When Ron Francis looks at his options this summer he has 3 big areas of focus and 2 significant dates to take action. Francis knows he has to add a "new to the franchise" player or three (or at least one would hope he knows this). As of today, he has 6 forward slots, 1 defender slot, and 1 goalie slot to fill, assuming a 22 man roster. To fill them he can draft a new prospect, sign players during free agency, trade for players, or promote prospects from Charlotte. The last of these options really falls on the shoulders of Bill Peters as he will be the one telling Ronnie which of the youngsters can and should fill a role on the big club. So The Ronald's focus is on the draft, trades, and free agency. That means June 24 and 25 have the potential to be unusually busy along with that 1st day of free agency, July 1.
The NHL Draft is one of the more likely times for significant trade activity. Indeed, Eddie Lack and James Wisniewski were both draft day trade acquisitions. Forget for the moment that draft picks can sometimes drive the make up of a team's line up. Draft picks are the currency of the realm and when making acquisitions, they often move as much as players do. While rarely more than 2 or 3 draftees make an NHL roster in their draft year, teams often get a read on their futures and plan accordingly. Add to this the fact that the Canes won't be the only team looking to make additions and you have a situation ripe for significant player movement.
Similarly, when the "silly season" of free agency rolls around teams construct and deconstruct rosters, often driving additional moves beyond a simple UFA acquisition. Payroll gets cleared in anticipation of adding a new guy. Yet the significance of July 1 might not be as great to Carolina as we are unlikely to be a player for those first day, big name players. Guys like Stamkos, Eriksson. Lucic, Ladd, Boedker, and even Okposo are long shots (yet I think we'll make some realistic offers). To guys like Teddy Purcell, Troy Brouwer, David Perron, and Frans Nielsen, the Hurricanes probably aren't thought of as a prime destination either. While we likely have a better shot at this latter group, don't get your hopes too high. Still, the Carolina Hurricanes have the other valuable currency in the hockey realm - cap space. A bit of an overpayment isn't going to matter as much to this team as it might others. In the end, July 1 is another important date, but primarily because it launches a time frame to act...but it doesn't require it.
Priorities - What Needs Do We Fill
As previously stated the Canes need 6 forwards, 1 defender, and a goalie. The defender, frankly is either going to be Ryan Murphy, Michal Jordan, perhaps one of Danny Biega, Dennis Robertson, or even Keegan Lowe (although Lowe probably is needed more in Charlotte than in the press box in Raleigh). There is a slim chance that the team brings in a veteran defender as the #7 defenseman, but that seems a waste unless they have to use that salary to reach the salary floor.
The goaltender situation is tricky. Despite the hew and cry to "move on" from Cam, few can hardly argue against his numbers from mid-December on. However, he did seem to give up on the season the last few games and that was disheartening. Ron Francis is probably looking at Cam as a back up plan if he cannot sign a better alternative. His challenge there is that there are a couple of youngsters in the pipeline that might be ready in 2 or more likely 3 years. That means the contract term on any acquired goaltender is of particular importance. Regardless, a goaltender must be signed and that goaltender has to be part of a duo that puts up better numbers than our tandem did last season.
So we need six forwards. Face it, a deal with Victor Rask is going to get done; it's just a matter of time. Personally, I would like to see him signed for 4 or 5 years at $4 million to $4.5 million per year. When that gets done, we have 5 forward slots to fill. While this sentiment might not be popular on Canes Country, my feeling is we will probably see Riley Nash back with the team next season. He came on nicely and he serves multiple roles. He's a very solid 4th liner and does a good job filling in when needed on a 3rd line. He's not dominant in the faceoff circle, but he wins enough to fill in, especially if it's on his right side. Nash is not a sniper but he does have offensive instincts and pots enough goals for a 4th line/3rd line tweener. An added and often overlooked plus, is that Nash is a pretty solid penalty killer. Plus he didn't do badly on the power play either. The team might also want to get some stability on the 4th line given that McClement is in the last year of his deal. Nash could easily slide over into that 4C role (assuming he get's back to 2014-15 FO%).
