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Moves to Make Now ... or Not

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With the team posting a middling 4-3-2 record in January so far, more questions keep surfacing for GM Ron Francis. The fans are talking playoffs and then they're not. What to do and when to do it? Those are the key questions with less than a month an a half remaining before the February 29th trade deadline.

Which of our Canes are moved....and for what return?
Which of our Canes are moved....and for what return?
Sanford Myers/Getty Images

Timing can be so important. It can also drive a conversation that forces the wrong conclusions. For a team looking toward the NHL trade deadline timing is only one part of the equation. Team need, available assets, and long-term team construction also come into play. Knowing all of this, what should the Carolina Hurricanes do and when should they begin making moves? The smart money has pushed the Canes to be sellers at the TDL all year long. We all know the smart money is most likely right. It would take an ambitious combination of wins and overtime losses leading to a minimum of 47 points in our last 35 games to get us to the magic 95 point mark. And that's not even a guaranteed ticket into the playoffs (last year it took 98 points).

Color the "smart money" fans skeptical and let's take a look at the next best thing to getting into the playoffs - making the right moves at the trade deadline and getting the right kind of assets. First of all what assets do we have that might be up for sale?  Of course we have the pending UFAs (listed roughly in order of perceived value):

Eric Staal
Kris Versteeg
John-Michael Liles
Cam Ward
Riley Nash
Brad Malone
Chris Terry
Nathan Gerbe

Next we have a couple of guys on affordable contracts that might fill in nicely for a team pushing all their chips in:

Ron Hainsey
Jay McClement

Finally we've got some youngsters who are showing some promise, but for whatever reason, might not be in the team's long term plans:

Ryan Murphy
Trevor Carrick

Sure there are other players and prospects that have been discussed: what to do about Jeff Skinner; what's the deal with Elias Lindholm (less of an issue with the recent uptick in scoring); do Danny Biega or Keegan Lowe have any type of future with the team? For the purposes of this article, let's assume those guys are staying put, or at least won't be in play this Winter.

If you truly analyze the list above AND consider that the Hurricanes might be in the playoff hunt, it is likely that only two or three players surface as near sure-fire trade assets come deadline time. If this team is on the bubble, do you really want to mess with the team chemistry? Or is the allure of the "bright shiny object" syndrome associated with draft picks and prospects just too much to pass up? The Canes do, after all, have 10 draft picks in the Top 100 of the next two drafts? While you can never have enough quality prospects in the pipeline, this team is rapidly approaching the point where they need NHL-ready players more than futures.

Here are some ideas on whether or not they get moved, thoughts on value and some, albeit undereducated, potential returns/destinations.

The Big Three

Eric Staal

The big Kahuna of of the TDL sweepstakes for the Canes, he's likely to return a 1st round pick and a very good prospect or maybe a 2nd rounder, a good prospect, and a young player needing a change of scenery. In this scenario, the Hurricanes might package a prospect or pick with Staal to increase the return. They may also (or perhaps are likely to) retain some salary or take salary back to enhance the return.

Montreal: Often surfacing as one of the prime locations for Eric should he get moved, they've been in need of a big-bodied centerman for some time now. The fit does make sense (assuming Eric would waive to go there). The return is a bit more complex. GMRF likely asks for their 2016 1st plus one of Nikita Scherbak or more likely Michael McCarron. To make the deal work the Canes would have to retain 50% of Staal's salary, but that's not really an issue. Or they could also take a contract back, with Eller or Desharnais as the most discussed options, but even 4th liner Brian Flynn would make the dollars work. The Habs likely counter with Jacob De La Rose in place of Scherbak/McCarron. Given JDLR's seeming regression, Francis probably would want more in return. A compromise could be the Habs 2016 1st, one of their 2016 2nds (or maybe their 3rd), and JDLR. It comes down to how desperate the Habs are and whether they feel this is their year.

Minnesota - Another team mentioned as a trade destination is the Wild. They could use Staal's size and his playoff experience (even though it is limited). He'd likely slot in as a 2nd line LW or perhaps replace Granlund as the top line center (or maybe they move Koivu up and Eric takes on 2nd line center duties). Regardless his size and scoring would be a big bonus for a playoff bound Minnesota team. Even though they are firmly ensconced in the #7 position, 7 points ahead of the nearest foe, they don't appear to be constructed for a long run. They need something extra to compete against the LAs and the Chicagos. The Wild are an interesting trading partner as they have both players and prospects that should be of interest to the Canes. For something a little longer term and with a bit more risk, Francis might want a deal that includes the Wild's 2016 1st and Alex Tuch. He'd need some sort of protection or assurances that Boston College's Tuch would sign an ELC with the Canes. Maybe substituting Joel Eriksson-Ek for Tuch might work too. For an immediate return, a better move would be to pry Nino Niederreiter away, even if it was just a one for one trade. He's big, a solid skater, and at 23 years old he could play either RW or LW for a long time to come. Lastly, if there was a deal to be had for Charlie Coyle, he'd be a prime target. However, the Wild probably look at him as a future mainstay somewhere in the middle, likely in their Top 6.

