As has started to become commonplace, just when things seem really quiet and the news week or at least day is over, the Carolina Hurricanes drop something. Ron Francis was let go when the majority of the local media was off at the ACC basketball tourney in New York. The trade for Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland was announced just when it seemed like everyone was packing up their tents from the draft.
And today, after hours on the Fourth of July eve, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that the team had signed defenseman Calvin de Haan to a four-year deal for $4.05 million per year.
I have been chirping about de Haan as a logical target and priority since before the start of free agency, so much of what I have to say about the deal will be a repeat of what I have written in the last week.
Why Calvin de Haan? How we arrived here
The history of recent struggles building out a solid top 4
Last summer when many were enthralled with the high end ‘potential’ of the Hurricanes young blue line, I suggested that the team could use a bit more proven help short-term in the form of a player who could help solidify the second defense pairing. In 2016-17, the roar of how good the young Hurricanes blue line was going to be someday mostly drowned out the reality of a team that struggled to find top 4 balance on the road. At home, the Hurricanes played strength on strength with an emerging first pairing of Slavin/Pesce, but especially on the road, the second pairing of Hainsey/Faulk struggled mightily. A post trade deadline run of decent play with Hanifin/Faulk as a second pairing offered hope for the next year, but also put management in a tough spot to decide whether to bet on the youth taking the next step in 2017-18 or whether to add short-term help to solidify the top 4.
I voted for adding proven help to solidify the blue line, but instead, the team opted to bet heavily on a rebound from Justin Faulk or significant growth from Noah Hanifin. When neither materialized in 2017-18 and the potential of the youth was still not realized, the team struggled to build out a sound top 4. Justin Faulk again struggled defensively without an equal partner to help him. Noah Hanifin never really grew past being a decent but still inconsistent on defense third pairing defenseman. Coach Bill Peters had some ability to manage match ups to get by at home, but the he was forced to juggle things on the road and split Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce to try to plug holes were telling. The set of four just was not good enough with Faulk being ‘meh’ at best defensively and Haydn Fleury in a little bit over his head in that role as a rookie.
We will never know for certain, but is it possible that a sounder defense could have provided a better situation for Scott Darling and the goaltending in total that helped them reach a higher level in 2017-18?
Solidifying the top 4 defenseman as a priority…Again
Regardless, we again entered the summer with a promising young blue line but also one that needed to be upgraded to compete now. In my article on June 11 that detailed offseason priorities, I actually left two blanks for the second defense pairing listing Faulk and Hanifin only as maybes. In so doing, I went again the party line that again bet on the young blue line maturing when I placed adding a steady top 4 defenseman as my second priority (only to goalie) this summer.
The first domino – The Dougie Hamilton trade
Then kaboom. The Hurricanes parted ways with young regulars in Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to add a proven top 4 defenseman in Dougie Hamilton (and also Micheal Ferland). But the move very clearly put the team in an interim position with three higher-cost right shot defensemen who were all theoretically top 4s but only a single left shot top 4 defenseman to balance the lineup.
In an article two days after the trade for Dougie Hamilton entitled, “What’s next?” I discussed the need to solidify and balance the top 4 and identified Calvin de Haan as a target when I said:
On defense, I am on record as believing that Justin Faulk is likely to be traded before July when a no-trade clause kicks in on his contract. And I think the Hurricanes will need to add a left shot top 4-capable defenseman to pair with Hamilton and finally solidify the defense going into the season instead of betting big on players improving or stepping into bigger roles.
From the free agent list Calvin de Haan is the player who jumps out at me. The Islander defenseman has had injury issues, but when healthy he is a solid and steady even if maybe unspectacular top 4 defenseman and quite possibly a perfect fit for the more Pitkanen-ish Hamilton. The challenge is winning his attention in what is always an overbid market for free agent defensemen and probably having to overpay a bit to get him. But as I said on Twitter today, overpaying modestly in the free agent market might not be the worst thing. I think of it as a combination of transactions through which the Hurricanes part ways with Faulk (possibly for a good collection of futures and/or a forward) and also obtain de Haan. The haul is significantly more than just trading Faulk to add a defenseman.
Regardless of how many steps it takes or how it comes about, I think ideally the Hurricanes will part ways with Faulk and will along the way add a left shot defenseman to replace him.