The 13th forward is just that...a spare part who needs to be prepared to fill in for injured players. This is a guy who can help in practice, a guy who is always ready to step in, and a guy who is good enough not to be a weakness. Even though I personally like Chris Terry and Nathan Gerbe, I don't believe that they are right for that job. With Nordstrom and Nash as my projected 4th line wings, if anybody else in the lineup gets hurt, one of those two guys gets the call to move up and the 13th forward fills in on the 4th line. Maybe it's a guy like Brendan "Skeeter" Woods or the slightly more skilled Brody Sutter. Or perhaps you snag an inexpensive free agent to fill that role. Regardless that role is fairly easily filled.
A young Finn is not quite a sure thing, however the smart money is on Sebastian Aho making the Canes roster and taking one of the three remaining forward slots next season. One proposed line up (which I prefer) has Sea Bass slotting in at right wing on the 3rd line (or 2c if you prefer), a line centered by Elias Lindholm. If he could bring 35 to 45 points to the table, his rookie season would be a success in my mind. Lindholm seemed much more comfortable in the middle and with Aho's newly discovered ability to win faceoffs, the Canes would have a dandy right/left combo. It goes without saying that young Sebastian's playmaking and scoring prowess would be a welcome development, especially next to Elias Lindholm.
If this is indeed the scenario that plays out, the Canes likely end up needing 2 forwards and a goalie. As stated above, perhaps the best way to acquire them (or at least some of them) is via trade.
The Trades (in rough order of preference)
The transactions are weighted heavily toward picks, but there are 3 or 4 prospects, painful as it may seem, that are also getting utilized. This is no reflection on the perceived worth of these guys to the franchise. Trades for good players tend to hurt a little for both teams. I remain just as high on these players as I did before the article. They merely represent the type of value necessary to acquire the Hurricanes' targets. Additionally in nearly all cases, if the value proposed wasn't acceptable to the trading partner, then I'm more inclined to walk away from the deal as opposed to adding more assets (different assets might be another story). Finally, as will be stated later, most of the RFA targets are arbitration eligible and some accommodation will need to be made to insure signability (contract in place?).
1. Nino Niederreiter + 2017 4th round pick for pick #21 + #73 + Warren Foegele
Nino fills one of the biggest holes for Carolina, a right wing scorer with upside. Once considered a near bust by the Islanders, a year in the AHL allowed him to find his game...then he promptly gets traded. He's big, skates well, and has a good shot. Then why in the world would Minnesota even consider doing a deal like this? Niederreiter is 1 year away from having arbitration rights as an RFA and, while his $2.67 million salary isn't a lot in the grand scheme of things, the Wild have lots of things to consider. They've got 7 players to sign this year and a shade over $10 million to do it. In that group are both Jason Zucker (who their very high on) and Matt Dumba. Even if they re-sign all their RFAs they likely have a couple of forward positions to fill (unless our friend Zac Dalpe continues to latch on). That's not a lot of dough for some middle six guys and filling out their blueline. Plus they've got a back up goalie to re-up.
Perhaps even more challenging is going to be next year when expansion comes. They've got 5 guys with no movement clauses plus 4 defenders they would probably like to protect. They're going to want to get something for guys instead of losing them for nothing. Add to that a team that hasn't performed that well when they've made it to the post-season despite spending aggressively and you've got a GM that is likely on the hot seat. With a new coach coming in, they are going to have to change some things up. Adam Proteau says as much here. As painful as it would be to give up the potential of Foegele for the Canes, he would be equally attractive as a very nice forward prospect exempt from expansion. While the Wild have a couple of nice future forwards in the system (Tuch, Eriksson Ek), they are not deep at all there.
So what's in it for the Canes? The give up a late-ish 1st rounder, and mid-3rd rounder (which I might be inclined to even upgrade to a 2nd round pick), and a very solid prospect on the rise. Some might consider this a bit of an overpayment, but I feel it gets us a much needed addition who will thrive in the Peters offensive scheme. Niederreiter is clearly a guy on the rise, scoring 20 or more goals the last two years. He can slot next to Staal and Nestrasil or next to Skinner and Rask. Or he might even find his place next to Aho and Lindholm. He represents the type of player the Hurricanes need to seriously compete for a playoff spot next year. The 2017 4th is a small bonus to lessen the sting a bit.
