Late morning, the Canes jumped in with both feet into the 2020 NHL trade deadline frenzy when they acquired center Vincent Trocheck from the Florida Panthers in exchange for NHLers Lucas Wallmark and Erik Haula and prospects Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen.
Filling a need
In Vincent Trocheck, the Hurricanes filled a need that has existed for literally a decade. With Jordan Staal as a defense-leaning top 6 center whose strength is not scoring or playmaking, a balanced scoring lineup for the Hurricanes requires the team to have a higher-end scoring first line but equally importantly a third line that leans offense and can generate scoring chances. With Sebastian Aho anchoring the top line, the first line objective has been achieved, and as we have seen recently when the team goes top-heavy for the first line with Aho, Teravainen and Svechnikov, it can be lights out. But as has been the case in many games since that line was put together, the Hurricanes have been a bit of a one-headed monster. To make the model work, the team needs a third line that can also drive offense. And in today’s NHL, a consistent scoring line generally needs two things. First and foremost, the line needs a playmaker who can on a consistent basis generate scoring chances for his two line mates. Second, the line needs wings who can finish at a decent rate. I think first is much more so the key. It is possible to generate decent third line scoring simply with sheer volume of chances if the center can make offense happen. On the other hand, even good scoring wingers struggle when they do not receive enough scoring chances.
What about the current options in Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark?
Erik Haula is a good player and capable third-line center but significantly, his skill set is not that of a true playmaker. He gets high marks for being a solid two-way player who can play in any situation. And he gets high marks for having a knack and nose for the net as a receive/finish scorer both at even strength and on the power play. But Haula is not so much the type of center who drives bunches of scoring chances for his line mates. In addition, he fits into the same category of Joel Edmundson and Trevor van Riemsdyk as a player who could be re-signed and fit on the 2020-21 roster but is more likely to receive a better offer elsewhere. With Andrei Svechnikov, Dougie Hamilton and Martin Necas due for new contracts in the next couple years, I do not think the Canes would/will offer enough to these players in term and/or salary for the depth type roles they slot into.
I have long been less positive on Lucas Wallmark than the consensus. That is not to say he is not a good NHL player. He is. But the issue for me is that I think his ceiling is that of a great C4 who is competent and capable filling in as a C3. But again in a model where the team ideally needs the third line to lean scoring and offense, Wallmark just is not the right type of player in terms of generating offense as a playmaker for a scoring line. In a deep dive in my article on January 3, I talked about where Wallmark slots, issues with how he fits into Canes structure with Staal as C2 and also the potential salary versus slot issues for 2020-21. Like Haula and Staal, he gets high marks for his two-way play. And like Haula, he brings some receive/finish ability as a goal scorer. But he just lacks enough dynamic with the puck on his stuck to boost the play of line mates by generating bunches of scoring chances.
As with Haula, his contract situation is also an issue but in a different way. Wallmark is an absolute bargain at $675,000 for the 2019-20 season. But he is a restricted free agent this summer with arbitration rights. On pace for 31 points and with a role on both special teams, what might an arbitrator award him? Could he push up to $3 million range? If so, he becomes an incredibly pricey C4 at a time when the Hurricanes needs to reign in costs a bit to make the math work with Svechnikov and possibly also Hamilton are re-signed.
So if the team agrees with my assessment that Wallmark just is not the right player for the C3 slot and has a high estimate for what his next contract looks like, then the logical decision is to sell high. Put another way just for example, would you rather have Wallmark at $2.8-$3 million or Trocheck at only $2 million more?
Vincent Trocheck is the long-needed C3 who can drive offense and balance the Hurricanes lines with Jordan Staal’s scoring-lite line in the middle. Trocheck is a bit undersized but is the type of playmaking center who plays with the puck on his stick and makes offense happen for himself and more so his line mates. He posted a massive 75 points in 2017-18 including 44 assists. In 2018-19 and 2019-20, he has scored at a solid 55ish-point pace.
There are no guarantees obviously, but in Trocheck the Hurricanes have added the type of player that has the potential to help them take the next step in terms of truly being three lines deep and creating match up problems past the top line. Of players currently in the system, I view only Martin Necas as a potential for that role. But Necas struggled as a center last year and has settled in and looks good as wing. So both the viability and the schedule for moving Necas to center while promising are incredibly uncertain especially in terms of timing. As a player with two additional years of contract term, Trocheck is not a short-term fix but rather a longer-term upgrade who could serve as a bridge to Martin Necas (or not) on a timeline that is not forced/rushed.
The trade package
In giving up two NHL players and two prospects, the Hurricanes paid a fairly high price for Trocheck, but when I look a layer deeper, I think the Canes paid more in quantity of assets that had less value rather than giving up a higher-end asset.
As discussed above, Haula was unlikely to return and was filling the slot that Trocheck now goes into. Also significant is that by including Haula in this trade, the Canes still have about $2.7 million of cap room to possibly do another deal. Also as noted above, Wallmark at a minimum was a significant risk to price his way out his C4 slot in arbitration next summer.
As far as the prospects, I wrote on Twitter and in my Daily Cup of Joe today that I thought the NHL media was greatly overstating the Canes probability of trading a first-round draft pick. Sure enough, in this deal the Canes managed to include two medium-grade prospects and not lose a draft pick at all. Priskie was a great free agent addition last summer, but he is still a project with an uncertain NHL future and is soon to be 24 years old. Eetu Luostarinen had a strong NHL audition but based on that projects to likely have a ceiling as an NHL depth forward. So both prospects have NHL potential, but each has a low probability of becoming more than a depth player who could fairly easily be replaced.
So when you net it out, yes the Hurricanes paid a lot in terms of quantity. But they really did not give up a higher-end asset to get a good middle 6 forward. In addition, both of the two NHL players were probably not great fits past 2019-20 anyway.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on the addition of Vincent Trocheck?
2) What are your thoughts on what/how much the Canes gave up?
3) With cap space remaining, do you think the team has another deal coming yet?