St. Louis -  More of a longer shot, but still an interesting choice and a good fit. Eric Staal would most likely slot in at LW on the Blues. The trade that surfaces here would be Eric for the Blues' 1st in 2016 and Ty Rattie. While it doesn't sound like a sexy return, Rattie is very solid, plays RW, and is learning how to be a professional. Add to this the fact that Staal is likely a pure rental for St. Louis and the return looks solid. This may not be Ronnie's first choice, but a trade like this wouldn't be his worst choice either.

Other Potential Destinations:

Nashville - Even after acquiring RyJo, they may still be looking for more (think Recchi and Weight in 2006). They don't look particularly good even following "the trade". With Colin Wilson out Staal might still be a valuable fit. They still have a 1st and prospects like Kamenev, Trenin, and, of course, Fiala.

Arizona - Surprise, the Coyotes have a pretty serious hold on a playoff spot out West. Adding an Eric Staal not only gives them a serious, additional horse in the race, it tells the market that the team is serious as well. He'd likely slot in at 2C and the return Ronnie should hope for is their 2016 1st and one of Ryan MacInnis or Christian Fischer. This might feel like too much for an Arizona team if they are taking a longer view, but a fair deal if they think they've got a deep run in them this year.

Kris Versteeg

A vet with playoff experience, trending toward a solid mid-40 point season, and superior passing skills, what's not to like if you're a playoff bound team looking for that extra piece. Ideally, he fits in on somebody's 2nd line or more likely as a scoring boost to a very good third line. There are some teams that definitely could use just such a player.

Nashville - Versteeg should likely return a 2nd from a team like Nashville. Kris probably slots in on the 2nd line while Wilson is out or easily is an upgrade over Arvidsson on the 3rd line. If Nashville is interested in Eric Staal but can't get that deal done, then bringing in Versteeg would be a nice consolation prize for them.

San Jose - This is an aging roster that really doesn't have many more kicks at the can before a changing of the guard is going to need to take place. That said, they are a playoff bubble team, don't have a wealth of draft picks in 2016, and the prospects they have are a bit away from being NHL ready. It they make a move, they'd have to give up a young player, maybe a 2017 pick (which likely requires a 2nd rounder if that's the extent of the offer), and probably both. A realistic scenario that GMRF could pursue is something like a 2017 3rd and one of Chris Tierney or Joonas Donskoi (preferred). It just doesn't make any sense for them to give up their only Top 100 2016 pick.

Other Potential Destinations

Pittsburgh - He'd look pretty good slotting in on that 3rd line. Jim Rutherford likely has the green light to continue to try and improve that roster. They've got a couple of 2nd rounders too.

Boston - Depending on the status of Krejci and Pasternak, this deal also could make some sense. He'd easily slot in over Frank Vatrano on the 3rd line. Plus Boston has 10 picks in this upcoming draft.

John-Michael Liles

Don't let mid-term history fool you. At one point in his career, JML was a very desirable puck-moving defenseman. Always considered smart, for some reason he just lost his way. Over the course of the last twenty games or so last season and really all of this season, he has been a very solid, cagey veteran presence on the back end. He's he perfect #5/#6 that playoff bound teams want to have on their roster. Heck he can easily be a spark-plug for a 2nd PP unit searching for help.

Pittsburgh - We all know JR's penchant for PMDs in general and his man crush on Liles in particular. He'd easily return a 3rd rounder and possibly even more, given his recent play. Frankly he could replace either Dumoulin or Cole (although the former is trending in the right direction). He's certainly an upgrade over Warsofsky and now that he's hurt, there may be even more interest.

Washington - With both Orpick and Carlson coming off of injuries, this might be a solid back up plan for the Caps. He's definitely an upgrade over Chorney and, if he can play his off side well, Aaron Ness. With no 3rd rounder this year, maybe you try to get the 4th and a Chandler Stephenson or Riley Barber. Or perhaps you work a one-to-one deal for Tim McGauley (maybe with a late round pick).

Other Potential Destinations

Dallas - Liles would fit in particularly well with the fast-paced, high scoring Stars. His head's up play would be particularly suited for their style. He'd slot in on  their third pairing pretty nicely with a 3rd rounder coming back to Carolina.

San Jose - JML would be a good #6/#7 perhaps playing his off side in place of DeMelo. He would bring experience and steadiness to a team that is currently in the playoffs, but in that wide open Pacific division, it's anybody's guess. The Sharks have a 4th but no 3rd round pick. You might be able to get one of their 3 7th rounders as a throw in.

Two Other Players in Question

What to do with Cam Ward?

Since the beginning of December he's been playing much better, actually posting a GAA and SV% that is reasonable (GAA 2.15, SV% .913). His record in that same time period is 7-4-2. In five of those games he only gave up 1 goal. He also played well against the Caps merely giving up 2 markers. While that is all well and good, what does that mean in the eyes of potential suitors?

