The dog days of Summer and more particularly the late days of August get us all thinking bored or crazy thoughts. Probably a little of both. Looking at the Carolina Hurricanes' roster at this time of year yields as many questions as it does answers. Is there another free agent pick up in Ron Francis's bag of tricks? Which Checker(s) will make the big push and/or the necessary impression to make the big squad? Or is there a trade to be had, a hockey trade that might make sense? While any one of these options might happen, let's look at one of the most unlikely options.
What happens if the Canes and Eric Staal cannot come to an agreement? Further what happens if this becomes apparent sooner rather than later? As something of an Eric Staal fanboy, my preference is clearly to see him re-signed for a reasonable deal (although I'm probably in the minority in that my "reasonable" is in the vicinity of $7 million per) along with with reasonable term. The choices facing the parties are: 1) trade him now or as soon as it becomes apparent that there's an impasse, 2) begin the season hoping that the impasse can be overcome and a deal gets done late Fall/early Winter, or 3) move him at the trade deadline hoping that a bidding war accentuates his value.
Each scenario has its potential pratfalls. Few teams that would need Eric currently have the cap space to wedge him in. The Canes would probably have to either retain salary or take salary back in many deals done prior to the season. There's always the chance that once the season starts that he could get off to a monster start, thereby increasing his perceived value and damaging the team's negotiating position (but maybe enhancing his value in the trade market). Or he could get injured, really detroying any value on the trade market (but in a weird way making it easier to resign him for a discount). At the trade deadline the number of potential suitors is also limited and different cap space issues can arise thereby potentially putting a damper on his trade value (or a bidding war could ensue, but I'm trying to remember the last time that truly happened).
If a deal can't get done AND the front office thinks that the sides are too far apart, the obvious choice would be to collect your "bird in the hand". As painful as it would be, making the trade prior to or at the very beginning of the season would be best for all parties in this scenario. Eric would still control his own destiny with his no trade clause and likely be able to choose a true Cup contending team with which to make a run. For the Hurricanes the trade would probably yield more and/or more valuable assets as the beneficiary of the trade would get a full season of Eric. Assuming this as the outcome, there are some very interesting trade options, seemingly beneficial to both parties. Also, I believe that any viable trade for Eric Staal nets the Canes a 2016 1st rounder, a quality NHLer (or a guy on the verge of being a quality NHLer), and a good prospect. If any of these assets are of lesser value then an equalizer would likely have to come into play. Carolina may also want to package a pick, player, or prospect with Staal to create a viable trade. Finally, in certain cases the Canes will likely need to retain salary which, of course, should increase the return.
Which teams would benefit the most if they dealt for Eric Staal? What follows is a quick look at those teams in the most need of a guy like Eric, those teams most likely to make a trade for a guy like Eric, and those teams that might benefit but probably, for one reason or another, won't make that type of move.
This team is constructed to win now and they don't have cap space issues. Sure they've got some nice young, even electric players (cough, cough, Filip Forsberg, cough, cough), but many of the veterans on the team don't realistically have much more than 2, 3, or 4 years of window left. Fisher and Riberio are 35. The newly signed Jackman is 34. Gaustad is 33. Nystrom and Rinne are 32. Even Shea Weber, now 30, has to realize the "win now" nature of this team. Mixed in are the up-and-coming youngsters like Forsberg, Jarnkrok, Smith, Wilson, Josi, and Ellis. And lets face it, how good would Eric look in between Forsberg and Neal? He would be the true 1C that they need. They also could use some blueline depth in their prospect pipeline. The proposed trade:
2016 1st round pick
As previously stated Nashville gets their #1 pivot plus a very good offensive blueline prospect with a bit of toughness to boot. Staal pulls the Preds offense together making them even more formidable. Carolina gets what is likely a low 1st round pick, a LW/C who could step into 2nd or even 1st line duties in Wilson, a very interesting LW scoring prospect with size in Vesey, and Colton Sissons, a guy who is projected to battle for a middle six role this year and with his right shot, can play RW. While this might seem like a small overpayment on Nashville's part, they are a win now team that has to battle the in-division, defending Cup champs. I'd consider substituting Thomas Novak or Mikka Salomaki for Sissons if it made the deal more palatable for either side.
