What would happen if this now intricately built Carolina Hurricanes team was subjected to a blockbuster trade that ripped out a couple of key pieces? What if those pieces were replaced with slightly older but more proven pieces? And what if one of the two main holes identified by fans and pundits alike is filled?
It's no secret that the Canes need reliable scoring help. They need a worthy goaltender and they need a #1 center. What would you, as a fan, be willing to give up for two out of the three of those pieces? Let's face it. There are not a lot of available stud goalies out there. There are even fewer top line centermen. Over the summer it became increasingly apparent that the cost of acquiring a "sure thing" netminder was just too high. But what if the team could actually snag a real, live #1 pivot? What if a proven top line scorer could also be added?
The big question is, what would something like that cost? This is no "two dimes and a nickel for a quarter" type of deal. No, this would need to be close to a true hockey trade. It would be a deal where the Hurricanes probably gave up more in terms of quantity of assets, plus they may have to pay a premium to boot. Any team that would give up a scoring forward would have to get some scoring back....or at least a way to replace that scoring in relatively short order. So to make a deal like this the Carolina Hurricanes would have to painfully shed some good assets to hopefully get back some more appropriate ones.
There are very few places for Carolina to go to get back what they want. Also, they have limited assets to give up when considering a trade for what they lack. The team that keeps cropping up in these discussions is Edmonton, but the Oilers, of course, want a tried and true right handed defenseman, preferably a top pairing guy. Many of the discussions seen around these parts have to do with either Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Leon Draisaitl coming back as part of any package. That RHD up for discussion? Well they want Justin Faulk, but if you ask the Oil fanbase, there's no consensus on value going either way.
Other teams that could be in the mix would include the Buffalo Sabres, but it is doubtful that they can provide an acceptable option at center nor would they be willing to part with a good enough scorer to meet the Hurricanes' needs. Don't get me started about Evander Kane; there's just too much wrong with that option to go down that road. Maybe Calgary could be an option as they've got some nice forward talent in their system while icing young talent on the NHL roster too. Carolina most assuredly would be interested in Sean Monahan (ironic, isn't it) or perhaps a developing Sam Bennett. Therein lies the problem, the Flames most assuredly see Monahan as their franchise #1 center and Bennett is still too untested to be depended upon for the level of scoring the Canes are looking to grab.
Could the club work a deal with Tampa Bay for Kucherov? While that would be attractive with his sure-fire scoring prowess, it almost certainly would cost somebody like Jeff Skinner which then begs the question, how much scoring did you really add. Is there a deal with Florida around Nick Bjugstad? Or does that really solve either of Carolina's problems - scoring and #1 pivot? How about Ottawa? Is Kyle Turris an option? Or, again, does that solve the problem at hand?
Frankly, the team that seems to fit the best is the Colorado Avalanche. They have a true, first line centerman, Matt Duchene, rumored to be on the outs with the coach. Additionally, there were other rumors that had their captain, Gabriel Landeskog, available for the right price. What would that right price be? Nobody can really say but it would definitely be a lot, so much as to be painful for both long time and newer Hurricanes fans. One combination might look something like this:
2018 1st Round Pick
2017 2nd Round Pick
Why does Colorado do this deal?
Scoring wise, the Avalanche are getting the short end of the stick. They lose two of their 3 most experienced scoring threats even if those two are still pretty young. However, they'd be saving around $3 million in cap space. They would also get a talented scoring forward back in Jeff Skinner, a guy who essentially would replace Landeskog's production (with maybe even a little more upside). The Avs get a wildcard in Elias Lindholm, the one time #5 pick overall, who very well may have a breakout year and is a cost controlled asset for at least 3 more seasons. Plus they get a very good, albeit, "a little rough around the edges" prospect in Nic Roy. The picks are what they are....high draft picks.
