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Potential Hurricanes Free Agency Targets: Forwards

Part one of a three part series diving in to potential free agents the Hurricanes should target.

NHL: New York Islanders at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

With the Washington Capitals claiming the Stanley Cup we are officially into the NHL off season. We will see trades, drafts, and free agent signings over the next few months as every GM tries to get the best talent for his respective team. Where will the superstars land? Who can get the most bang for their buck? Or who will overpay for lesser talent as teams go wild come July?

We can’t answer any of that yet (if we could we’d be playing Powerball not writing this!), but what we can do is take a look at some players that would make logical sense for the Hurricanes to go after in free agency.

Now, it should be said that most of these players will be long shots to sign here, as Tom Dundon and Don Waddell have already publicly alluded to the team likely looking to improve via trade rather than free agency. But that doesn’t mean we can’t chime in and offer our two cents on who the Canes should target.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at New York Islanders Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

John Tavares

  • Age – 27
  • NHL Seasons - 9
  • 2017-18 scoring– 82 GP, 37 G, 47 A, 84 Points
  • Career scoring – 669 GP, 272 G, 349 A, 621 Points
  • Previous Contract – 6 year, $5.5 Mil AAV

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. If John Tavares reaches free agency, there will be about 25-28 teams all desperately trying to lure him to put their jersey on. He could very well become the highest paid forward in the NHL, or at least top five, at over $10 million per year. It will take a team with plenty of cap space to be able to sign Tavares, which is something the Canes have a plethora of.

One has to imagine if Tavares leaves Long Island, he is going to want to go to a serious contender likely in a big city. Chicago is rumored to be trying to move pieces to make way to provide a serious offer and the attraction of successful teams like Washington or Vegas may be too much for the Canes to compete with.

But one thing is for sure: Tavares is everything the Canes need and more. He’s a true number one center who is nearly a point per game player over his career. He’d fill a void left by Eric Staal and certainly be the largest free agency splash in Hurricanes history. So, it is in the Canes’ best interest to offer him everything they can financially speaking, plus a house on Falls Lake, an unlimited pass to Carvana via Mr. Dundon, his own TopGolf franchise, and anything his heart desires.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Stastny

  • Age – 32
  • NHL Seasons - 12
  • 2017-18 scoring– 82 GP, 16 G, 37 A, 53 Points
  • Career scoring – 824 GP, 220 G, 426 A, 646 Points
  • Previous Contract – 4 year, $7 Mil AAV

Stastny could easily upgrade the Hurricanes’ top six and be a good veteran presence in the locker room. Last year was a tale of two teams, as his time with the Blues was okay but nothing overwhelming. Upon being traded to Winnipeg near the deadline, Stastny took off and looked much like his younger self.

Scoring 15 points in 17 playoff games for the Jets, Stastny earned himself another large payday come July. He screams of a player some team is going to overpay for once the Tavares sweepstakes concludes - and, in fact, he is likely better off waiting until after Tavares signs to make his decision. It is rumored that the Jets and Blues are the prime landing spots but for the right amount of money he could be persuaded to move east to Raleigh.

Calgary Flames v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

James van Riemsdyk

  • Age – 29
  • NHL Seasons - 9
  • 2017-18 scoring– 81 GP, 36 G, 18 A, 54 Points
  • Career scoring – 609 GP, 201 G, 192 A, 393 Points
  • Previous Contract – 6 year, $4.25 Mil AAV

Of all the high end free agents, JVR seems the most likely to sign in Raleigh - and even that may be a long shot. The Maple Leafs high end scorer would be a natural replacement for Jeff Skinner should he be dealt. Putting up 36 goals was a career high for JVR and will certainly earn him a large pay raise. He is another forward who will benefit from the outcome of the Tavares situation as teams will likely overpay for him just as they will for Stastny and others.

He is a logical fit in Raleigh because of the need for goal scoring, cap space, and of course his brother Trevor. That is of course, the Canes decide they want to go down the “brothers playing together” road again. But it is worth noting that even TSN has already speculated the Hurricanes could land JVR.

2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

James Neal

  • Age – 30
  • NHL Seasons - 10
  • 2017-18 scoring– 71 GP, 25 G, 19 A, 44 Points
  • Career scoring – 703 GP, 263 G, 232 A, 495 Points
  • Previous Contract – 6 year, $5 Mil AAV

After a year that saw him stay in Vegas longer than anyone thought he would, James Neal is set to be a free agent. The Golden Knights may want to bring him back, but should they find a way to lure Tavares they may not have room for the winger. Neal, just like JVR, would provide a scoring replacement should Skinner get traded. He has plenty of experience and would serve the locker room well. His contract should be lower than JVR and Stastny which may be enticing to the Hurricanes.