The one wildcard is that a new contract would have to be negotiated and in place for the risk to be worth it to the Canes. Also, because the Wild are really in more of a win now mode, that first round pick is likely packaged with another asset to get a player with equal or greater production. I could see them making a run at Mike Hoffman, especially with Boudreau coming in. What this means is that this type of trade likely goes down prior to the actual 1st day of the draft to allow for the many moving parts. In the end, it still may just not be enough to pry Nino loose.
2. Chris Kreider + pick #80 for picks #21, #74 + Brock McGinn
This is the trade, albeit modified a bit, that was proposed in an earlier "at the draft" article. Even though the Rangers appear to have enough cap room, with the number of RFAs that they have to sign, you have to consider the fact that those 4 guys are solid NHLers and arbitration eligible. They are going to get paid. What do the Rangers do if they want to keep Keith Yandle? Plus they will still have 2 or 3 other players that need to get added. Don't even talk about dabbling in the free agent market. The Rangers move their oldest RFA, get a coveted 1st round pick, and upgrade their 3rd round pick. Add to this a physical forward prospect with scoring upside, and the value feels fair. If they think they won't re-sign Yandle, then you could substitute Murphy or maybe even Carrick in lieu of McGinn.
The Canes do this because he fits either the 2a or 2b lines nicely. He's big, fast, and has a good set of hands. Armed with a pretty accurate shot, he'd instantly take the "sniper" role if slotted next to Staal. He becomes the big, net-crashing power forward if slotted on Rask's line. Either of those options should have the fans salivating. Even though he's 25, there's reason to believe that he can become a solid 50 point scorer which is just what this team needs from an addition to the (putative) top 6.
Finally, this is another situation where a new contract would have to be in place for this to make sense for the Hurricanes. Much like the deal above, it necessitates something happening at least a little before draft day.
Regardless both the Niederreiter and Kreider scenarios also assume that cap issues will impact the attractiveness of these deals to the Wild or the Rangers.
3. Alex Killorn for picks #43 + #73
It isn't really clear if this is a little of an overpayment or a little of an underpayment. If it is the Killorn of the last few regular seasons, the the value is fair or maybe a little over. If it is the Alex Killorn who has shown up in the last two post seasons, then it might be under value. Regardless, Killorn's game fits the Canes system, he has scoring capabilities especially as he slots in nicely next to Aho and Lindholm. That line becomes difficult to play against, and more importantly, difficult to match up against considering the offensive potential. In fact that would be my Hurricanes "all potential" line. Seriously, Alex Killorn can skate pretty well, has size, and has pretty good hands. He also isn't afraid of board battles and playing in the dirty areas. He easily complements a line that has a pair of guys who are both good distributors and good finishers.
Tampa is in one of those quandaries. To much of a good thing can be wonderful, but it can also pose problems. Even though they have almost $22 million to sign 7 guys, they've got 6 RFAs, 3 of whom are arbitration eligible (Killorn included). Guys like Kucherov and Namestnikov are certainly going to get paid. Paquette and Brown will get raises too. None of this accounts for the unlikely potential that the Bolts resign one Steven Stamkos. Then there's the next season where Johnson, Hedman, Palat, Drouin, and Boyle will all up for new contracts. There is a lot of thinking that concludes they will keep most of the core that has gotten them two wins away from the finals. Who are those guys that the Lightning feel aren't part of that core? Who knows? I'm hoping Killorn is one of them.
As with the other arbitration eligible RFAs it would be nice to have a deal with him done in advance, however I'd be much more willing to take a chance that GMRF could get something done this summer that would satisfy both parties. Killorn, while attractive and somewhat marketable, is not going to generate the interest that Kreider or Niederreiter would should they hit the open market.
4. Marcus Johansson + pick #116 for picks #21 + #66 (perhaps substitute #50 for #66 if needed; add a B asset if an extension is signed)
Marcus Johansson is the epitome of the underrated guy who can put up 40 to near 50 points a season. Playing a lot of right wing on the Capitals' 2nd line with Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky, it might also be fair to say he benefitted from his line mates. Slotting in next to Rask and Skinner would seem to be the logical fit, giving that line even more proven scoring. He also has the size and speed to help make space for his line.
