Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes both sides of the Canes free agent re-signing situations starting with the forwards.
For: He is a bona fide second line center. Replacing with a comparable player via free agency usually means overpaying for an older player. Unless the Canes can pull off a trade for a younger player on a favorable contract, I do not see how this hole would be filled by anyone comparable for less money. If the Canes were rebuilding, auditioning both Kotkaniemi and Necas in this slot would be interesting. But for a team in ‘win now’ mold, leaving this slot for one or both of them would be a low odds dice roll on two players who had ‘meh’ or worse 2021-22 regular seasons and then were completely invisible in the playoffs.
Against: If he is not willing to take a hometown discount and/or shorter term, these maximum UFA contracts for 29 year olds are always incredibly risky and nearly always have some bad years. So the mathematically bad risk/reward balance longer-term is in nearly all cases a reason to pass.
Where I land: If Trocheck will take five years and something a little less than maximum salary, I would re-sign him simply just because I am skeptical how the team could replace him.
For: Despite a ‘meh’ regular season that did not yield as much growth as hoped and an even worse playoffs where he was a non-factor over 14 games, Necas still has upside as a 23-year old who has the mobility for today’s NHL and enough skill to give him at least a second line ceiling scoring-wise. Especially if his mediocre 2021-22 season keeps his salary down a bit, he becomes a modestly priced player with the potential upside to make the team deeper offensively.
Against: Per above, he did not take as big of a step forward as hoped during the 2021-22 season. Maybe more significant is fit and circumstances. The Canes are probably already one too many deep in terms of wings who have a propensity to be perimeter players. Further, as a player who was drafted largely for his play as a playmaking center who used his mobility to make plays with the puck on his stick, he is maybe just miscast as a wing. But per my comments on Trocheck, I am not sure the Canes ‘win now’ priority offers an opportunity to move Necas back center with time to develop/figure it out. As such, with the Canes needing to add a top 6 finishing wing or two, Necas makes a ton of sense as a trade chip who would have value to trade partners but would not necessarily be missed in the current configuration of the Canes lineup. Adding to the complexity of keeping Necas is the fact that the team already committed to Kotkaniemi long-term for $4.8 million per year. This complicates things in two ways. First, per the ‘win now’ mentality, it would be tough to justify taking the risk of two $5 million(ish) forward commitments to players who were lightly contributing fourth-liners in the playoffs. Second, Kotkaniemi’s $4.8 million salary will make it tough to try to get Necas whose raw production statistics are actually better to sign for more of a $3 million-ish ‘prove it’ contract.
Where I land: Given the commitment to Kotkaniemi and the issue with carrying two bigger contracts for ‘might progress and work out’ type players, multiple things point to Necas becoming a trade chip to land a higher-end scoring wing or possibly second pairing defenseman. So yes the Canes will qualify him, but I would be surprised to see him in a Canes uniform come October.
For: Niederreiter is a known quantity, a bigger body, a good fit for Staal’s line and a source of decent depth scoring. All of those are good things. In the playoffs, Staal’s line was arguably the Canes best when measured against their role and expectations, so trying to keep that ‘working piece’ together and improve elsewhere makes sense.
Against: The issue with Niederreiter is role/slot versus salary. The Canes are now very much a cap ceiling team that needs to find ways to improve without having much budget to do so. In his 2021-22 role, Niederreiter is a very good third line forward on a checking line. If his salary comes in near $5 million (previous contract was $5.25 million), the difficult question becomes whether the team is better off with a great third line wing at $5 million or whether they are better off trying to fill this slot more inexpensively and using the cost savings to try to add a difference-maker in the form of a finisher for the top 6. Putting the trade challenge to the side to use it for illustration, would you rather have Pastrnak or DeBrincat on the second line with Drury or a depth forward on the third line or would you rather have Necas of $4-5 million to spend for a second-line scorer with Niederreiter on the third line.
Where I land: Given salary cap constraints, I think the Canes will be forced to pass on re-signing Niederreiter unless he signs for a significant discount. I just do not see him as the answer to higher-end scoring from the wing on the top 2 lines. In his role on Staal’s line, I think his spot could be back filled for much less which frees up money to improve the top two forward lines.
For: Stepan still represents the same veteran depth for a reasonable cost that he brought when he signed with the Canes before the 2021-22 season. If the Canes want to have a player of this kind for the fourth line, Stepan could still fit.
Against: …But Stepan never really carved out a permanent role and was not a regular in the playoffs. As such, I would expect the Hurricanes to move on to another option either within the organization or possibly trying a different free agent.
Where I land: Because Stepan did not really carve out and keep a role, I would move on hoping that someone else clicks in a similar role for the 2022-23 season.
For: Lorentz is likeable and reasonably fits Brind’Amour’s system as a fourth-liner with size who skates well enough to forecheck. Further, his eight goals scored in 67 games in the 2021-22 regular season are a respectable total for a fourth-liner with limited minutes and no power play ice time.
Against: While Lorentz is serviceable in a fourth-line role, he does not really bring anything extra. He finishes checks but does not really play with the kind of snarl/edge that can make a difference. He is not a regular on the penalty kill. I will use the term ‘serviceable’ again; ideal would be to get a bit more from this slot.
Where I land: I would re-sign Lorentz for a depth role but at the same time hope that depth rising up can push him to the #13 slot.
For: Domi brings a bit of grit and sand paper that the Hurricanes lineup is light on. And though his recent trajectory is that of a checking line forward who is lighter on scoring, there could be some upside based on a couple higher scoring seasons with Montreal.
Against: He is coming off a two-year contract that paid him $4.5 million per year. After consecutive seasons at a 12-13-goal pace for 82 games and with only two goals in 19 regular season games with the Hurricanes, I would not allocate a top 9 slot to Domi and pay him anything close to his previous salary.
Where I land: I actually like Domi as a premium fourth-liner at a salary between $1 and $1.5 million, so if he is unable to find a team willing to bet on his upside from a few years back, maybe he comes into play. But if someone is willing to pay him north of $2 million per year hoping he rebounds offensively, I would pass. The Canes need a surer thing or two at wing.
Netting it out
When I net it out, I would try hardest to re-sign Trocheck largely because it will be incredibly hard to back fill his slot with a comparable player. That plan A likely goes out the window if he wants 7-8 years at market ceiling salary. Then I would begrudgingly trade Necas as part of a package to land a higher-end wing finisher and also begrudgingly let Niederreiter depart to free up the salary cap space needed for such an acquisition. Of the depth forwards, I would re-sign Lorentz for depth and let Stepan and Domi depart unless by chance Domi is willing to sign a deal that fits into the budget as a fourth-liner.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of Vincent Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter and Martin Necas would you try to retain considering salary cap constraints? What would be your order of priority for the three?
2) What are your thoughts between keeping Martin Necas hoping that he finds a higher gear in 2022-23 versus using him as a key part of a trade to upgrade the top half of the roster?