Because of the volume of players and length of this, I split it into two parts. For a short list of overall priorities and notes on defensemen, see HERE.
Of all the Canes free agents forwards, he is the one I would consider leaning forward for most. It is going to be hard to replace him with a comparable quality second-line center, and Trocheck’s leaning forward/aggressive style of play fits how Brind’Amour wants to play. He just turned 29, so a five-year deal would not carry outlandish age risk. If there is a middle ground both in terms of term and salary, I would bring him back….maybe 5 years at $7-7.5 million per year?
As much as I like Nino Niederreiter and think he is a great fit for Staal’s line, I voted in an earlier article to pass on Niederreiter at market value. It is not about wanting to get rid of Niederreiter, it is about trying to create budget to upgrade the top half of the lineup. Except for when he stormed out of the gate in his first season with the team, he has never really clicked on one of the top 2 scoring lines, and given the need to allocate limited budget, I think his slot is one where the Canes can/will try to save money for higher priorities. On the open market, he probably nets $5.5-6 million per year which I think leaves the Canes going cheaper in his slot and spending that money on the top half of the roster.
Especially if he is really looking for a two or three year contract, I really like Giroux as an option to build a scoring second line. He 34 years old but scored at about a 65-point pace each of the last two seasons, so if age is going to slow him, it is not yet evident in his play. He would add another right shot (to replace Trocheck if he departs) and a proven top 6 scoring forward to the mix. He has played primarily right wing for a couple years now after playing most of his career at center, so adding Giroux could still leave a gap in the important C2 slot. But put simply, if you can get a player of his caliber with reasonable term, that would be a great starting point for upgrading at forward.
To me, he is the forward equivalent of John Klingberg – great player, a great fit for trying to win a Cup in the next two years, but destined to be a huge risk contractually. He is actually signed for 2022-23 at a very reasonable $5.25 million which helps the cap math, but no way would the Canes give up a king’s ransom to add him via trade and no extend him. He will be 30 when that next contract starts, so if he wants 6-7 years, it is just too much for me. First you pay a bunch in trade assets. Then you are forced to take a really high risk contract. Even wanting to go for it in true ‘win now’ mode, the risk/reward ratio here leans too much toward risk.
RE-SIGNED WITH PITTSBURGH
I view Malkin a bit like Giroux except with increased injury risk. Despite being 35 years old, his per game production has not decreased significantly; but he has had trouble staying healthy and in the lineup. But if you want to swing for the fences, Malkin, like Giroux, could be a good option. The sticking point with the Penguins seems to be the difference between three and four years (which seems silly to me given the history there). Four years makes me uncomfortable, but maybe he would take three years just to stay in the Metro Division and stick it to the Pens? I would at least make the call if he does in fact become available.
Kadri is coming off a great 2021-22 season and has the full luster of having played well under the bright lights in the playoffs and ultimately hoisting the Cup. That has his expected next contract in the $8-10 million range similar to J.T. Miller’s next contract. Though he seemed to put it behind him, his history of costly suspensions (six overall and three in the playoffs) adds risk as does the fact that he will be 32 years old when the 2022-23 season begins. For me that is too many risk factors for a big dollar contract that likely extends past age 35.
My Jakob Chychrun equivalent at forward is Mark Scheifele who similarly is an established, quality, top half of the roster player who comes with a contract past 2022-23. (He is signed for two years at a very reasonable $6.125 million per year.) He was on a list of players who might be available before the off-season kicked off in earnest. Since then he met with new bench boss Rick Bowness and has not been part of the regular rumors, so best bet is that he is now staying in Winnipeg. But if that is not the case, he is a player I would overpay for a bit in terms of trade assets.
Proven Stanley Cup winner who ranks right up there with Justin Williams for clutch playoff goal scoring. Who wouldn’t want that? But until I see otherwise, my expectations are that he either signs with Tampa Bay for a modest discount or requires some massive overpayment to get him to leave a great situation.
He and Johnny Gaudreau are similar in that their stocks rose a ton in 2021-22 after being a bit deflated last summer. Tarasenko was coming off another injury-impacted season and could probably have been had for very little last summer possibly even with St. Louis picking up a small piece of his salary. Fast forward a year, and he is coming off 34 goals and 82 points in 75 games in 2021-22. Obviously his stock has risen, but maybe because he only has one year left on his contract, he has been a regular entry in the rumor mill. I would be interested but hesitant to overpay if it looks like he could be a one and done. Not sure what, if any, connection he and Malkin have but rather than trying to win a bidding war a better path is to try to add two higher-end veteran forwards who like the idea of playing together.
He is a bit like Tarasenko in that his stock was down entering the 2021-22 season and could maybe have been obtained for a discount last summer. After a strong 2021-22 campaign, he Gaudreau now looks set to receive a max type contract in the range of seven years at $10 million per year. In trying to piece together the Canes puzzle short-term and also budget for new contracts for the team’s core in the next 2-3 years, I lean toward a combination of slightly lower salaries and less term on at least a couple of this summer’s acquisitions.
He was not active in the rumor mill prior to the draft weekend, but the Blackhawks trading nearly everyone else may have changed that. At 33 years old, he is still an elite playmaker (92 points in 78 games in 2021-22) who makes any team better offensively. But with one year at $10.5 million on his current contract, the question is what he wants for a next contract and if that makes sense and also if/how much of his salary the Blackhawks will retain and for what trade cost.
RE-SIGNED BY EDMONTON
He boosted his value significantly by showing that he can be a perfect complementary scorer playing without the puck in a power forward role in the 2022 NHL Playoffs with the Oilers. But he has a rough enough history off the ice that I would pass and steer away from a second consecutive off-season of turmoil in that regard.
After not being qualified by Chicago presumably because they did not want to pay what he might get in arbitration, Strome is a rare unrestricted free agent at the age of 25. His scoring production is second line-worthy, but after playing with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, I struggle to estimate what his scoring becomes with lesser line mates. If his scoring dips with less help and he is ‘meh’ defensively, he could be a scoring average/defense light center.
He had a great 2021-22 season including the playoffs and will get paid because of it. I view him more as a higher-end third line center than a true higher-end offense second line center. As such, I think he will get overpaid a bit based on his play in the playoffs, and I also view him as being a bit more defense-leaning versus offense-leaning than what the Canes need.
Am going to run out of time before getting to a few others. Please chime in with any other possible forward acquisitions in the comments.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How do you feel about just working out deals with Vincent Trocheck and/or Nino Niederreiter to keep known quantities who both generally had good seasons in 2021-22?
2) Of the available options via trade and free agency, who do you like?