Truth be told, there's really only one reason and a weak excuse as to why the Caps make this type of deal. Johansson was the subject of numerous trade rumors over the last few years, yet has consistently put in solid play and put up respectable point totals. They also have enough cap room to probably extend all of the RFAs that they want, even picking Chimera back up if desired. But there are two things at play here...this team was built to go deep, even to the finals, but they came up short again...against their nemesis, the Penguins. There may be a mind set that something has to change, maybe clear some room for a higher scoring free agent like Okposo or Eriksson. In addition to Johansson needing a new contract Dmitry Orlov and Tom Wilson are in the same boat. Then there's also the question of next year where Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Alzner, and Oshie would all need new deals. It might make sense to move one of these guys for assets now and not even have to think about expansion next year.
5. Ryan Strome for picks #21 and #103 (or the Islanders choice of one of the Hurricanes 2017 3rd round picks)
Strome played a lot of right wing this year and was, frankly, a bit below average. His highest and best use is probably as a centerman. He could slip into the center position on Aho and Lindy's line, bumping Elias to right wing. I'm not sure how I feel about that given that I think Lindholm, even in his very brief audition, showed much more comfort in the middle than on the outside. Regardless, this deal is all about potential, the potential that Strome is the 50 point guys from 2014-15, not 2015-16's 28 point guy.
Are the Islanders ready to give up on the blue chip Strome? He certainly seemed to be in Cappuano's dog house, even getting scratched during the playoffs. You've also got Barzal, Dal Colle, and Ho-Sang banging on the NHL door. It might be time to cut bait on Ryan Strome, even after only one questionable season (in the Islander's minds). Yet again, we have a situation brewing next year in Brooklyn, more to do with expansion that with contract issues. Simply put, the Islanders have got too many guys they'll want to protect and that group probably doesn't include Strome, unless he has a huge bounce-back year. The Islanders may have to be one of the more active teams this year, in terms of player movement, because of that situation. In the net alone, they've got 3 capable minders and can only cover one.
Regardless the Islanders have a strong hand, especially on the forward front. So they are coming into the draft with more than a few options. Trading Ryan Strome to the Hurricanes just might help both teams equally.
6. James Van Riemsdyk for picks #21 + #103 + Conditional 2018 2nd round pick (Condition: JVR re-signs with the Hurricanes prior to 2018 Draft); or with a 3 or 4 year extension pick #21 + #50 + Ryan Murphy
While the Maple Leafs might think this isn't enough for their primary power forward, it would be the best that the Canes should offer. A team that acquires JVR is only guaranteed 2 years on his current contract. It also isn't out of the realm of consideration to upgrade the 4th round pick to one of the Canes' 3rd rounders. Regardless, JVR is a true power forward who skates well and has all the skill you'd expect from a one-time #2 pick in the draft. He was well on his way to another 25+ goal, 60 point season, on a team that just wasn't very good and he was probably the focal point of most defenses. Despite the Toronto fans' habit of over-valuing their players, Van Riemsdyk is a possession monster who is also fairly defensively responsible. With a few more years on his current contract he'd be worth a 1st rounder, an NHL player, and a prospect. That said, he just seems like a guy who would work well in the Canes scheme.
As stated, the Leafs might just say, thanks, but no thanks. Even though they are coming off of the first year of a true rebuild, JVR helps them stay modestly competitive. Plus they have 30 picks over the next 3 drafts, so draft picks might not be what they truly desire (other than a 1st rounder). Still any front office guy (or wanna be, in my case) would tell you that picks don't always get picked. At the right time and for the right people they get moved; they are indeed very valuable currency. Plus, if an extension is worked out prior to the trade and the second scenario plays out, Ryan Murphy, in all likelihood, steps in to their starting 6 on defense. They are very thin on the right side and to a lesser extent, thin on defensive prospects in general.
Finally it would not be surprising at all to see the Leafs accelerate their rebuild by dipping in slightly to the trade and UFA market. If that's the case then JVR is probably not available. But if it isn't the case, by the time Toronto gets to where the Canes appear to be, there's a good chance that Van Riemsdyk is north of 30 years old. The Canes, from all appearences, look to be a few key cogs away from the playoff wheel. James Van Riemsdyk might just be one of those missing pieces.
