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Making the Carolina Hurricanes Good in One Offseason: Part 2

Part two of a three-part column going step-by-step through the 2018 offseason for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Jamie Kellner

This is part two of a three-part column outlining an offseason game plan for the Carolina Hurricanes with the goal of making them a playoff team in the 2018-19 season.

Part one covered the head coaching search and in-house free agents like Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, and Derek Ryan (?!?!). It can be found here.


NHL: NHL Draft Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

2018 NHL Draft

This is a big draft for Carolina as they have stumbled their way upon the second-overall pick.

The draft strategy should always be drafting the best player available, not for need. Luckily, the Canes can kill two birds with one stone as the consensus top-three skaters, outside of consensus number-one pick Rasmus Dahlin, are forwards.

Here are the top three prospects who will be available at two, in order of their average draft ranking (Future Considerations, HockeyProspect.com, ISS, McKeen’s Hockey, Central Scouting):

Top Prospects Available at Second-Overall

Player Position Average Ranking League 17-18 Stats
Player Position Average Ranking League 17-18 Stats
Andrei Svechnikov RW 2 OHL 44 gp, 40 g, 32 a, 72 pts.
Filip Zadina LW 3 QMJHL 57 gp, 44 g, 38 a, 82 pts.
Brady Tkachuk LW 4 NCAA (HE) 40 gp, 8 g, 23 a, 31 pts.

I get the attraction to pairing Martin Necas with Czech forward Filip Zadina. I also get the attraction to the toughness and grit that Brady Tkachuk can bring, but I’ve spent the last few weeks watching these guys and I always come back to liking Andrei Svechnikov way more than any of the other options. He is the second-best player (and the best forward) in this draft class.

I explained why I like him, in more detail, here. In short, he has massive upside - think Patrik Laine - and his game is more well-rounded than most 18-year-olds. The obvious reason why you get him is for his absurd goal-scoring. At five-on-five, his draft year goal output (.68 goals per game) was higher than Connor McDavid (.66), Patrick Kane (.60), John Tavares (.55), Steven Stamkos (.43), Taylor Hall (.37), and many, many more NHL stars who played in the OHL in their draft seasons. He should be a plug-and-play top-six player in the NHL next season who posses otherworldly upside.

Beyond their first-round selection, the Canes have one second-round pick, two fourth-round picks, one sixth-round pick, and one seventh-round pick.

I think it’s always wise to draft a goalie, and in this scenario, I think the team doesn’t have an excuse for not taking one (or five) as there are serious question marks in net at all levels and they are deep at every other position. Keep an eye on Jakub Skarek, Lukas Dostal, and Daniel Dvorak, a trio of Czech goalies who are among the best international goalie prospects in the draft. One would think that Carolina’s scouts got a good look at them while doing their work on Martin Necas. There is a handful of goalies in the CHL, namely in the Quebec league, that have received high praise, as well. Amir Miftakhov is the top Russian goalie. He had a great year in the Russian minor league system and is worth a flyer, if for no reason other than he is Russian and that country has turned into a goalie factory.

Outside of that, the Canes will have specific players that are ranked in different places on their draft board and they will draft the guys they think they need to draft as they have (with success) in years past.

Beyond the draft picks, the big storyline come draft time will be trades. Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner have already been subject to many trade rumors, and it’s only mid-May.

Three things factor into this for me. One, you have to get something coming back that legitimately helps the team. You don’t trade Faulk for a middle-six forward that the team already has 70 of and you don’t trade Skinner for draft picks that might help the team in two or three years. Two, how does it influence the locker room chemistry. If there is a losing culture in the room, does it really get solved by trading one of those two players, or is it fixed by bringing in a “new” coach (Brind’Amour) who instills better coaching practices than that of Bill Peters? Three, you can’t make rash decisions based on one bad season. Faulk frustrated the living hell out of me this season, but he had 15, 16, and 17-goal seasons entering 2017-18 and was an all-star each season. A player, one season doesn’t make. If you trade Faulk, you are doing so at his lowest value and running the risk that he bounces back on a functional team (the Hurricanes were not functional last season), becomes a 15+ goal guy yet again, and you look dumb for giving up on him. You only trade him in the right scenario.

The same goes for Skinner, whose 24-goal season was, for some, an awful atrocity. It really wasn’t. He had the same shot volume but was fairly unlucky as his shooting percentage taking a hit. I side more with bringing him back and giving him a center who is relatively passable as a top-six player. Nothing against Ryan, but he should not be the guy. Maybe Martin Necas is. If it doesn’t work and/or he makes it clear that he won’t sign an extension, then you trade him for assets before the trade deadline. He is scheduled to be a UFA after next season.

For me, draft weekend doesn’t have to be this event full of huge, pointless trades. If you can package Faulk for, say, Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Mike Hoffman, or a proven starting goalie, then that’s a different story.

The name to watch for me is Victor Rask. Getting that contract off the books would be a miracle. I think he has a lot of work to do if he wants to be on next year’s roster above the likes of Janne Kuokkanen and others. It wouldn’t shock me to see him get AHL time if he can’t hit the ground running under a new coaching staff. His multiple shoulder surgeries are also troublesome given how young he is.

Overall, though, perhaps the smartest decision is keeping those assets, go into next season, see what the team actually needs, and make a decision in December or January. There are a lot of players coming up from the AHL and overseas and what you think your team needs are right now might be vastly different than what they actually are when you’re 25 or 30% through the season and teams in similar situations are in the same boat as you are.