Should Skinner remain a Hurricane then maybe Neal does not make as much sense as he is not the game changer JVR or Tavares is, but he would be an upgrade over the likes of Elias Lindholm or Victor Rask in the top six.

Florida Panthers v New Jersey Devils

Ilya Kovalchuk

  • Age – 35
  • NHL Seasons - 11
  • 2017-18 scoring (KHL) – 53 GP, 31 G, 32 A, 63 Points
  • Career scoring (NHL + KHL) – 1,114 GP, 555 G, 588 A, 1,143 Points
  • Previous Contract – 1 year KHL deal, NHL – 17 year, $6.6 Mil AAV

Humor me here. Kovalchuk is an elite scorer. There is no questioning why the Hurricanes should want to explore his interest in coming to Raleigh. But why would he want to come here you may ask? The only legitimate argument to make here is he could come mentor Andrei Svechnikov and try to help the Canes take the next step. It doesn’t hurt that the Canes can pay him whatever he wants either.

Then there is the Don Waddell/Atlanta Thrashers connection, but that could be just as much a negative as a positive in the Canes favor. Ultimately, there’s probably even less of a chance of Kovi coming to Raleigh than there is for Tavares as the Kings and Rangers are the reported front runners, but hey - it doesn’t hurt to explore it.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Riley Nash

  • Age – 29
  • NHL Seasons - 7
  • 2017-18 scoring– 76 GP, 15 G, 26 A, 41 Points
  • Career scoring – 399 GP, 53 G, 86 A, 139 Points
  • Previous Contract – 2 year, $1.8 Mil AAV

With Derek Ryan appearing to be on his way out, the Hurricanes need to decide if they feel comfortable with some combination of Martin Necas, Elias Lindholm, Sebastian Aho, Nicolas Roy, and others playing center. If they don’t, they will need to find a 3rd/4th line center to replace Ryan. So who better to do that than the guy who was here before him?

Riley Nash started his NHL career in Raleigh and was always serviceable much like Ryan. He won’t cost much, but he did raise his stock in Boston becoming possibly the most coveted Nash free agent coming out of Beantown. On a one or two year deal Nash could be a perfect fit back in Carolina.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Kunitz

  • Age – 38
  • NHL Seasons - 14
  • 2017-18 scoring– 82 GP, 13 G, 16 A, 29 Points
  • Career scoring – 966 GP, 263 G, 346 A, 609 Points
  • Previous Contract – 1 year, $3 Mil AAV

“We may be slow but we would win” were the words new head coach Rod Brind’ Amour used to describe Justin Williams’ value to the Canes. That is because he brings a major veteran presence to the locker room that the Hurricanes so desperately lack. So it would make logical sense to assume Rod would want to bring in at least one other veteran player to help sure up the room.

Enter a Chris Kunitz type player. The 38 year old has spent a lot of time in the Penguins organization throughout their glory days this past decade. Then he headed south to Tampa where they know a thing or two about winning as well. Kunitz is undecided on if he wants to keep playing but the idea of playing a key leadership role in a bottom six setting may be attractive enough to draw his eye to Raleigh.

Winnipeg Jets v Minnesota Wild Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Matt Cullen

  • Age – 41
  • NHL Seasons – 20
  • 2017-18 scoring– 79 GP, 11 G, 11 A, 22 Points
  • Career scoring – 1,445 GP, 259 G, 452 A, 711 Points
  • Previous Contract – 1 year, $1.7 Mil AAV

Continuing the “veterans who aren't sure if they want to keep playing” theme brings us to Matt Cullen. If he doesn’t retire or stay in Minnesota then Carolina has to be near the top of his potential destination list. Being reunited with his 2006 Cup winning teammates in Williams, Brind’Amour, and maybe Cam Ward sounds like a perfect last hoorah. He’s a perfect compliment to Williams in the room and he fills the gap left behind by Derek Ryan leaving. A realistic contract would be a one year deal around $1.5-$2 million which is right in line with the Canes’ budget.

That concludes the list of potential free agent forward targets. Tune back in soon for the next installment when we look at free agent defensemen. Did we miss any names that could come to Carolina? Let us know in the comments below!