On Monday, I named my top trade target heading into the 2022 NHL Draft weekend. I stand by prioritizing a defenseman to first solidify the top 4 on defense before taking on the arguably more challenging task of upgrading the top half of the forward group. You can find Monday’s article HERE.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a look at forward options potentially available via trade per the rumblings and rumors on social media and elsewhere.
Big game hunting
I am on record as saying that a top priority for the Hurricanes is somehow adding a higher-end finishing wing or two to complement the team’s strength down the middle (pending either re-signing or replacing Vincent Trocheck). The trade market could actually have a first-line scoring wing or two available this summer.
After scoring 32 goals in only 52 games in 2020-21 and then following up with 41 goals in 82 games in 2021-22, DeBrincat easily qualifies as a bona fide top line scoring wing. And at only 24 years old, the prospect of trading for him and then ponying up for a long-term contract (his current contract ends after the 2022-23 season) is not daunting at least in terms of age risk. But he is going to be costly. At a minimum, he will require a first-round pick and a decent young player which would probably mean Martin Necas from the Canes and likely a bit more. Then after paying heavily in players and picks, his next contract would figure to be in the $8-10 million range per year. If he scores 35ish goals per year, he is worth that. But if any combination of the change of scenery and/or being minus Patrick Kane’s help drops his number, he quickly becomes overpaid relative to his production. That is pretty much the standard risk that comes with any of the big game hunting.
A second potential high-end scoring wing seemed to come off the board when Patrice Bergeron decided to return for another year which undoubtedly means that David Pastrnak will play the last season of his current contract in Boston.
Like DeBrincat and Pastrnak, J.T. Miller is another player on the last year of his current contract who could therefore be available via trade. Like Schefele and DuBois below, Miller is a center who could be a replacement for Trocheck if he departs via free agency. Miller is coming off a huge 99-point season in 2021-22 and is in the last year of a contract that pays him $5.25 million which is a veritable bargain for 2021-22. But it would not make sense to pay a king’s ransom in trade only to lose him after one season. That pushes forward consideration of term and salary for his next contract that starts when he is 30 years old. In any and all situations, those contracts are high risk. Unlike DeBrincat who is only 24, trading for and then extending Miller comes with upside in the form of a great player but also considerable age risk.
The Winnipeg Jets
With some turmoil in Winnipeg down the stretch of the 2021-22 season, a number of Jets players have made their way into the summer trade banter. In his prime, Wheeler was a power forward with size, decent mobility and finishing ability. He had a run of seven straight 20-goal seasons through the 2019-20 season and had a comparable 15 goals in 50 games in 2020-21. But with Wheeler now 35 years old and coming off a 2021-22 campaign with only 17 goals any trade consideration has to ask if he is primed for a rebound or on a down slope especially with another year after 2022-23 on his contract for $8.25 million per year.
After seemingly grumbling his way out of Columbus a couple years ago, DuBois may be similarly saying goodbye to Winnipeg. He is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. At 6 foot 3 inches tall and 218 pounds, he is definition of a power forward at the center position. And his 60 points in 81 games in 2021-22 shows that he can produce top line-ish numbers. But the question is how much it costs to re-sign him either via negotiation or arbitration and how great the risk is adding a player who is only 24 years old but has already seemingly exited two teams by choice.
New head coach Rick Bowness supposedly reached out to Scheifele. Smartly, that would seem to be an attempt to pull him back into the fray, as Scheifele was at one point another player potentially on the way out. If Scheifele were to become available, I would target him for the same reasons that I wanted Chychrun on defense. He is under contract for this season and next for a very reasonable $6.125 million which adds a high-end player while still leaving budget for other additions. He is one of the few players who could be available who would actually be an upgrade to Vincent Trocheck. He has scored more than a point per game for each of the past six seasons. Again, he might or might not be available, but if he wants a fresh start and Winnipeg becomes willing to deal him, I would be a player.
