If you’ve looked at the Carolina Hurricanes depth chart at any point this past season or you’ve actually watched them play, I can probably assume you know that the Canes defense is not one of the team’s strengths. This season, only Justin Faulk and Ron Hainsey played over 60 games on the Canes blueline and that wasn’t a result of injuries. Since the NHL Trade Deadline, when Andrej Sekera & Tim Gleason were moved, Carolina has used 8 defensemen in the bottom 4 defensive positions. Of those 8 defensemen, 5 were AHL call-ups and the other 3 weren’t exactly the most sought-after blueliners. While there are some interesting defensive prospects in the Canes system, not are likely to be ready or at least big contributors in the NHL next season.
So the Hurricanes blueline is in need of some help for the 15/16 NHL season. We all know this and it seems others know it as well. Ron Francis, Bill Peters and even some players mentioned as much in their End-of-Season interviews. The Canes can always turn to free agency and there are a few worthwhile names out there, but Francis might have to look at the trade route to acquire at least 1 quality defenseman. What I have put together is a list of potential defensive trade targets, guys that still have term on their contract or are Restricted Free Agents. I have put together a little summary of their abilities and the reason I believe they may be available in trade. I also came up with some hypothetical trades. I’m not sure if the "value" is correct, but I was trying to give everybody an idea. So have a read, see if any of these players interest you, vote for who you would like to see the Canes target and feel free to share your thoughts.
James Wisniewski – RD (2 years remaining, $5.5 million cap hit)
Wisniewski started the season in Columbus and was having a decent year for an offensive defenseman. He was averaging over 21 minutes a night, 0.52ppg, had 7 PP goals and had the highest Corsi rating of Columbus defensemen with over 40 games played. But at the trade deadline, he & a 2015 3rd were shipped to Anaheim for William Karlsson, Rene Bourque & a 2015 2nd. That really isn’t a very steep price for a top 4, right-handed defenseman; a good prospect, a cap dump and exchanging a pick for a higher one. But things haven’t gone as well in Anaheim for Wisniewski. He’s averaging a minute less per game, his point production has dropped by 25% and he’s been scratched for a few games (including all playoff games so far). The Ducks certainly have plenty of cap space to keep Wisniewski, but sometimes a trade doesn’t work as expected and his $5.5 million cap hit could be used on different things. If they resign Francois Beauchemin, the Ducks pretty much have their 6 defensemen set with some nice backup options. In Carolina, Wisniewski would be a top 4 defenseman that could move the puck and help out on the PP with his shot. His cap hit is high, but he will make $5 million next season and $3 million the following season. If the Canes are really looking to upgrade their blueline, Wisniewski should be a consideration. Also to note, Wisniewski played 3 seasons for Canes Assistant GM Mike Vellucci in Plymouth.
Hypothetical Trade: Carolina trades Ryan Murphy & a 2016 3rd (Winnipeg’s) to Anaheim for James Wisniewski & a 2016 4th. This would give Carolina someone that could play immediate in their top 4 and contribute on the PP. Anaheim would get a young, offensive, right-handed defenseman who is a bit undersized.
Jyrki Jokipakka – LD (RFA) or Patrik Nemeth – LD (RFA) or Jamie Oleksiak – LD (RFA)
The Stars find themselves in an interesting situation. They currently have 5 defensemen signed for next season, it’s rumored they are interested in adding a top 4 defenseman this offseason and the 3 defensemen above are all subject to waiver next year (if I understand the waiver rules correctly). They have the cap space, they just don’t have the roster space and somebody will likely be moved this offseason. Jokipakka is the less heralded of the group, but he possesses a solid all-around game. He has decent size, though needs to fill out more, he moves the puck well and can provide a little offense. Nemeth is the guy that is best in his own end. He’s a big guy, but probably need to use his size better, he can move the puck effectively and is just a solid player. Oleksiak is the guy with the highest upside. He is simply huge, but still skates well for his size, can contribute some offensively, but still need to round out his game. Jokipakka is a #5 right now that could likely become a #3/#4, Nemeth will likely be a top 4 shutdown defenseman and if Oleksiak can put things together, he could become a top pairing defender. All of these guys are 23 years old or younger and are pretty much NHL-ready. They might not be fully developed, but they could help now and maybe even more into the future. The Hurricanes could definitely use any of them, but I think Oleksiak & Jokipakka would be the most likely to obtain. I would mind seeing either start the season with Danny Biega on the bottom pairing and if they show something, move them up accordingly.
