Saturday shapes up to be a veritable hockey buffet in the middle of the summer. Scheduled for 12pm are both the start of the NHL’s free agent signing period and also the scrimmage finale for the Carolina Hurricanes prospect camp.
If you want to catch up on the prospect side of things, the latest article on the prospect camp (with links to some of the others) is HERE.
On the ‘building the 2017-18 roster’ side of things, I identified three avenues and six potential players in my most recent article.
You can find a chronological list of the long series of articles tasked with ‘building the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes roster’ HERE..
Just for fun, I will next take a shot at playing Ron Francis on what could be a busy and eventful Saturday.
Playing the sly fox aiming for the best available via trade
If I am Ron Francis, my first set of calls either on Friday or early on Saturday is to express interest and maybe even make an offer if there is a receptive audience for one of the handful of ideal options to add a center via the trade market.
The names are familiar at this point. Alex Galchenyuk and Matt Duchene are most definitely in play. Especially given the Connor McDavid numbers being bandied around, one has to figure that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is also available. I still think that the more interesting long shot (but not impossibility) is to completely change the game by making the bid that gives Sakic pretty close to exactly what he wants but doing so not for Duchene but rather for MacKinnon. I wrote about that in some detail last week if you missed it.
I have no inside scoop with regard to where Francis stands in terms of trading a young top 4 defenseman, but my best guess continues to be that he is real hesitant. I think if he wanted to do this deal, it would be done already. If I am right in that Francis has been asked but not budged on offering a defenseman, I think an aggressive push in of Noah Hanifin with a few lesser parts for MacKinnon has the potential to get it done. First, I have to imagine that Sakic has at least some concern at this point that he could lose the game of musical chairs completely. So giving him what he wants even if it is for more than he wants to trade could be what it takes for him to take what might be the lesser of two evils in his case. I think he looks bad if he ultimately trades Landeskog or Duchene and gets only a modest return of futures for them. He can better save face and sell to management a change of course that nets what he said he wanted to get all along. So before I hang up with Sakic, I also make a lesser offer not including a top 4 defenseman for Duchene and tell him that the offers would hold until either 10:30am or until another deal preempts it. At 10:30am, Francis makes it clear that he is still willing to talk further, but that he will also shift his emphasis to considering options from the free agent pool.
Making a small second tier of priorities for whom I would pay a premium
Past the trade options, I would make a very short list of forward free agent options for whom I would pay a premium. I am on record as preferring a playmaker/catalyst and not being nearly as high on finishers/complementary players. Unfortunately, my assessment is that the free agent pool is heavier on the latter. That said, I really like a couple players and would pay a reasonable premium for them on a short-term deal.
Sam Gagner — Depending on Joe Thornton’s health, contract demands and willingness to consider the Hurricanes (I am not at all optimistic), I think Sam Gagner is the closest thing to the catalyst/playmaker that I think the team needs. He seems likely to stay in Columbus, but in some ways that would just make him an even better win stealing him from Columbus. He notched 50 points in a rebound 2016-17 season playing modest minutes in an odd role on a fourth line but with power play ice time. As long as the deal is only two years, I would be willing to overpay a bit for Gagner assuming none of the higher-end trade options materialize. Paying a bit more in salary but limiting risk with term and also freeing up the salary when the second wave of restricted free agents hits the Hurricanes builds a nice short-term bridge without leveraging the future. Two years at $4 million per year.
Justin Williams — I commented on Twitter this afternoon that one underestimated upside of signing Justin Williams would be the very clear tone it would set for the 2017-18 season. Signing Williams would very clearly and assertively shift the Hurricanes out of the fuzzy realm of ‘optimistically hoping to be in the playoff mix’ to ‘very clearly built from day one to make the playoffs.’ To be clear, Williams does not match my ideal requirements to add a pure playmaker and catalyst, but he is a good hockey player, does boost scoring and maybe makes up for whatever he does not do with what he brings to the locker room. Might Williams actually prefer a one-year deal at a premium price instead of a longer deal at a lesser price? By signing for one year with an admittedly riskier Hurricanes team with a partial no-trade clause, Williams gets the chance to try to be a hero (again) in Raleigh, but if things do not go as planned, he gets shipped to a contender at the trade deadline. One year at $5 million.
