In the waning moments before the doors closed on the 2020 NHL trade deadline, the Carolina Hurricanes made not one but two deals to add defensemen.
The trade details for Sami Vatanen
The Hurricanes traded forward prospect Janne Kuokkanen, depth AHL defenseman Fredrick Claesson and a conditional 2020 fourth-round draft pick to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Sami Vatanen. The Devils also retained half of Vatanen’s prorated $4.8 million salary which will save the Hurriacanes about $600,000 in real cash down the stretch. More significantly, the move helped make the salary cap math work to add another defenseman. Finally, the condition on the draft pick is that it is a fourth-round pick if Vatanen plays five or more regular season games and becomes a third-round pick if he plays 12 or more regular season games or 70 percent of playoff games. That clause is significant because Vatanen has been out of the lineup for a few weeks and is not scheduled to return for another week or so.
Vatanen is signed only through the 2019-20 season and as such is a rental intended to help fill gaps caused by injuries. Best bet is that the Hurricanes will not re-sign him for next season.
Vatanen is a solid veteran right shot defenseman. As such, he fits into one of the two slots vacated by injuries to Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton.
Vatanen is an established top 4 defenseman who had some really good years in Anaheim. His level of play has maybe dipped a bit, but the question is whether it is completely his play or maybe also partly a tough year or so for the Devils in total.
So at a basic level, Vatanen is a right shot veteran who figures to slot into the top 4 on the right side. He is not necessarily the anchor that Pesce or Hamilton would be, but the hope is that he can be steady and competent.
As noted above, a question mark is his health. Obviously this is something the Hurricanes were aware of in considering the trade and should have a pretty good read on. But when Vatanen steps on the ice for the Hurricanes for the first time, he will be be facing a return after a layoff, a jump right into the playoff chase and acclimation to a new team and system.
In general, I was not a fan of doing a rental deal to address only the 2019-20 season. My preference was to add a defenseman with term to also help the 2020-21 team with my preference being Jonas Brodin who might or might not have been available.
But as far as a rental deal goals, the payment was modest. I was higher on Janne Kuokkanen than most. I think his ceiling is modest as a capable middle six forward who is sound defensively but limited in terms of offensive upside. In that regard, Kuokkanen makes sense as trading away another older prospect whose probability of being a true difference-maker is low.
In addition, the Hurricanes gave up AHL defenseman Fredrik Claesson. Claesson is basically an AHL defenseman with some NHL experience such that he could be really deep depth. More than anything, New Jersey maybe just needed another defenseman to fill the lineup after also trading Andy Greene.
Finally, the Hurricanes included a conditional pick that is a fourth-rounder for five games played (basically if he makes it back from injury) and upgrades to a third-rounder if Vatanen plays 12 regular season games or 70 percent of playoff games.
Call me stingy, but my preference would have been to give up only Kuokkannen or the draft pick but not both. Further, though I would not consider Kuokkanen a high-end prospect, I am higher on his possible role than most and would have preferred to keep him.
Vatanen offers reinforcements specifically for the 2019-20 season as the team tries to back fill two big holes on the blue line with the Hamilton and Pesce injuries.
I can (and did) quibble with the cost, but it is not a massive overpayment.
If Vatanen is capable in a top 4 role and the Hurricanes make the playoffs because of it, the modest cost will be well-spent. If he is unable to be part of a playoff equation, the admittedly modest cost is wasted on a rental.
With the addition of Vatanen and Skjei, the Hurricanes are suddenly up to seven healthy defenseman which pushes Jake Bean back down the depth chart and seemingly destined to wait until 2020-21 to receive a legitimate NHL tryout.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on spending even modest futures for a rental?
2) What are your thoughts on Sami Vatanen and also what the Canes gave up?
3) If Vatanen, helps the Hurricanes reach the playoffs, do you then consider the rental cost worth it?