Hypothetical Trade: Carolina trades a 2015 4th & Rasmus Rissanen to Dallas for Jyrki Jokipakka. Carolina get a young defenseman that can play right away, Dallas gains a high 4th and physical defensive prospect for a guy they could lose if subjected to waiver, it also frees up space for Nemeth & Oleksiak. Carolina trades a 2016 2nd & Keegan Lowe to Dallas for Patrik Nemeth. Carolina gets a big, young defenseman that can be part of the present and future, Dallas gets a likely high pick next year and an aggressive defensive prospect. Carolina trades a 2015 4th (Arizona’s) & 2016 3rd (Winnipeg’s) to Dallas for Jamie Olesiak. Carolina gets a huge defenseman that should develop into a top 4, Dallas gets 2 draft picks for a former 1st that hasn’t developed as quickly as they would have liked.
Jakub Kindl – LD (2 years remaining, $2.4 million cap hit) or Brendan Smith – LD (RFA)
I’m not sure how much Kindl or Smith would upgrade the Canes defense, but both are decent defensemen and Peters has a little history with both guys. Both guys are classified as puck-moving defensemen with Kindl maybe a little more upside and Smith a more balanced blueliner. Kindl has only seen limited action this season and has seen his TOI/G drop each of the past 2 seasons. Probably the biggest knock on him is his inconsistency. Smith has also seen his TOI/G drop in each of the past 2 seasons, but he’s still playing regularly on the Wings bottom pairing. Kindl might have the higher ceiling, but Smith is the more steady defenseman. Both have decent size, but aren’t that physical and don’t block a lot of shots. These guys are more positional defenders that can move the puck, it’s seems to be the Detroit way. Kindl is a likely #5 defenseman that has potential to be a #4 if his faults can be ironed out. I feel Smith is a #4 defenseman if given the opportunity to play in that role. I could see both being available because Detroit has been going through a transition and these 2 defensemen have been bypassed by some younger, cheaper guys. It doesn’t mean they’ll be moved, but they could and since Peters has coached both before, he might like to go with a somewhat known entity on the backend.
Hypothetical Trade: Carolina trades a 2015 5th to Detroit for Jakub Kindl. Carolina gets a possible 4/5 defenseman that can be used until the younger guys are ready, Detroit gets a late pick and additional cap space to resign RFA’s Nyquist & Jurco and go after a defenseman in free agency. Carolina trades a 2016 3rd (Winnipeg’s) & Michal Jordan to Detroit for Brendan Smith. Carolina gets a potential top 4 guy that can play in multiple situations, Detroit gets a mid-round pick, an older prospect and opens up space for their younger defensemen to take on Smith’s role at a cheaper rate.
Alec Martinez – LD (6 years remaining, $4.0 million cap hit)
If you think the Rangers cap situation is bad, the Kings are even worse. They currently 17 signed players (10 forwards, 6 defensemen, 1 goalie) for next season at $64.1 million. That doesn’t include RFA’s Tyler Toffoli & Martin Jones plus they’ll need to resign or replace Sekera and fill out the rest of their roster. They could gain some additional space depending on what happens to Slava Yoynov and/or a buyout of Mike Richards, but it is going to be a very interesting summer in LA. If they are moving a defenseman to create some cap space, Martinez is the likely candidate. Martinez is a mobile defenseman with decent size, offensive ability, will deliver hits and block shots. He really can do a bit of everything, but he lacks a little consistency. He’s generally been playing the #4 or #5 defenseman with LA, but he has the ability to be more. With the Canes, he’d probably be on the middle pairing that plays in all situations and depending on performance, he might find his way up to playing with Faulk. His cap hit isn’t that bad, but his contract is pretty long. Martinez is young enough that he should have plenty of good years in front of him. The Kings just need to open up space for more pressing needs and Martinez would be a likely victim to accomplish that.
