If we then for the sake of argument (and it might be true too) assume Francis does not want to play his trump card(s) to win, then I think he is in fact in a competitive bidding situation where he is very likely to lose. Or possibly even worse, if he wants to win, he might have to overpay by some massive amount since he is bidding in less preferable currency (futures).
So how can he change the game? I think it centers (pun intended) around Colorado. I think it is fair to say that Joe Sakic is not getting what he wants in terms of a higher-end top 4 defenseman or possibly a lower-end top 4 defenseman with a bunch more added. And I also think that one or both of Noah Hanifin or Justin Faulk is exactly what Sakic wants.
If Francis wants to change the game and importantly if he really, really likes Nathan MacKinnon is worth upping the ante to include a top 4 defenseman, I think the time is now to put forward an aggressive offer for MacKinnon that would need to include either Faulk or Hanifin. I think that move gives Sakic exactly what he wants, and it simultaneously makes an offer that I do not think most of the current front-runners can match. The issue is that it is not for the player that Sakic wants to trade. But if his patience is running thin and he is unhappy with the current course and he has his finger already on the trigger with it being draft weekend, just maybe he pulls it.
A key caveat to this move is an assumption that MacKinnon rates enough higher to bid a defenseman. If Francis is just firmly in the camp that MacKinnon is not enough better than the other forwards to up the ante, then my whole article here is wasted words. My personal list of players who could theoretically be available for whom I would consider including Noah Hanifin in a deal numbers exactly one. Nathan MacKinnon is that one. I put MacKinnon in a tier by himself and identified him as my top target all the way back on June 6. I followed up by calling MacKinnon “the possible dream” in naming three possible deals on June 16.
What is plan B?
I am on record as thinking that what the Hurricanes need at forward to boost scoring is a single “driver” or “offensive catalyst,” not another pretty good or complementary player. I dissected and wrote off large swath of pretty good forwards in staying focused on what I thought the team needed. I also warned of the dangers of getting distracted by ‘shiny things’ that do not address the Hurricanes’ specific needs.
But it is not completely an all or nothing. There are other players who even if not perfect could boost the Hurricanes offense, and if Francis expands the range of possibilities maybe he can afford two lesser player instead of one higher-end player. In addition, if Francis adds from the free agent pool, he keeps more futures that maybe he spends during the season or at the trade deadline.
I think there will be grumbling from the Caniac Nation if Saturday passes without a trade. And I get that and will grumble to some extent to. But I think it is important to remember that Francis did already move aggressively to add a higher-end option in Darling to address a top off-season priority. I think it is also important to remember that we are still three months from the start of training camp.
In addition, Francis has shown a knack for pulling deals seemingly out of thin air, so I think that even if the public listing top 6 forward list dissipates, there is still a chance that Francis pulls something out of thin air.
Get to the point – what happens Saturday?
So for Saturday, I think there is a fairly high chance that the day passes without a major forward addition for the Hurricanes. If a deal happens, I think the chances of it being a blockbuster for someone like MacKinnon and/or a player not known to be in play are not much less likely than a deal for one of the players known to be available.
That said, my primary intent of writing all of this was to spur a deal whereby Francis does a fairly vanilla deal for one of the players known to be available and pulls it off without including a young top 4 defenseman. I will be absolutely thrilled to be completely wrong in terms of assessing what is happening. 🙂
What say you Canes fans?
Does Francis pull off a big deal for a forward on Saturday?
If so, which one, and does he need to include a defenseman to make it happen?