The Anaheim Ducks
This is another team constructed to win now, but with a little less cap flexibility, and they are coming off of a very solid post-season run, losing to the eventual champions. They have a deep pool of prospects and made some very solid off season moves including picking up Carl Hagelin and Mike Santorelli. Adding Eric Staal to their top line would likely give them if not the best, one of the best top 6's in hockey. The deal could look something like this:
Eric Staal (20% retained)
2016 1st round pick
Anaheim gets to reallocate resources moving Patrick Maroon from the top line and they end up with a Staal/Getzlaf/Perry group that would be nearly impossible to defend. They are giving up some very nice assets, but they have a deep pool of prospects and, like Nashville, the clock is ticking on this group if they want the ultimate prize. The salary retention is a sweetener for the front office. Carolina gets a top 6 RW, an area of need, who can step right in, a bluechip forward prospect with size in Ritchie, and a low 1st round pick that they may be able to package as part of a draft day deal.
The Winnipeg Jets
While this is a bit more unlikely scenario, this deal would reunite Eric Staal with Paul Maurice, a comfortable situation for both coach and player. Less in a "win now" mode, this team still is ready to compete in the post season with a good blueline (Big Buff notwithstanding) and some serious, albeit young, talent in their top 9. With the return of Burmistrov, the likely emergence of Nicolaj Ehlers, and equally likely elevation of Joel Armia to the NHL, this team would benefit hugely from some veteran leadership which Staal would surely bring (all jokes to the contrary aside). This is a little more straight-forward deal, but it might look like this:
2016 1st round pick
Eric Staal between Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler is another one of those monster lines that would give opposing teams fits. Bryan Little immediately becomes one of the better 2nd line pivots and Riley Nash, a solid 3C or a very good 4C likely battles with Adam Lowry for that bottom 6 role. Ultimately the Jets end up with three serious scoring lines. While this might seem like a slim return to some Hurricanes fans, the yield is a young top six center who continues to get better and better, plus a gritty and skilled forward prospect that is likely no more than a year or two away from the show. The 1st rounder, again probably later in the round, evens it all out. Were I in charge of Winnipeg I'd make this deal in a heartbeat even knowing the potential of Mark Scheifele. The runs I'd be able to make over the next two or three years would be worth that payment (assuming I could re-sign both Ladd and Staal).
Less likely, but still interesting to consider
Other long shot deals could happen with the likes of Boston (with significant salary retained) for guys that might include Eriksson, Hayes, a 1st rounder and likely one of DeBrusk or Senyshyn. But I don't think the Canes would do that deal and I'm not sure Eric would waive to go to Beantown. They truly are on the clock and while they may make the playoffs, I don't believe they have the horses to go deep....even with Eric Staal. Another interesting option would be Montreal, a team in desperate need of a true #1 center with size. However, that deal would require salary coming back (Plekanec or DeSharnais), might still require the Canes to retain some salary, and, most painful of all for Habs fans, would probably include a 1st rounder, Jacob De La Rose, and one of Scherbek or McCarron. That is probably too high of a price for Montreal.
To reiterate, none of these scenarios are likely to happen because I think (and, frankly want) Staal to be re-signed by Carolina. As with all trade ideas teams and their fans either feel like the ask is too much or the return is too little. In this case, the full year of Eric Staal plus exclusive negotiating rights to resign him are very valuable for a team on the cusp. Every front office is well aware of Eric Staal's playoff acumen. In each case the idea that Staalsy brings back a 1st rounder, a good, young NHL player and a good prospect seems to be a fair expectation. In those cases where the value seems skewed, another player has been included or salary retained. In the end configuring trades is often more of an art than a science. If it comes to this, we better hope that Ron Francis is more of a Picasso than a Dr. Frankenstein.