7. Matt Duchene for pick #13 + Ryan Murphy + Lucas Wallmark (or pick #43)
This is a scary and dangerous trade proposition. Matt Duchene is a true #1 center and is rumored to be on the outs with his coach, Patrick Roy. That, in and of itself, should be reason for concern. But then again Roy is a known hot-head and sometimes thinks more with his heart than his head. However, Duchene is signed for 3 more years counting this upcoming season. Does it make sense to give up this many assets gambling that enough success happens that Matt Duchene wants to make a continued go of it in Raleigh? That means that you are putting even more trust in the Francis/Peters brain trust. It's all moot if Duchene proves to not be available.
Assuming you believe that the front office has things under control and Raleigh belies its reputation as a place not many players WANT to come to, then you have to assume that the Canes can also get a Duchene renewal. That being the case AND Duchene continues his production as a guy who averages in the mid 20s for goals, mid 60s for points, then the value is there. I'd personally hate to give up Wallmark as I think he's got something special in his future, but you've got to pay to get. And get you would, as previously stated, Duchene is a true #1 centerman who really only needs to work on his possession numbers. He's the guy that might cause the Rask/Skinner pairing to be broken up, assuming the team can get a power forward to line up next to them (or maybe Lindholm can be the RW on that line).
Regardless, this type of transaction is a long shot and The Ronald has to believe that the team is truly only a piece or two away from being very competitive. Ultimately that is the question. A guy like Duchene, at 25, is still young and in the prime of his career. Can you capture that potential and direct it to success?
8. Thomas Greiss for pick #133 and a conditional 2017 3rd round pick (Condition: Greiss plays 25 or more games)
Frankly, this is the back up plan to not getting a goalie in free agency. It doesn't cost much and recently, Greiss has been even more serviceable than Lack. He's signed for 1 more year at $1.5 million and if his play meets the conditions for the 2017 3rd rounder, then he likely gets resigned for a couple of years to bridge to Nedeljkovic/Altshuller. If Griess is playing as he did this year and in this year's playoffs, it would be more than worth those picks. Lack then becomes a solid asset as either a longer term backup or as a trade chip going forward. In essence Greiss is a cheap bridge until our own home-grown option arrives.
The Islanders do this because they have 3.5 serviceable goalies right now. It is speculated that J.F. Berube is the tender of the future once Halak's current contract is up at the end of 2018. Given that a team can only protect 1 goalie at the expansion draft, Halak's days in Brooklyn may be numbered regardless. At 30 years old, who knows how many more years Greiss has in him. What might be adequate for Carolina is unlikely enough for New York. The condition on games played is just about perfect; easily reachable given the uncertain nature of the Hurricanes' goaltending and more than enough games to make Carolina feel good about giving up the 2017 3rd.
Goaltending is in flux in Carolina but scoring is just simply more important right now. Spending too many assets on a netminder today when help is clearly on the horizon, feels wasteful...unless that netminder is named Ben Bishop or James Reimer (or maybe Andersen, see below). Otherwise it makes more sense to wait for our own home-grown product to be our savior.
9. Frederik Andersen for pick #43 and a conditional 2017 2nd round pick (Condition: Andersen plays in a minimum of 40 games in 2016-17 season)
This is a deal I would hold my nose over but still would likely make it, if and only if, a 3 or 4 year contract is in place concurrent to the transaction. In the end, I can't blame Freddie Andersen's decision to reenter the draft; he was both listening to his agent AND seeing his way blocked in Carolina for the foreseeable future by Cam Ward. Still it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. However, if he signs an affordable deal (maybe 3 years for $12 million or 4 years for $15 million) he'd serve both as a bridge to the youth movement while adding stability in the net. Make no mistake, the Andersen that we saw in the playoffis is who he has the capability of being....but it's not what he has been consistently in the past.
Frederik Andersen has had streaks of near brilliant goaltending, but for the most part he's merely been a little better than league average. If he can consistently be the 2013-14 version then he's more than worth the assets given for him. But if he is the pedestrian 2014-15 version, then he's not a lot better than what we've got now. Anaheim knows they've got a decision to make as they will certainly lose him to expansion, not to mention the significant raise he'll command should he go to salary arbitration (which he's eligible for). However, if the Canes can get this type of deal, this fills a significant hole and goes a long way toward pushing the team toward consistent post-season appearances.
