If you are caught up on CandC’s NHL trade deadline coverage thus far, skip below the cut line for part 3. If you hare checking in just in time for the fireworks, here is a menu of Canes and Coffee’s NHL trade deadline coverage thus far:
Part 1: The for sale list with expected values (If early returns are an accurate indication, it probably makes sense to upgrade each estimated draft pick by 1 round.)
Part 2: Building the 2017-18 blue line (A bit controversial, as I think I am in the minority thinking Francis might need to add a veteran defenseman short-term.)
Here are 3 player specific articles to check out:
And also 3 more trade dealine posts:
With everyone caught up, part 3 hones in on the forward position. My math says that the Hurricanes are currently short 2 top 9 forwards. (The full math exercise is HERE.) Significantly, it is not as simple as adding 2 serviceable #7-#9 type top 9 forwards. Rather, I think the Hurricanes need to add at least 1 true offensive catalyst. Without rehashing the entire post from February 9, I think of a future Hurricanes top 9 as 3 pairs: Aho/dynamic offensive forward (ideally a center), Staal/Lindholm, and Skinner Rask. I think Aho has the potential to be a legitimate top line scorer but only if he has help. I like Staal/Lindholm, but they very simply are a below average top 6 line in terms of scoring. And Skinner/Rask if pushed down to a third line (or second scoring line) helps balance things out.
Important to note is that the most likely time frame to add a top 9 forward to the mix will in mid-June through early July when we get the run of expansion draft, NHL draft and free agency back-to-back-to-back. But as long as the GMs are working the phones, Ron Francis might as well explore options to get some of his summer work done early.
The desired profile for Hurricanes’ forward addition
While I think adding 2 top-end forwards would be ideal, I think 1 is a reasonable target and could be enough. To go with the 6 that would give the Hurricanes, the team also has Teravainen and Stempniak who are top 9s, a decent collection of depth forwards in Di Giuseppe, Nordstrom, Nestrasil, McGinn, etc. and also a couple young prospects in Gauthier, Roy and Wallmark who could surprise and be ready early.
So give me 1 near-elite forward, ideally a center who is NOT just a complementary player but rather a player who can help drive the offense and generate scoring opportunities for his line. Ideally, this player is a center, but a right wing could work. Such a player needs to a proven NHL scorer, be under contract or a restricted free agent for at least a couple years and be young-ish. Such players obviously do not grow on trees, but at least per the rumor mill, it seems to be high time for such players at least allegedly being available.
I did the Matt Duchene thing 2 months ago in a series of articles right at the start of the new year and revisited the Matt Duchene situation again as relates to Justin Faulk on February 12 (with links to early January series of articles). I still like him because I think his speed fits Peters’ system and because I think he legitimately meets the ‘dynamic’ and capable of being an ‘offensive catalyst’ type of requirements. That said, I think the odds of winning Duchene are low. First of all, I the odds are greater that he does not get dealt until summer when Colorado can expand the number of potential suitors. And if/when he is traded, Sakic’s asking price (an NHL defenseman, a first round pick, something else, maybe even something else) is exorbitant and too rich for my blood. But in the event that no bidding war materializes and that Duchene becomes available for a package of mostly prospects not to include a defenseman already at the NHL level, I am up for trying to win that bidding war within reason.
With Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl seemingly anchored in the C1 and C2 slots for next 10 years, Nugent-Hopkins is suddenly a pretty expensive third-line center with a $6 million per year contract. As such, his days in Edmonton seem numbered. With Edmonton likely headed to the playoffs, the best bet is that Nugent-Hopkins situation is pushed off until summer. But especially if Edmonton makes a big acquisition at the trade deadline, the urgency to move Nugent-Hopkins sooner could increase. Like Duchene, Nugent-Hopkins is still fairly young (23 years) old, proven offensively at the NHL level (3 50+ point seasons) and under contract (through 2020-21 for $6 million annually). Nugent-Hopkins is not having a great 2016-17 campaign with a meager 39-point scoring pace. Is there a scenario where his value falls to the point where he is mostly a salary cap dump for Edmonton and can be had for very little? At some price, I start to like him better than Duchene simply because of how few assets have to be given up to get him.
The other Oiler player who might be even more readily available and discounted in Jordan Eberle. Eberle is another proven scorer from Oilers’ years past. Eberle is a right wing, is 26 years old and is signed for 2 more years at $6 million. I have a preference for a center, and am not thrilled with adding another smallish wing to the mix. Only at some point where he looks more like a salary cap deal (reference Bickell/Teravainen) than a trade do I become moderately curious.
Despite being only 23 years old and coming off a 56-point 2015-16 season, Galchenyuk has had a bumpy ride recently in Montreal. As a #3 overall draft selection from 2012, I guess he just has not lived up to elite expectations yet. He is on pace for more than 60 points (prorated over 82 games) and might get a reset with new bench boss Claude Julien on board, but a slow February and a seeming inability to carve out a permanent role/slot have had him rumored to be available this season. From my viewpoint, he looks very much like the kind of good young player worth buying low on. Galchenyuk is a center with a bit more size and a power forward element to his game at 6-1 210 pounds but with skill too. If added, I could see him and Aho hitched together and told to get to work becoming two-thirds of a great NHL scoring line.
It takes dominoes
The burning question is what does it take in terms of trade assets and process to add a player of this caliber. The landscape will be more open and have more possibilities this summer, but for such a deal to happen before the trade deadline, I think it requires a domino effect. There are numerous examples or combinations, but here are a couple that I think are feasible.
Matt Duchene=>Montreal=>Alex Galchenyuk expendable
The Montreal Canadiens are 1 of many teams who are expected to make moves aiming to compete for the Cup now. They are also 1 of the teams supposedly shopping for higher-end help at forward and are also 1 of the teams whose name comes up when Matt Duchene is discussed. If Montreal wins the bidding war for Matt Duchene and his $6 million contract through 2018-19, just maybe that makes Galchenyuk expendable and also a salary cap casualty. To fit Duchene, Montreal would need to cut salary elsewhere (could happen in Duchene deal) and might also want to cut salary at the forward position to increase flexibility for next summer.
Big addition=>Edmonton=>Expedited process to cut salary cap=>Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and/or Jordan Eberle discounted
An important starting point for Edmonton is that the Oilers have ample salary cap space for the current season. As such, they have the ability to add a player or even 2 without needing to offset it with salary reductions. So the Oilers would not be forced to make salary cap-driven moves for 2016-17. But if they do a deal for a player with term (or even if they do not really), Edmonton has challenges ahead trying to stay under the cap as Leon Draisatl and Connor McDavid come off their entry-level contracts and earn raises. Especially if Nugent-Hopkins continues his slow scoring pace and takes on a lesser role for 2016-17, just maybe the Oilers look to move him sooner rather than later.
The shopping options should expand come summer when teams start wheeling and dealing and the expansion draft makes a couple more players available. But specifically for the 2017 NHL trade deadline, these are the 3 forwards I will be watching most closely hoping just maybe Francis pulls off some magic. If not, the shopping list of adding at least 1 impact scoring forward, ideally a center, rolls forward to summer.