The Finnish connection
Not surprisingly, the trade rumblings around Jesse Puljujarvi have included mention of the Hurricanes who collect all things Finnish. He is very much like Jesperi Kotkaniemi in that he has a very high draft pedigree (drafted fourth overall compared to third overall for Kotkaniemi), a seemingly high ceiling but only modest progress at the NHL level. Puljujarvi is 24 years old (so a year older than Necas). Playing on a team with a ton of offensive fire power, he has scored at a 20-goal pace for 82 games over the past two seasons. I guess the case for upside is that he needs a change of scenery and that possibly being paired with juniors line mate Sebastian Aho could help him. But let’s think about that…Is a player more likely to put up better numbers playing with McDavid and/or Draisaitl or with Aho? Puljujarvi is a decent all-around player with decent size, so he is not so much goal scoring or bust. As such, I think he would be a great addition as an appropriately priced middle six forward. Slotted accordingly, his current depth scoring level is okay and if he breaks out offensively it becomes upside. At something like $2.75 million per year, he maybe becomes a decent replacement for Nino Niederreiter if he cannot be re-signed. Hopefully he scores 20-ish goals and is a decent enough two-way player that he could slot on Staal’s line or possibly further up the lineup if his finishing picks up.
Where I land
On the one hand, I am on record as saying that the Hurricanes need to add a higher-end finishing wing or two and that is before considering the potential need to back fill a hole that would be left if Trocheck departs. So that seems to suggest that the Canes need to take some risks and swim in the deep end of the pool in terms of adding high risk/high reward forwards.
In that regard, I really like Scheifele and his very fair contract at least for two years (which is sort of the Canes current window before a lot of things likely change) even if it means overpaying a bit in terms of trade assets given. I also like Puljujarvi if he is so happy to get out of Dodge (Edmonton) that he will sign a two-year contract for less than $3 million per year. Important to note is that he is not someone I am counting on as a top 6 scoring wing but rather as depth scoring at a reasonable price to provide both balance and budget (for other additions).
Past that, the risk-averse part of me fears that the potential downside outweighs the potential upside for the vast majority of the ‘big splash’ type moves which makes me hesitant to participate at the high end of the market.
When I consider the options here, I feel like the wizard move would be to creatively find a deal for a younger wing on a lesser contract with some term that the scouting team really likes to find upside soon. I guess that is what Kotkaniemi could be if he works out and the same could be said for Puljujarvi.
An interesting alternate plan?
If the goal is to play for a Stanley Cup now (2023), I think an interesting alternative could be to take a bit of regular season risk aimed at post-season gain. The group of players who could become available as rentals at the 2023 trade deadline could be a good one. If not traded and re-signed, DeBrincat, Pastrnak and Miller from this list could become available as rentals if their teams are not in playoff contention. Further, players like Patrick Kane, James van Riemsdyk and others could become available. Assuming most top tier teams spend up to the salary cap ceiling, most would struggle to find room for Kane’s $10.5 million salary cap hit which could thin the market if the Blackhawks do decide to collect futures for the long-time star. So let’s say the Hurricanes build a team that stays $5-6 million under the salary cap to start the season and includes Jake Gardiner for at a least a trial but is still good enough to clip along at a playoff pace as built. Then come the trade deadline, the Canes trade Jake Gardiner plus futures to obtain and fit in the $10.5 million salary of Patrick Kane thereby adding a player who is still an elite playmaker. There is some risk that the Canes team built to save salary cap struggles and misses the playoffs which would obviously be a poor outcome that would have people second guessing, but the team’s play the past two seasons suggest that the core is good enough and that there is some cushion above the playoff cut line.
Seeing how the team looks as is for half of the season could also help answer some questions and identify the biggest needs for the playoffs. Could Jake Gardiner’s year off help him rebound, stay healthy and be a decent third pairing defenseman and power play contributor? Can Kotkaniemi and/or Necas (if he stays) find a higher gear and be a going concern in the top half of the lineup? What other gaps are most pressing come February?
What say you Canes fans?
1) Despite the risk of big contracts for long-term, are the Hurricanes at the point where they need to dive in with both feet and try to make the one or two big, risky, pricey moves to put the team over the top? If so, which ‘big fish’ do you like?
2) Is Puljujarvi destined to join the Canes Finnish contingent? If so, is he just what he is at this point as a decent middle of the roster forward, or do you think a change of scenery and Finnish friends can help him find a higher gear?
3) What are your thoughts on just putting some salary cap budget away for later, riding/evaluating some of a less than peak roster and then spending at the trade deadline when trade asset rentals are at least a little bit less costly?