Just when it looked like the 2018 NHL Draft might close out fairly quietly for the Carolina Hurricanes after a noisy Friday in terms of rumors….KABOOM!!!

The Hurricanes traded restricted free agents Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to Calgary for defenseman Dougie Hamilton, forward Micheal Ferland and defense prospect Adam Fox.

Down below are my initial Twitter-size thoughts on the deal from when the news broke.

Here is the the more detailed version.


The crux of the deal

This deal is an incredibly complex one in terms of the number of things to be considered. There is of course the simple player swap but behind that are multiple other layers. The trade represents a pair of high stakes crystal ball player evaluations for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. The deal includes an intertwined element of performance relative to salary with Lindholm and Hanifin both restricted free agents who will command sizable sums based at least as much on draft pedigree and potential as past performance. And the trade also requires decision-making related to the balance between building a winner for today versus having patience for young players to develop.

But when I sort through all of the angles as I will do in more detail below and try to boil the deal down to basics, it goes like this…

1) The Hurricanes traded two players with high-end ‘potential’ for one player who is a ‘now’ player at or near that high end.

2) The team addressed what I termed the second biggest need (first is always goaltending) by adding a top 4 defenseman to help solidify the second defense pairing. Though this is NOT the story of trading futures for an aging veteran (Hamilton is 25), there is an element of win now in addressing that need.

3) There is also an element of budget in play. We will not know exact costs until they sign, but indications are that Lindholm could be seeking $5 million per year, and I would not be surprised if Hanifin’s demands creep up near that neighborhood too for a long-term deal. So in effect, the team dropped $8-10 million of salary on players who had yet to become ‘difference-makers’ and added one who costs only $6 million who hopefully will immediately be a difference-maker.  (Ferlund also makes $1.75 million, but he is a one-year commitment in a different type of true depth role.) If you guess Lindholm at 5 years for $5 million and Hanifin for 5 years at $4.5 million, the team stepped away from $47.5 million of potentially good but also highly risky contracts in favor of one for only $18 million and with significantly less risk.


Dougie Hamilton versus Noah Hanifin

The centerpiece of the deal is of course defenseman Dougie Hamilton. In an ironic twist of fate, Hamilton actually looks very much like what the Hurricanes had hoped (and now the Flames hope) Noah Hanifin would become. He is a big, rangy skating defenseman with the ability to contribute offensively and be a top-end skater even in an NHL with skating improving each and every year. His 17 goals and 44 points are similar to what one would hope for from a ‘peak Hanifin’. And his defensive game is at a bare minimum capable in a top 4 role (again at least in the range of what one would eventually hope for from Hanifin). So while certainly there is a chance that Hanifin surpasses Hamilton’s level, I think of it like this maybe.

Let’s call Hanifin’s ceiling a 95, and then maybe put Hamilton’s at 90. We can quibble over whether 90 should be 92 or 95 should be 100, but the point is that Hanifin’s ceiling is not significantly higher, if higher at all, than Hamilton’s. This is especially true since their strengths and skill sets are actually eerily similar. But the huge difference is where they are right now. As a player who is logging heavy minutes in a top 4 role and doing pretty well at it, the version of Dougie Hamilton that ended the 2017-18 season would rate at perhaps an 80. The version of Noah Hanifin that ended the 2017-18 rates very squarely as a decent but nothing special third pairing defenseman with decent offensive ability. Since capable third pairing defensemen price much lower and are easier to find, I think that rates at a 35 or 40. To put a ‘here and now’ context to it, if I had to win one game in March last season and could put only two out of three of Hanifin, Fleury and van Riemsdyk in my lineup, I would unquestionably have ranked van Riemsdyk #1 and would have had to debate my second choice. More directly, the 2017-18 version of Noah Hanifin was still a depth defenseman.