That list of two really is the extent of what I consider to be a clear second tier (not counting few players listed below who I just do not see the Hurricanes being in mix for).
Shopping for buy one get one free value
The short list of two players above really is the extent of what I consider to be second tier. There are a number of other players who could help and there are obviously rankings and pros and cons for them, but none of the other players (excluding a few noted below who I just do not see the Hurricanes being in the mix for) really stand out as being enough better to demand a premium.
Instead, if the trades do not come through and if neither Williams nor Gagner bite on a premium short-term contract offer, I personally would go the bargain route and look to add not one but two players from the Lee Stempniak category of good players at reasonable prices for short-term (no more than two years).
As many of these players are older and others are coming off down years which is what put them potentially in the discount bin, I see two key screens that Francis and his scouting staff must make. First, the player must still be capable of keeping up at average to above average NHL pace. Regardless of skill level, too much of a deficiency in terms of mobility is a poor fit for Peters system and really just the NHL in general right now. Second, the scouting staff must believe that the player is still capable of 45-50 points if things go well. The aim is not to shop for great depth forwards who cannot score. The Hurricanes need scoring.
If unable to shop from the first two categories, I would instead aim to buy the two best forwards that I can net for a total of about $5 million annually (so about $2.5 million per year each).
Leaving the screening to Francis and his team, the list of potentials actually grew today with a few buy outs:
Jussi Jokinen: He is 34 years old now and coming off a meager 28-point (69 games) 2016-17 season. But that was on a Florida that struggled with injuries and just in general. If Francis thinks Jokinen can come even remotely close to the 60 points he notched in 2015-16, he easily fits the bill. His versatility is also a huge plus, and he does bring some of playmaking element desired.
Mike Cammalleri: He was bought out by New Jersey. His 31 points in 61 games is not high-end scoring, but it hits the low end of the desired range if the price is right, and if Francis and company believe he still has gas in the tank at 35 years old.
Patrick Sharp: He reminds me a bit of Justin Williams a veteran who has been there and helps the locker room but also could boost scoring. He had a rough 2016-17 with only 18 points in 48 games, but that was with a Dallas team that struggled. He had a much more impressive 55 points in 76 games in 2015-16. He is yet another in the twilight of his career at 35 years old.
David Desharnais: A bit younger at 30 years old but maybe also a tiny bit lighter on raw offensive fire power, Desharnais is another player who could provide 40-45 points, veteran stability and depth in the top 9.
James Neal is the other wild card. I put him sort of above the third tier but maybe slightly below Williams and Gagner, but a key difference is that he requires a trade and is fairly expensive. So he likely costs more salary-wise than Gagner and Williams and requires trade assets to boot which is not ideal. I like him better than the last tier of players by a decent margin but then he costs $5 million when I am hoping to pull out two players from that price if we end up on plan C.
Disclaimer: I screened out Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thornton, Alexander Radulov and Patrick Marleau simply because I think they are unlikely to land with the Hurricanes. I also passed on a couple of the higher-end great checking line centers in Nick Bonino and Martin Hanzal simply because I think their price is high but their scoring upside relative to their price is low.
Working through my day as Ron Francis
1) I am for the stars trying to broker a deal for Nathan MacKinnon that pays heftily begrudgingly including Noah Hanifin. If that does not hit, I quickly make aggressive offers but minus a top 4 defenseman for Alex Galchenyuk, Matt Duchene, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and maybe a couple other centers via trade.
2) If the trade market comes up dry, I bid pretty aggressively in terms of salary for a one or two-year deal for either Sam Gagner or Justin Williams.
3) If my bidding does not win one of Williams or Gagner, I shift gears downward and starting playing a value game trying to land the two best scoring-capable forwards that I can get for cheap on a short-term deal.
The last alternative is likely to be met with ire from a significant portion of the fan base that wants to go for it more aggressively, but I think at some point it is actually the best alternative. To be clear, this is not my ideal solution or even close, but just maybe the increased depth of two more veteran forwards and a couple rising scoring-capable prospects is enough to boost scoring more with depth than one big addition.
What say you Canes fans?
Will Francis do a deal of significance on Saturday or Sunday?
Do you like any of my options past the premium tier? Or do you have players you like better whom I did not list?
How do you think the weekend ends? With or without a deal?