An occasional series wherein we look at possible trade targets for the Carolina Hurricanes
In the course of a year, the Carolina Hurricanes have gone from an offensively inept team to a young club full of potential to put the puck in the net.
Carolina’s 2.51 goals per game ranks 19th in the league, a marginal improvement from their 2.39 goals per game over an 82-game stretch last season.
Despite this, there is still a hole to be filled in their top-six.
Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Lee Stempniak have combined to form Carolina’s most lethal scoring line over the past couple of weeks, but we have also seen a formerly dominant line of Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, and Derek Ryan wither with the trio combining for just two points over the last seven games.
There’s a potential solution, but it isn’t an easy one. I present to you, Matt Duchene.
Duchene’s time in Colorado could very well be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman said the following about Duchene’s availability in his 30 Thoughts column this week:
The price on Matt Duchene in particular would be pretty high. He’s a centre, he scores and he’s signed to a very reasonable contract. If you’re willing to discuss legit young defencemen or defensive prospects, you’re in the conversation. But teams have been told the price is steep.
In the Avalanche days of old, there would have been more panic and less thinking involving a trade. This is an organization that has been known for their inclination to make hasty moves and not think through all options.
This appears to be a very different situation now for Colorado. They realize that they have all the power in negotiations and that the player at stake is one of very high value.
The price tag seems to be highly touted young defensemen. If there’s any team that has that, it’s Carolina. Ron Francis’ plan of stocking up on young defensemen has been controversial at times, but every team in this league is looking to get better on the blue line and guess whose door they’ll be knocking on to fill those needs.
In terms of production, Matt Duchene is a premier player. He produces goals and primary assists at an elite pace, very similar to how Jeff Skinner did a season ago.
They are very similar players, but over the span of their careers, both of which are still very young, Duchene has excelled more passing the puck and Skinner has been the more prolific goal scorer.
Colorado’s 2009 third overall draft pick has established himself as an elite level talent in the NHL since finishing third in Calder voting in 2009-10. Since then, he’s compiled 401 points in 528 games, including one 30-goal season, which came a season ago, and two 40-plus assist seasons. He’s eclipsed the 55-point mark in every full season he has played. That excludes his 43 points in 47 games during the lockout-shortened season in 2013 and an injury-shortened season in 2011-12, in which he tallied 28 points in 58 games.
Duchene’s speed is strong facet of his game. His top-end speed, and his ability to get to that speed very quickly, rivals any other play in the league as he accelerates quickly and can dance around defensemen with ease.
He pushes back defensemen on the rush and puts them in tough situations, and he has the finishing ability to capitalize on his opportunities.
Duchene is also an excellent faceoff taker. Among players with 350+ faceoffs this season, he ranks second with a 61.4% success rate. A season ago, he won 57.9% of his 739 draws.
Puck possession and shot generation have become key staples in how the Hurricanes have played their hockey under head coach Bill Peters. While Duchene has never been a strong Corsi driver, he does generate shots at a very high level. It’s also worth noting that Colorado has, year in and year out, been one of the league’s worst teams in terms of shot attempt differential. Even in their dominant run in 2013-14, in which they won the Central Division over the powerhouse Blues and Blackhawks, the club posted a 46.85% Corsi share, good for 25th in the league.
However, there is a bright side to his possession data. He has spent a portion of his 2016-17 season on a line with Mikhail Grigorenko and Carl Soderberg. That line posted an abysmal 41.11% Corsi share, but on a line with far more talented players in Nathan MacKinnon and Finnish rookie Mikko Rantanen, the trio has a dominant 59.62% share of shot attempts. There’s reason to believe that, with the right players and the right system, he could be an effective possession player.
The speedy forward was a member of Peters’ gold medal-winning World Championship team over the offseason, a tournament in which he had ten points in ten games and was a plus-ten. He also was an Olympian for Canada in 2014 and netted four points in six games in September’s World Cup of Hockey.
Elite talent isn’t cheap, so if a team acquires Duchene, they’ll have to part ways with a lot of talent.
Colorado wants young defensive talent and Carolina has plenty of that, but how willing will the Hurricanes be to include guys like Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, or even Justin Faulk in a trade for a top end forward?