Because Noah Hanifin is only 21 years old compared to just turning 25 last week for Dougie Hamilton, Hanifin does have more potential to grow from where he is now whereas Hamilton is nearing the point where he just is what he is (which is pretty good). But there is absolutely no guarantee that Hanifin will ever get close to his high ceiling despite his draft pedigree. People like to preach patience and some magical 300-game mark for young defenseman. While players definitely mature and improve in their early years, the early NHL development tracks in today’s game mean that more and more players who will eventually be great show very clear signs of it very early. In my article entitled, “Harsh realities as the Carolina Hurricanes look to build a winner in 2018-19” I highlighted five players from Hanifin’s draft year or later who had already risen up to become legitimate top 4 defensemen.

So when you net out Hamilton versus Hanifin, the key thing is that you get a player who is top-4 capable right now. Not might be capable…Not could be capable next year. “Is” capable at least per his role in Calgary. And for that you give up a relatively small amount of upside maybe.


But what about Elias Lindholm, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox?

But obviously this deal is not a one for one swap of Noah Hanifin for Dougie Hamilton. The Hurricanes were also required to add another high draft/high pedigree player in Elias Lindholm.

Though two years deeper into his NHL experience, Elias Lindholm is actually very similar to Hanifin. Lindholm has made gradual strides over five years of NHL experience. And he is a capable top 9 forward with a well-rounded skill set that can play in any situation. But as a player how has plateaued at mid-40s for points despite decent line mates and a healthy helping of power play ice time, he thus far has peaked at the level of a good but hardly irreplaceable depth forward. Does he still have upside? Certainly. But as a 23-year old with five years in the NHL, the chance that he just is not going to ever become a true “difference-maker” is fairly high at this point. And worth noting is that while a theoretical peak Lindholm who finds another gear could be hard to replace, the current ‘decent player, 45 points’ version of him is not. In fact, though being a little older, maybe not as high of upside and less impressive in terms of draft pedigree, Micheal Ferland production-wise is not necessarily a significant downgrade from Lindholm. Ferlund had 21 goals and 41 points compared to Lindholm’s 16 goals and 44 points.

In this comparison the potential long-term upside given up by the Hurricanes is a significantly higher, but when you consider that the Hurricanes added every-game edge and physicality in the form of pretty similar scoring, it is not clear to me that this is a significant ‘right now’ downgrade.

Finally, the Hurricanes netted a good mid-tier prospect in offensive defenseman Adam Fox. Fox will be a junior at Harvard this fall, and is an offensive type maybe a bit from the Jake Bean mold. Hopefully he makes the trip to Raleigh for prospect camp next week, so I can get a better read on his skill set. In any case, initial checks with people more familiar with him suggest he is more than just a throw in/lower tier prospect.


Where I land on the deal – A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

First, I think it is worth noting that this is the kind of deal that takes guts because in trading two high-pedigree players like Lindholm and Hanifin, the risk is clearly there that this deal blows up horribly in a relatively short period of time. At a general level, I like the aggressiveness. Last summer, the Hurricanes identified a couple top needs toward the beginning of the summer and then mostly chose not to address a big one (a scoring forward) because the price was too high, the deal was not there, or whatever else. You really only get one opportunity to restart about once a year, so without being reckless an element of urgency must be part of the recipe sometimes maybe even to the point where you overpay a bit.

As for the deal itself, I do feel like the Hurricanes overpaid slightly giving up two higher-end (potential-wise anyway) young players. But here is the thing. Exactly neither of Hanifin or Lindholm has become a difference-maker or tough to replace top half of the lineup player at the NHL level. In that regard, the starting point is plus 1 on the Hurricanes side of the ledger. Even if one of Lindholm or Hanifin takes that next step but without suddenly morphing into a superstar, that just evens the score at 1-1. It would take a jump to elite for one of Lindholm or Hanifin or both finding a higher gear. Even then, if it takes a couple years and the Hurricanes net a playoff berth with Hamilton anchoring one of the top defense pairings, the deal could still be worth it for the Hurricanes.


Saving the domino effect for tomorrow

As I already alluded to in my Twitter comment about Justin Faulk and Dougie Hamilton filling the same slot, I think this deal is just the beginning, but I will save the more indirect domino effect for another article hopefully on Sunday.


Initial Twitter-size thoughts from immediately after the deal was announced


What say you Canes fans?


1) Yes or no on the deal?


2) Etc….

Go Canes!

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