Face it, even with Duchene and Landeskog, Colorado isn't really much of a threat. They very well might not make the playoffs with the roster they have. If they do happen to squeak in, they are not a team built for a deep playoff run. While Jerome Iginla can still put the puck in the back of the net, he began to really show his age the second half of last season. Joe Colbourne isn't an earth-shattering off-season add and is likely more of a 25-30 point guy than the 44 point guy he was last year. The 4 horsemen of their forward lines really were McKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog, and Soderberg. While the trade essentially leaves them without a true #1 center, they've got 3 very nice prospects waiting in the system: J.T. Compher, Mikko Rantanen, and A.J. Greer. One or more of those guys likely makes the team even without a trade (Rantanen almost assuredly).
In some senses there's a bit of a parallel between the Canes and the Avs. Colorado has made the playoffs 1 time since 2010. They had some teams that looked better on paper than they actually performed. The defense hasn't been a huge strong suit, although this upcoming season that group should be significantly better. Colorado feels like a team that simply should be much more competitive. Perhaps a shake up is just what the squad needs. As previously mentioned there is at least one prospect, Rantanen, ready and probably able to step into the NHL this coming season. He'll need top 6 minutes to excel.
With Skinner and especially Lindholm, the Avalanche would immediately see their possession game upgraded as both of those players have higher possession numbers than anybody on last season's Colorado squad. Often overlooked, Jeff Skinner is very charismatic and would likely become something of a crowd favorite, especially as his game continues to mature. Put him in the more wide open offensive scheme played in Denver and he should be a 60+ point player regularly. Given that Lindholm's game is due for a break out, he very easily could evolve into a number one centerman who simply replaces the exiting Matt Duchene. While there is risk there, the extra assets should more than make up for accepting that challenge.
Why Colorado won't do this deal.
The simple answer is you're trading away 2/3 of your young offensive core in the hopes that change yields better results. Frankly, a lot of Colorado's issues stemmed from defensive woes. They had the 8th worst Goals Against numbers and the 3rd worst Shots Against numbers. They were a terrible possession team with no player posting a CF% above 47.2. Is changing up the front end really where adjustments need to be made? Does doing this deal merely postpone success?
The front office recognized challenges on the blueline and made some nice upgrades on defense. They traded for Eric Gelinas late last year. Adding Fedor Tyutin in what is likely a bottom pairing role won't hurt them. Getting Barrie under contract for 4 more years provides a solid offensive defenseman for the foreseeable future. Wiercioch, Bigras, and Zadorav round out a talented group that has significant upside. With an upgraded defense, that group should be much more solid, which means that icing what essentially amounts to last year's offense might be good enough to get into the post-season.
What about the #1 centerman's role? Colorado probably thinks they have that critical position filled. McKinnon probably is better suited at wing or, at the least, a lower line center role where his lesser defensive skills aren't exposed quite as much (not that he's terrible, but in comparison to Duchene...). Unless T. J. Compher can step into that role after his terrific year at Michigan, the team would be depending on an erratic Elias Lindholm to make that jump. Keep in mind that Lindholm couldn't even win that position on an offensively challenged Carolina squad.
Finally, if you're the Avalanche, are you getting enough to do the deal? Skinner and Lindholm are nice assets but alone, they clearly won't bring back Landeskog and Duchene. The picks help even things out a bit and Nicolas Roy is a very nice prospect. Yet, in the end, is it enough? Maybe Colorado would be more interested in adding a Haydn Fleury or Jake Bean to the deal in lieu of Roy. Would the 2nd rounder have to be more like another 1st rounder? Most certainly the Avs ask after Aho or Gauthier or perhaps even Teravainen. Carolina is likely not to entertain any of those requests and that might just kill any deal.
Why does Carolina do this deal?
There are three or four clear reasons why the Hurricanes would make this type of trade. This is a team that hasn't made the playoffs in 7 years. The local natives are restless. The natives up in Quebec City are especially restless. The owner is trying to sell a team with a futility streak weighing down any discussions and depressing franchise value. Even though Ron Francis and Bill Peters have a logical plan that appears to be getting executed well, one could argue that making the playoffs this season is more than critical, it is a necessity. The team as currently constructed is a long shot at best to be a playoff contender. The scoring upgrade that Duchene and Landeskog bring would be significant, fill a big hole, and likely push the team to that next level.