Given the reports coming out as of late, it looks more and more likely that one or both of Skinner and Faulk will get moved. In my mind, if you just have to trade those guys, you trade them for each other. What I mean by that is, you trade Skinner for a top-four defenseman and you trade Faulk for a top-six scorer. You try to break even in those deals and come out with the same firepower at both positions, except here you do so in hopes of mixing things up in the locker room for the better.


NHL: New York Islanders at Carolina Hurricanes
John Tavares will be the big target this offseason for almost the entire NHL.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agency

There are some good options in free agency, but none better than John Tavares who, with every passing day, seems more and more likely to sign elsewhere and leave his days with the New York Islanders in the past.

Here are the top pending UFAs who are scheduled to hit the open market on July 1, starting with skaters:

2018 NHL Top UFAs

Player Position Age 17-18 Cap Hit
Player Position Age 17-18 Cap Hit
John Tavares C 27 $5.5 million
John Carsson D 28 $3.97 million
David Perron W 29 $3.75 million
Thomas Vanek RW 34 $2 million
Evander Kane LW 26 $5.25 million
James van Riemsdyk LW 29 $4.25 million
Paul Stastny C 32 $7 million
James Neal RW 30 $5 million
Tyler Bozak C 32 $4 million
Patrick Maroon LW 30 $2 million

There are some good names on this list. If you would’ve asked me a few months ago, David Perron, James van Riemsdyk, and even guys like Patrick Maroon and Michael Grabner (not listed above) would have been at the top of my wish list, but times have changed. The Canes got the second-overall pick and young guys like Valentin Zykov and Warren Foegele played well down the stretch, which should change the team’s priorities in free agency.

One thing remains true, though: the Carolina Hurricanes should every dollar and every year that they can at John Tavares.

He’s an elite first-line center and the Canes will be one of probably 25 teams seeking his services, so the odds of him coming to Raleigh are extremely slim. That being said, they’d be wrong in choosing not to make a hard push for him. You never know what can happen, he might be interested in joining a good young team who just picked up the best forward in the draft class.

The more pressing need, though, is goaltending. They do have a couple of options in free agency:

Top 2018 UFA Goalies

Player Age 17-18 Cap Hit 17-18 Save Percentage
Player Age 17-18 Cap Hit 17-18 Save Percentage
Carter Hutton 32 $1.125 million 0.931
Jonathan Bernier 29 $2.75 million 0.912
Anton Khudobin 32 $1.2 million 0.913
Kari Lehtonen 34 $5.9 million 0.911
Jaroslav Halak 32 $4.5 million 0.908

Your first thought was probably the same as ming: pretty underwhelming. That said, one name stands out to me - Carter Hutton.

Hutton has had a nice little career for himself as a journeyman and he appears ready to give it a go late in his career as a starter. He was terrific for St. Louis last season and even stole the net from Jake Allen. If the Blues let him test the open market, Hutton and the Hurricanes is a match that makes a whole lot of sense.

Hutton would step in and share the net with Scott Darling. A pair of terrific back-up goalies who will be fighting for the lion’s share of the starts in 2018-19 with a much improved hockey club in front of them. To boot, Hutton has a young family and, according to a couple of people (everyone), Raleigh is a pretty good place to raise a family.

Jonathan Bernier is interesting, as well. While many people are down on him, he’s really had a solid career. If he a number one guy? Probably not, but there’s reason to believe that he can play well in a 1A/1B situation. He went on a playoff run with the Colorado Avalanche this past season.

While we are on the topic of goalies, there are four goalies that seem like possibilities for the Canes this offseason as they, in my universe, look for a 1A to pair with Darling: Hutton, Bernier, Michal Neuvirth, and Philipp Grubauer.

The latter two names are players the Hurricanes would have to trade for.

Neuvirth has had an up and down career. At times, he has been fantastic, but he’s been pretty abysmal in long stretches, as well. Last year in Philadelphia, he posted a .915 save percentage and he’s now one of three goalies that Philadelphia owns the rights to (Brian Elliott and Petr Mrazek).

Grubauer’s name might sound familiar, and it should, because he has dominated the Canes (like many other NHL goalies) many times over the past few seasons. With Holtby in place and the emergence of prospect Ilya Samsonov, would the Caps be willing to part ways with the German backstop? He is only 26 and he has a career save percentage of .923, playing parts of five seasons in the nation’s capital.

Then, there’s Alex Nedeljkovic.

The 2014 37th-overall draft pick has gotten a lot of praise lately, which may be a sign that he could get a shot next season. Is he ready? Probably not, but this organization has made it pretty clear over the past couple of weeks that they aren’t afraid of giving in-house promotions to individuals who aren’t necessarily overly qualified.

Though, since this is my mock offseason and not a prediction as to what will happen, I’m keeping Nedeljkovic in Charlotte and opting to sign a free agent goalie. My pick of the litter here is Carter Hutton. He’s a veteran goalie who is coming off several great years in a backup capacity and is a near lock to be an upgrade over Ward. He also has a young family, and I hear that Raleigh is a pretty good place for that kind of thing.

I’d imagine that a two or three-year deal would be about right for him in the $3.5-4 million ballpark on an annual basis.

Barring a Tavares signing (extremely unlikely), that’s all that I want to do. Could the Canes get into a bidding war for JvR? Yeah, but why would they? They have upwards of five or six forwards in Charlotte who are ready to play, they just got the best forward in the draft in Svechnikov, and they have a lot of big contracts coming up on the horizon (Aho and Teravainen). It also makes no sense at all to sign depth guys (Josh Jooris, for example) and block the young guys from coming up and growing in those roles. I’m going young here.

In part three, we’re going to wrap things up and take a look at the roster I have come up with for the 2018-19 season.