Hypothetical Trade: Carolina trades a 2016 2nd & Riley Nash to Los Angeles for Alec Martinez. Carolina gets a young top 4 defenseman that has term on his contract, LA gets a likely high 2nd next year and gets an affordable bottom 6 guy to help fill out the lineup (possibly replacing Jarrett Stoll at a fraction of the price) while opening up a little over $3 million in cap space.
Tom Gilbert – RD (1 year remaining, $2.8 million cap hit)
Gilbert is a guy that no one really gets excited about, but he generally put forth a solid all-around effort. He’ll block shots, put up a few points and can play on both the PP & PK. He isn’t a great possession player and generally plays a 4/5 role, but he would probably be a top 4 guy with the Canes current defensive makeup. He does a little bit of everything, but doesn’t particularly excel in any one category. The Habs currently have 17 players (10 forwards, 5 defensemen, 2 goalies) signed for next season. They have just a little over $10 million in cap space available (based on a $69 million salary cap) to resign Alex Galchenyuk, Nathan Beaulieu, Jeff Petry and fill out the rest of their roster. Moving Gilbert frees up some cap space to give to these guys and allows a younger player to move up to the NHL to take Gilbert’s space at a cheaper rate. For the Canes, ideally I think Gilbert would make a good partner for Hainsey on a 2nd pairing, but that would mean Francis would need to find a partner for Faulk. Gilbert experience could also potentially be helpful for the kids that are working their way in the lineup. His cap hit isn’t too cost prohibitive and since he only has one year left on his contract, there is no long-term commitment. Worst come to worst, he can used for half a year and traded at the deadline.
Hypothetical Trade: Carolina trades a 2015 4th to Montreal for Tom Gilbert. Carolina gets an experienced defenseman that can play on the 2nd pairing and isn’t tied to him long-term, Montreal frees up cap space, makes room for one of their younger defensemen and gets a mid-round pick.
Marc Staal – LD (6 years remaining, $5.7 million cap hit)
While I don’t think this is likely, because Marc just signed his contract and he has a NMC, the Rangers are in serious cap trouble next season. They currently have 15 signed players (7 forwards, 6 defensemen, 2 goalies) for next season at $59.5 million. That doesn’t include RFA’s Derek Stepan & Carl Hagelin plus they’ll need to replace UFA Martin St. Louis plus they still need to complete their roster. If next year’s salary cap is around $69 million, something is going to have happen with their lineup and moving Marc might make sense. Staal is a big defender that mainly focuses on his zone. He skates well, can contribute a little offensively, plays a lot against good competition and blocks some shots. With Carolina, he would obviously be on the top pairing with Faulk and would be playing with his brothers. His cap hit wouldn’t be the easiest thing for Carolina to swallow, but they appear to have the room to make it work. The most difficult part for the Canes would be the cost to get him here. But if Francis & Peters are looking to improve the defense, Marc Staal would definitely be a step in the right direction.
Hypothetical Trade: Carolina trades a 2016 1st (Los Angeles’) & Riley Nash to New York for Marc Staal & a conditional 2016 2nd (becomes a 3rd if New York fails to make the playoffs). Carolina gets a defensive focused playing partner for Faulk that is signed long-term and a late 2nd/early 3rd in 2016, New York gets probably a middle to late 1st to replace theirs lost in the Yandle trade and a young, cheap, bottom 6 center that is decent in the faceoff circle, while getting about $5 million in cap space to use elsewhere.
Here are some other players I think might be available in trade this summer: Dustin Byfuglien - RD, Jared Cowen - LD, Jake Gardiner - LD, Eric Gelinas - LD, Erik Gudbranson, Kevin Klein - RD and Jarred Tinordi - LD.