I followed up in my free agency preview by identifying de Haan as a target just before free agency opened when I said:
Though I actually figured that something would happen before Sunday when a partial no-trade clause would kick in for Justin Faulk. But even with that not happening yet, I still believe the Hurricanes could be in the market for a top 4 left shot defenseman.
As I said on Twitter earlier this week, the player that jumps out to me is Calvin de Haan from the Islanders. He has had some injury issues over the past few years, but when in the lineup he has been a steady top 4 defenseman. As an efficient, defense-leaning defenseman, his skill set could be a good fit for Dougie Hamilton and in the process leave Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce together.
There are a few other options, but I am not really high on any other blue line free agents for a top 4 role. Tobias Enstrom is one left shot possibility if he is ready to take a shorter-term deal. If de Haan is not a viable option, I think it is more likely that the team balances the blue line via a trade or two.
What I would do: Yes, he will cost a bit too much because higher-end free agents almost always do. And yes the term will be uncomfortably long. But if I was going to go out on a limb in free agency, I think it would be to add de Haan. I think he combined with re-signing Trevor van Riemsdyk balances out a pretty good, experienced blue line without any reaches in the lineup. That could be significant in terms of stabilizing things and creating a good environment for a goalie rebound regardless of who is in net. If de Haan is not obtainable, I would not reach for other options.
I mentioned de Haan again in follow up after the first day of free agency, and undeterred by the lack of movement thus far, de Haan was again at the top of my list in Tuesday’s well-timed Daily Cup of Joe entitled, “Is the other shoe about to drop? If so, what does it entail?”
Justin Faulk is still in tow, so the order is a bit off, but I think that the signing of Calvin de Haan shows the Hurricanes management as being on pretty much the same page.
As of right now, I see the lineup as such:
Jaccob Slavin / Brett Pesce
Calvin de Haan / Dougie Hamilton
Haydn Fleury / Trevor van Riemsdy
…with Faulk as an extra whose price is too high to just slot down into the bottom pairing especially if he can garner a return via trade.
What does Calvin de Haan bring to the lineup?
De Haan has had some injury issues over recent years, but when in the lineup he had grown to become an efficient even if maybe unspectacular top 4 defenseman. As a steady type who leans defense and simple over offense and flashy, I view de Haan as a perfect complementary partner to Dougie Hamilton who is a bit more of an offensive freelancer with more than his fair share of Joni Pitkanen in him.
One could debate which of Slavin/Pesce or de Haan/Hamilton is the top pairing, and though I lean toward those pairs there is also a chance that the partners swap, but the biggest thing is that I think the Hurricanes are now legitimately 4 deep with top 4 defenseman.
De Haan does not project to be a high point producer or so much of an offensive catalyst, but that is exactly what Hamilton brings. At 27 years old, de Haan has been logging at or near 20 minutes per game for five years in a pretty similar role. He is not a player that the Hurricanes hope can grow into a top 4 role. He is a player who has been decent or better in that role for multiple years already.
Though I was incorrect on the order, I am still sticking to my guns on how this all plays out. (Reference my article from Tuesday morning.) I think Justin Faulk is even more certain to be traded now that de Haan is aboard and the fact that I see Faulk as an expensive duplicate for the third pairing slot on the right side that should be filled by Trevor van Riemsdyk.
With de Haan aboard, there is a chance that management has to be flexible with what the return is for Faulk since he is a duplicate now anyway. But ideal is to trade Faulk to add another scoring-leaning forward. Such a move would boost the offense and also make it possible to consider also parting ways with Jeff Skinner.
There are any number of options to trade Faulk. Coming off of a mixed bag for his 2017-18 (and also 2016-17 performance) the potential range of values for Faulk is wide, but as a right shot defenseman who has produced offensively and played in a top 4 role, there should be a market.
Options that I tossed out this morning considered the Maple Leafs bypassing the impossible dream in Nylander and also not settling for just Kapanen who I think is an underpayment and instead going after a less-mentioned name in Nazem Kadri.
The never-dying rumors of Faulk to Edmonton possibly in a bigger deal for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is another possibility.
But more broadly, I think the goal at this point would be to use Faulk to land scoring help for the top half of the forward roster.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Honest answer, did anyone else see this as a likely possibility?
2) Do you agree that it is nearly a foregone conclusion that the next domino to fall is a Justin Faulk trade?
3) If yes, what trade would you hope to and/or expect to do for Faulk?
4) Before we see them on the ice, how would you arrange the top 4 on the blue line?