10. Nail Yakupov for Ryan Murphy
Some Edmonton fans would clamor for "an add" on Carolina's part. Some Carolina fans would cry out for an Edmonton "add". Let's face it, both of these guys have not lived up to their heralded potential and neither organization should be expected to offer anything as a "sweetener" to this type of deal. This is the type of hockey trade that gives both players a fresh start. Yakupov, while not necessarily ruined by Edmonton's ineptitude with his development, is a significant risk for any acquiring team. Murphy is much the same, no matter that he fills a needed right-handed defenseman role for the Oilers. If Yak can be paired with a couple of more responsible defensive players and the coaching staff can impart some of the same magic that seems to have been sprinkled on Skinner, then this deal could pay off handsomely. The same can similarly be said for Murphy, who has been leap-frogged by other, fast-rising defenders in Carolina. If given the latitude to make a few teachable mistakes while given more ice time, Ryan Murphy could also yield a tremendous return for Edmonton.
Fresh starts don't always work, but failing other opportunities and options, this deal just makes too much sense. Even with my personal bias against Nail Yakupov (I'm not sure that he isn't a lost cause, especially in his own zone), this is a chance that easily should be taken. The Canes will likely lose Murphy to expansion if he's still here (or the waiver wire). Yakupov could probably be protected by the Oilers. If he came to Carolina and discovered just a little of his potential then he would just as easily be protected should expansion happen.
Wild Card - Jimmy Howard and Tomas Tatar for pick #74 + a conditional 2017 2nd round pick (Condition: Tatar resigns a multi-year contract prior to the 2017 draft)
There have been various trade proposals and rumors out there where Jimmy Howard could be had, usually paired with a minor asset, for a 4th or 5th round pick. The idea is that you're getting a serviceable goalie and if you're a team that needs to add salary to get to the floor, he's an option. Jimmy would be an expensive option as a back up, but if he could recapture his play from 2012-13, he'd be a solid part of a 1a/1b tandem. Tatar is a 20+ goal scorer who is still young and very likely will continue to improve. With the rise of Larkin and a couple of guys like Frk and Bertuzzi showing well in the AHL, he might be somebody the Red Wings consider moving. Add to this the fact that they are rumored to be aggressively interested in getting in on the Stamkos sweepstakes, perhaps Tatar becomes a chip in this game. Realistically, that is probably the only reason they would consider something like this. They will have to shed big salaries like Howard's to play and Tatar might just be to cost of doing so.
Do the Hurricanes take a chance on a goalie option that might not be any better than Cam Ward? It's a gamble for sure. Then again, if a talent like Tatar is the reward to the Canes for taking that risk, perhaps it is worth it, given the skill he brings to the table. Even though Detroit has to rebuild a significant piece of their blueline, is Tatar a price they are willing to pay? Probably not, but if they are then this is one of those gambles that pays off in spades.
The Bottom Line
As exciting as it would be to get a guy like Niederreiter or even Kreider, those just seem like long shots. Johansson, Strome, and especially JVR probably fall into the category of pipe dreams. It would not be surprising to see the Canes go hard after Alex Killorn, make a serious play for Ladd, Eriksson, or Boedker (but I just have feeling that we fall short on those guys), and do something in the net. Adding a couple of solid "B" level scorers and putting a confidence builder in goal would be a realistic set up for the season. If the season takes off, there's always the possibility to make another move or two to keep the momentum going. Realistically, however, this team is probably fighting to make the playoffs this season and targeting the next season for a more serious run.
Let's face it, many of these trade proposals are "frugal" to say the least. Under the best of circumstances, the trading partner would have to be extra motivated by other factors (or see things as I do) to seriously consider a number of these offers. At any rate, the Hurricanes will have to do something to reach that salary floor. They will also have to potentially acquire players anticipating leaving them exposed to the expansion draft (because of the 25% of payroll proposal). Still, most of the proposals are basically fair and one never knows what can happen at the draft. For the Carolina Hurricanes, 7 years of missed playoffs dictates more dramatic action. The team needs it and the fans deserve it.