The Hurricanes would almost certainly have to include a young NHL-ready defenseman in a package to Colorado.
We’ve seen how much losing Faulk hurts this team’s ability to move the puck both at even strength and on the man advantage. He’s a two-time all-star and an Olympian at the age of 24. Even for Duchene, I wouldn’t move Faulk.
Noah Hanifin should be untradeable at this point given his franchise potential and the impact he could have on the Hurricanes for the next decade. He’s still just 19.
It seems like the most likely centerpiece of a move would then be either Slavin or Pesce.
Slavin has established himself as an outstanding top-four defenseman at the age of 22 and he has great upside on both sides of the puck. On top of that, he is a Colorado native and played his college hockey at Colorado College just outside of Denver.
If you move Slavin, it becomes a waiting game for Hanifin to grow into a top-four role on the back end. Hainfin’s had his ups and downs in a year and a half in the NHL and it could still take some time for him to iron out some inconsistencies in his game.
Pesce is another option. One would assume that he holds less value than Slavin because his offensive upside isn’t quite as high, but his shutdown game rivals a vast majority of defensemen in the NHL.
Regardless of whether Pesce or Slavin is the major trade chip for Carolina they’d have to add to it.
The Hurricanes have five picks in the first three rounds of the 2017 draft, so at least one of those picks would have to come into play and potentially even more.
I have one other proposal that strays away from the young NHL defenseman route, and that is a move involving Elias Lindholm.
If the Canes bring in Duchene, they have another forward, which would leave them with Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm, Lee Stempniak, newly acquired Ty Rattie and Duchene as top-nine forward candidates. You have to take one of those guys out, especially with junior standouts Julien Gauthier and Nicolas Roy on their way up.
Is a package including Lindholm and a defensive prospect like Haydn Fleury enticing enough for Colorado to bite? They’d get an NHL ready player for their top-six and a defenseman with top-four upside for the future.
Taking all of the above into consideration, here are my trade proposals:
Carolina Hurricanes Trade
Jaccob Slavin, Phil Di Giuseppe, Valentin Zykov, Carolina’s 2017 second-round draft pick and New Jersey’s 2017 third-round draft pick
Colorado Avalanche Trade
Here, the Avalanche get their young NHL-ready defenseman, an NHL ready bottom-six forward, a young goal scorer who projects to be an effective top-nine player in the NHL and a pair of draft picks in the first 90 selections in June.
Carolina Hurricanes Trade
Brett Pesce, Carolina’s 2017 first-round draft pick
Colorado Avalanche Trade
In this trade, Colorado gets the defenseman and a first round pick. I felt like I should propose the idea of Carolina ridding themselves of what will likely be a mid-first rounder on top of a young defenseman. If you’re including a first rounder, Slavin and Pesce may be interchangeable.
If there’s a year where a first-rounder would be expendable, maybe this is the year. After the likes of Nolan Patrick, WJC standout Nico Hischier and goal scorer Owen Tippett, there isn’t much top-end forward talent in this year’s draft.
Carolina Hurricanes Trade
Elias Lindholm, Haydn Fleury, Carolina’s 2017 second-round draft pick, Carolina’s 2017 fourth-round draft pick
Colorado Avalanche Trade
This one differs from the first two because instead of an NHL ready defenseman, Colorado is getting an NHL ready forward who is still very young and they also get their young defenseman, but Fleury’s not quite ready for the NHL.
No matter which way you cut it, Carolina will be giving up someone they don’t want to give up in order to get Matt Duchene.
Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are both young top-four blueliners who contribute so much to the Hurricanes and play a big role in the club’s future.
If Colorado was to bite on a trade with Lindholm, Fleury, and a pick, I think that’s a deal you pull the trigger on without any hesitation, but for that very reason, Colorado likely wouldn’t be willing to do it.
So, you’re left asking is it really worth trading a key top-four defenseman and a high draft pick for Duchene. Carolina has the youth on the blue line that can make up for the loss of a blueliner but it wouldn’t happen until Hanifin is ready to play top-four minutes or a guy like Roland McKeown or Jake Bean is ready for the NHL.
It would be tough to pull off, but a trade for Matt Duchene is plausible. It’s just up to Ron Francis if he wants to give up what’s necessary to make it happen.