In the end the need has to be pretty great for a team to make a run at a goalie at deadline time. There are a couple of obvious candidates. Arizona is definitely a team likely to be in the market. If Jake Allen isn't back in form, then St. Louis might also look for a reliable back up. Of course, there's the Carey Price saga in Montreal. Even when he comes back will he be able to handle the workload down the stretch.

In the end, what does Cam Ward get you? Maybe a 4th round pick? A B- prospect? Or with his somewhat improved play would it even make sense to sign him to a short, reasonably priced extension? If he and Eddie share duties for the next couple of years, that would give time for Altshuller and Nedeljkovic to continue their development.

What to do with Ryan Murphy?

Let's just get this out of the way....this writer is not a big Ryan Murphy fan. When he first came on the scene there were so many things to want to like - the skating, the shot, the fearlessness (he of the hip check). But the coleslaw he's got between his ears, makes his play a sloppy mess. Hopefully, we can blind somebody with his AHL statistics and memories as a mid-1st round draft pick. Let's face it, the kid is no hockey Mensa.

So that leads to a subjective opinion to "get what you can for him and run". And no, there won't be a bit of regret if he turns into a serviceable player later in his career, even a star. The Hurricanes/Checkers have a cupboard full of outstanding defensive prospects. How do the Canes rid themselves of Ryan and get something reasonable in return?

At first blush some would try and figure out a deal with Tampa Bay to get Jonathan Drouin. But that ain't happenin' folks! The other trade-requesting, disgruntled youngster is the pretty interesting Kerby Rychel with Columbus. He's essentially Ryan Murphy but he's bigger and plays forward. No, he's not the brightest bulb in the fixture, but he seemingly plays hard and has some skills. Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets don't exactly need another defender. Their pipeline is a little light, but they've got some kids here now who are ready to play (Murray and, of course, Jones). They've got some other folks locked up on longer term deals. There might even be something with St. Louis involving Ty Rattie, but the Canes would likely have to add given Rattie's improving play.

Perhaps somebody like Winnipeg who looks to potentially be filling a couple of blueline slots in the near term might be interesting. There might be a deal to be done around Scott Kosmachuk or Chase de Leo....not big names mind you but probably the type of prospect we could get on an even up trade for Murphy.

Why not do something with both at the same time?

Which brings us to a unique solution that might solve problems for both trading partners. Let's go back to Arizona. The team is in the midst of the playoff picture well before many thought they would be. They have goaltender issues with Mike Smith out (and by all accounts he wasn't playing that well). There's also not a lot of potential coming in the way of blueline help. Add to this, the fact that the ownership most likely wants to quell any additional uproar caused by the politics of the arena management fiasco. A nice playoff run would really change the narrative out in the desert.

The Coyotes have a boatload of really good forward prospects. Seriously there are 5 or 6 really good kids that won't be seeing time on the big club any time soon. Forget about Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak. What the Canes have to offer is a stop gap goaltender for this year's run and an underachieving blueliner with serious upside. Maybe they can add a pick to the mix. That's exactly what this proposal is suggesting, something around Cam Ward, Ryan Murphy, and Carolina's 4th round pick for the previously mentioned Ryan MacInnis and Arizona's 2nd round pick this year. Switch MacInnis out for Henrik Samuelsson and Carolina adds a 5th instead of the 4th. Either of those deals might be doable and the return would be more than adequate.

What actually will happen?

Some of these proposals are optimistic, some are more harshly realistic. That reality is that they are best guesses with a dash of hopefulness for when the playoff quest runs its course. In truth, there's little doubt that some moves will get made. Other players that represent opportunity are just that, opportunity.  Players like Hainsey, McClement, and Carrick still have enough to give (or potentially give) the organization that they aren't going anywhere. Nash, Terry, Gerbe, and Malone just don't have any real value, except maybe as minor throw ins on other larger deals. Even though most teams face salary cap issues, nobody wants to lose valuable assets for ethereal runs that might not pan out.

Where does that leave us? These last few days of January promise to be "decision time". Francis and Rick Curran are most assuredly getting down to proverbial "brass tacks". If things don't go the Hurricanes' way on the ice, Ronnie will be forced to get something for Eric Staal. What will that be?  Most won't like this prediction, but he likely squeezes 3 or 4 more years out of the Captain at what will be a reasonable price.  The same probably happens with Cam Ward although not at a contract price the one-time Conn Smythe winner is going to brag about.

As the door closes on playoff hopes both Liles and Versteeg get moved, most likely for picks. A fair return would be a 2nd for Versteeg and a 3rd for Liles. Finally, Ryan Murphy probably gets moved as well. He may be part of a larger deal, but waiting for the draft actually puts the Canes in a bit of a worse bargaining position as it will be well known that at least two more well regarded defensive prospects will be heading into the professional part of the system. The return likely continues to diminish.

In the end, a couple more Top 100 draft picks and a prospect or two will be a nice return, helping to keep this team on track to repeatable post-season success. That's what the front office wants and it's what this fanbase desperately needs.