Happy Fourth of July everyone!
Especially in these times when our country seems to be increasingly polarized, I think it is a good time to consider our individual roles in making our country better tomorrow than it is today. Increasingly, I feel like people want to talk about the United States of America as if it is something separate from themselves. In reality, for better or worse, our country is a collection of what each of us bring to it individually. If you think we can be better (I do), I think an important first question is asking what you are doing to make it so. If all you can come up with is that you regularly bitch on social media when something in politics/government goes different to your views, then I think that begs the question of if that is enough. While I do think we as individuals have a role in politics and government, I offer a simple challenge to everyone on this Fourth of July. Find something non-controversial where you can do something specific and measurable to make our country better. Cut a neighbor’s grass if they are sick. Sign up for a shift at a local food bank or pantry. Buy a friend or co-worker lunch if they seem to be having a tough day. Be kind and generous when you tip a wait person who is great at his/her job and spend the five minutes to fill out the online survey when you get home. Just be great or helpful for a stranger for no reason. And do all of this without regard for if you have similar or different political views compared to who you are helping. I get that small acts of kindness do not directly solve bigger issues in our country. But I actually believe that many small actions of people being great to other people is meaningful in making our country better and taking strides toward people of differing political opinions and preferred government agendas being able to coexist in the way that is more positive for everyone.
For those who want me to stick to hockey, sorry for the diversion. The hockey stuff follows. 🙂
With the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs now in the rearview mirror and the 2022 NHL Draft kicking off on Thursday, we are fully into the off-season. Historically, the draft weekend is what kicks off the off-season maneuvering with trades occurring just in advance of free agency kicking off about a week later.
The Hurricanes enter the off-season in a position that is a bit new to them. Despite being ousted in the second round of the playoffs, I think the Hurricanes are legitimately in the group of 6-10 teams who at least have a chance to win a Stanley Cup. How great is that? But also somewhat new is the fact that the Hurricanes are now a salary cap team that mostly must cut players/salary to add players/salary. That presents challenges and difficult decisions that will decide if the team can take one more big step forward and win a Stanley Cup or if it is destined to be one of the good teams that just always falls a step or two short.
My recent articles have largely focused on two things. First, I have written a decent amount about areas where I think the team could improve. Then more recently, I wrote two articles considering which of the team’s pending free agents should be re-signed and which let go. (The defensemen are HERE. And the forwards are HERE.) The two things are very interrelated. In terms of areas for potential improvement, I think the team could benefit from adding a true top 6 finishing wing or two and could also benefit from adding a bona fide second pairing defenseman of the ‘steady and sound’ variety. To add a new higher-end, top half of the roster player requires difficult choices for which pending free agents to let go to free up the salary cap space needed.
In terms of prioritizing trade targets or possible free agent signings, most people focus on ranking players in order of how good they are/what there expected production is. While that is a significant part of the equation, looking only at that misses the importance of cost. If you ask me if adding Alex DeBrincat to the Canes roster as a higher-end finisher at wing would make the team better, the answer is an easy ‘yes’. But then if you ask me if he costs Martin Necas, a 2023 first-round draft pick and at least one other medium to higher-end draft pick or prospect and that the team has to re-sign him to a seven-year contract for $9.6 million per year, and then the decision on whether it makes sense to acquire him becomes more complicated.
Put more simply, qualify of play and production matter, but so does cost in a salary cap world.
Over the course of the next few days leading up to the 2022 NHL Draft Weekend, I will certainly consider and kick the tires on some other possible trade options, but to kick it off, I will cut to the chase and identify a top trade target for the Canes heading into the potential trade frenzy.
With my belief that the Canes need to add a higher-end finishing wing or two for the top two lines, DeBrincat and Pastrnak (if available) are interesting options. But the complexity of having to trade a bunch to win a bidding war and then needing to sign the player to a likely more than fair/premium long-term contract has pros (great players) and cons (difficult to make work financially and high risk do to paying a ceiling price).
Identifying a top target – Jakob Chychrun
Focusing on (1) Filling a need for either a higher-end scoring wing or a bona fide top 4 defenseman; (2) ideally adding a player whose current contract helps not hurts the salary cap challenges and (3) is actually likely or at least possible to be available, the first player I would target is Jakob Chychrun.
He is proven in a top 4 defense role despite playing on a team that struggled at times and did not provide tremendous support/help. Despite having 6 seasons of NHL experience, he is only 24 years old. I think his floor is that of a capable second pairing defenseman who would contribute offensively. His seven goals and 21 points in 47 games (37-point pace over 82 games) was ‘meh’, but he had a huge 18 goals in 56 games and a 56-point pace in 2020-21 and 12 goals in 63 games in 2019-20. More significantly, I think he would help get the Canes back to their playoff roots under Rod Brind’Amour in building a blue line with depth and minus any weaknesses. Finally getting back to the importance of cost/production ratio not just raw production totals, Chychrun is under contract for three more years with a salary cap of $4.6 million per year. That is deal maker for me. The one thing that is not a perfect match is that Chychrun is a left shot. Ideally, the Canes need another right shot. But Chychrun has experience playing on the right side, and Slavin also played on the right side awhile back in college and expressed willingness/comfort to do that at the NHL level awhile back. So though not perfect, that situation could be workable.
Chychrun is said to be available as the Coyotes are in the midst of another transition and rebuild that he seems willing to pass on. Offering Martin Necas plus a mid-tier prospect or draft pick or two might get it done. Necas gives the team a young center (I think that is where he slots at least initially on a rebuilding team) who has produced at a decent rate in the NHL, is young and has potential upside. Coming off a mediocre 2021-22, his next contract should be reasonable, and with Necas wanting a bigger role, he would get that in Arizona. In a direct deal, I would figure the ‘plus’ to be something less than a first-round pick since the Canes are offering a young NHL-ready player as the centerpiece. An interesting bigger deal could be including Jake Gardiner in a bigger deal. Right now, the Coyotes are short of the salary cap minimum and will need to add some salary this summary. Though he obviously comes with risk, Gardiner would give them a replacement for Chychrun in the form of a veteran NHL defenseman who can play on the power play. The Canes would have to sweeten the deal to get Arizona to take Gardiner’s contract, but because he actually fills a couple needs (replacement defenseman, power play help, need to add salary anyway), the extra cost could be only modestly more than what the Canes would have to offer for the simpler deal.
The biggest thing for me is building a solid top 4 defensively as a starting point. If necessary, a bit of a power play specialist could be added in the form of a third pairing defenseman. I would be fine with paying a premium price for Tony DeAngelo at something like $3 million for this role but otherwise would be fine with trading his rights for a modest return and moving on. Figuring that the Canes also trade Ethan Bear for a modest return, the team has a top 4 that is set, Jalen Chatfield to slot somewhere between #5 and #7 and the need to fill two more NHL blue line slots in expensively. Doing so and parting ways with Necas would leave a decent budget to try to add a higher-end wing or two.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Would you be willing to trade Martin Necas’ (and likely a bit more) and his upside at only 23 years old to add Jakob Chychrun who is a 24-year old defenseman?
2) If given the choice between Chychrun at $4.6 million per year of DeAngelo for a similar price who would you choose? Does your answer change when you have to give up Necas to make that swap?
3) More generally, how would you allocate salary cap budget between trying to add more higher-end offense versus solidifying the blue line?