The Carolina Hurricanes’ management have more than a few questions to answer in the coming weeks, particularly regarding who to trade, who to keep, and who to leave for the expansion draft (more on that tomorrow).
The team sits primed to make a run in the standings, but the Canes are not alone in their conquest. The nature of the Eastern Conference is such that the playoff-hopeful teams will be in similar positions, but will take vastly different and unpredictable courses of action come deadline day. Carolina is one of those on the “very” end of the unpredictability spectrum.
Ron Francis will likely once again face the debate of whether to be a buyer or seller at the deadline on March 1, with the latter being the more probable option at this time. His history as a GM and the team’s current state suggest limited moves if any, even if Joe Sakic entices him with a deal on a certain #9.
But there are a few “dark horse” candidates for Francis to look at should the team find themselves closer to a postseason berth. It would be unwise to sacrifice the future of the franchise for an all-in playoff run this season, but having a few band-aids here and there could make for a more compelling Hurricanes squad during the wild-card push.
One team that will certainly be a seller is the Arizona Coyotes. They could see such names as Shane Doan and Martin Hanzal ship out of town before the deadline, but may also bid farewell to one or two of their prospects as well.
The man they call “The Duke” has struggled mightily this year (to the tune of nine points in 41 games), but he certainly offers an offensive upside. His 44 points in 81 games last season marked a breakout campaign for the former New York Ranger, and his potential was barely tapped into.
Plus he did this.
But with young forwards in Lawson Crouse and Dylan Strome quickly reaching NHL-ready status, and Alexander Burmistrov thriving in his new environment, the Coyotes may not be able to afford to keep Duclair around if he fails to continue his point production—not because he’s expensive, but because all those mouths to feed can create a bit of havoc.
The Coyotes asking price is fairly unpredictable, as much of the “rumors” surrounding Duclair have significantly died down since November and simply state that Arizona is “listening” to offers, but not actively shopping him.
But it’s not outlandish to see Ryan Murphy heading to Arizona for Duclair, or perhaps even a veteran like Matt Tennyson, accompanied by one of Francis’ stockpiled draft picks. If the price becomes a player like Noah Hanifin, it’s hard to see the Hurricanes even considering this trade.
Another option is to trade a player like Lee Stempniak, who would otherwise possibly be snatched up in the expansion draft and could provide some mentoring (and points) to the young Coyotes offense.
Regardless, it would be a bit of a surprise to see Ron Francis land a trade like this considering the poor season Duclair is having and the lack of perceived availability surrounding him, unlike that of some of his teammates who have been in the rumor mill for months.
If you watched the World Cup of Hockey this past September, you saw some of the best this guy is capable of. But if you’ve watched his play with the Red Wings this season, you’ve seen some of the worst as well.
Tomas Tatar’s scoring touch is well-known, but a soon-to-be rebuilding Detroit team may not have much patience for him to break his slump while their always dangerous prospect pipeline builds up potential stars.
His best season came in 2014-15 where he put up 29 goals and 27 assists for 56 points, including seven game-winning goals. He followed it up with a respectable 45 points last season, but his trend has continued downward as he is on pace for just 40 points this year.
Even so, Tatar’s still-present offensive capabilities could suit a team like the Hurricanes. Carolina’s offensive woes are well-documented, and some added strength in the top-six forwards would provide a crucial scoring boost and allow more breathing room on the ice for the Canes’ other top scorers.
He carries a light cap hit of just 2.75 million, not that the Hurricanes are overtly concerned with the salary ceiling, and would likely not warrant a huge raise based on his current performance.
To get him, though, Detroit would be looking for a promising prospect, likely NHL-ready or close to it. Many of their old guard (i.e. Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, etc.) simply aren’t the players they used to be, and the Wings are looking to get much younger in the coming seasons.
I could see one of Carolina’s young defensemen going in a trade with Detroit—perhaps Haydn Fleury, Trevor Carrick, or Roland McKeown—as well as a second-round draft pick. It’s absolutely worth exploring, especially if the asking price for Matt Duchene includes a high-end prospect and one of the Canes’ top-four defensemen.
His numbers have never been stellar, but Bozak’s role as the Maple Leafs’ third-line center has yielded some solid production this season. The more popular and attractive trade target on the Leafs has been James van Riemsdyk, but his linemate could be an option for a team that misses out on the big fish.
Bozak’s 35 points are good for 6th on the team, despite having played three fewer games than four of those ahead of him. He has won 56% of his face-offs, and has put up 11 points on the power play.
And while he has been fairly productive for the Leafs so far this year, the brunt of the offense has been managed by young superstars like Marner, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander.
Their immediate needs remain on the back end, with defensive workhorse Morgan Rielly struggling with a lingering injury and the remaining blueliners failing to pick up the slack. Toronto has been noted as looking for veteran help on defense.
With the Hurricanes’ lack of depth at center, and Bozak’s experience playing with someone the caliber of Marner, he could slot in perfectly up and down the Canes’ roster.
He could remain on the third line with Brock McGinn and Teuvo Teravainen on his wings, or he could find himself in the Bill Peters’ Line Blend-O-Matic and still have success with players like Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, and Elias Lindholm. Bozak’s versatility may be his greatest asset.
Since van Riemsdyk would like carry a heavy price tag (i.e. Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, or another stout young defenseman), Bozak would be a more attractive option for Carolina.
It’s feasible to see Francis sending Ron Hainsey to the Leafs for their center in a one-for-one deal, and could be worth a deeper analysis depending on the teams’ respective positions at the end of the month.
These are, of course, mere speculations. But given the asking price for the biggest names on the market (Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Martin Hanzal, etc.), finding a hidden gem may be the way to go for Ron Francis.
The Hurricanes should take a look beyond the obvious and realize that there are options other than simply what everyone else is looking at. Even without a playoff appearance this year, an under-the-radar deadline acquisition could pay dividends in a year or two, playing with the key prospects saved from an ill-advised blockbuster.