Add to this the fact that Matt Duchene is a true # 1 center. That is a critical role for any playoff bound team and is a necessity for any team that hopes to compete for a Cup. He brings both offensive prowess and defensive responsibility to the table. He has 5 seasons of 20 or more goals under his belt and one 30 goal season. At 25, he's in the midst of his early prime and he's got 3 more seasons at an affordable $6 million per season. Couple this with Gabriel Landeskog's 4 seasons of both 50+ points and twenty goals and you're adding a 1-2 scoring punch necessary for the team to compete at a post-season level. At 23 Landeskog is also very young and affordable with 5 more years of a $5.571 million annual cap hit. A proven #1 pivot and a proven LW scoring threat are easily worth the odd $3 million in added salary.
As a structural consideration, a move like this puts Jordan Staal and his line in a likely 2nd line capacity. Victor Rask would most certainly then center one of the better 3rd lines in the league, probably a high scoring one at that. The match ups become that much more favorable allowing the youthful and creative Finns to ply their wares against lesser competition (at least to start). It also takes a bit of the expected scoring pressure off of them (although one of Aho or Teravainen could line up next to Landeskog and Duchene on the 1st line).
Finally moves like this prove that Carolina is for real, a real destination for winners. Sure, maybe it is a year too early given the youth of the secondary scoring options on this team, not to mention the questionable goal tending. However, it sends up a flare announcing this team is competing and competing right now. It announces that this team isn't merely satisfied with getting into the playoffs, but rather pushing hard to win it all. It might even portend other moves that would upgrade the team. Moves like this can make the idea of playing in Carolina more attractive to free agents too.
Why Carolina won't do this deal.
Peter Karmanos might not want to or be able to spend the extra $3 million in salary. Looking at it from his perspective he's preparing to ice a team that looks to be exciting, young, probably pretty good, yet comes in at the lowest salary cap hit in the league. He could very well be rolling the dice on the team playing pretty well, sliding into the playoffs, and maybe even showing a profit for that elusive potential buyer. One has to imagine it would be right up Karmanos' alley to ice the cheapest team in the league while still making the playoffs.
There's also a lot to be said about sticking to the plan....draft well, acquire young, undervalued assets, and develop them within the system (thereby keeping them cost controlled longer). Homegrown talent is the key to long-term success. It is smart financially and it is smart from a team-building perspective. The proposal essentially gives up 3 first round draft picks, a 2nd round pick, and an high achieving prospect....and while that still might not be enough, it blows a huge hole in the long term plan. Sure, the Canes are getting 2 star players back, both one-time 1st rounders themselves, but, in aggregate, they are more expensive and both are UFAs at the end of their respective contracts. Even though it may be just as likely that Skinner and Lindholm walk once they get to free agency, there is usually a bit of draft loyalty that can come into play in future contract negotiations.
Finally, the opportunity costs could be huge as well. Every Caniac has seen what Jeff Skinner is capable of doing on the ice. He matured significantly last season and could very well be on the cusp of his best season ever. Elias Lindholm has a similar narrative. He is the epitome of a player "poised for a breakout season". Nicolas Roy was a sure fire 1st round pick early in his development only to fall to the Canes in his draft year. Last season in the "Q", he seemed to live up to his billing while exponentially improving his skating. Of course, the fanbase recalls what it is like not to have a 1st round pick when opportunity in the draft comes knocking.
Will a deal like this get done? Who knows. However, it is likely that Colorado would want a little more on their side of the ledger. Haydn Fleury or Jake Bean would be logical asks. That puts Carolina is a difficult situation as they most certainly have shied away from offering blueline assets (and probably rightly so at this point in time) for forward scoring help. The Avs might want another 1st round pick instead of the proposed 2nd rounder. In the end, the deal is something like Jeff Skinner, Nic Roy, and a 2nd round pick for Matt Duchene and Elias Lindholm and a 1st round pick for Gabriel Landeskog. That just might not be enough.
Personally, I'd easily put Jake Bean in the deal in place of either Roy or the 2nd rounder, but I'm still not sure that gets it done. But it is sure nice to dream.....