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Five trade targets for Justin Faulk

Brandon Saad? Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Nazem Kadri? A look at who could come back to Carolina in a trade for the four-time All-Star defenseman.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

A busy offseason of reshaping the blue line for the Carolina Hurricanes has left one piece of business on the agenda. The team’s moves seem to have locked in a top four of Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce and Calvin de Haan. The re-signing of Trevor van Riemsdyk likely leaves a third pairing of him and Haydn Fleury.

That makes Justin Faulk the odd-man out in all of this. There were rumors about him being shopped before the Canes even acquired Hamilton, and now he’s almost a lock to be moved. With two years remaining at a shade under $5 million per season, Faulk would be an awfully expensive third-pairing defenseman.

While he’s coming off a down year, he’s a right-shot, top-four defenseman capable of chipping in on the power play at an affordable cap hit. That makes him a very valuable asset, and one that should net the Canes a good return. While there has been some discussion about the Canes trading him for a package of futures, it’s probably better to go need for need and move him for a top-six forward. That would allow the team to either load up its front 12 or have a built-in replacement for Jeff Skinner if he’s traded.

We’re going to look at five possible candidates, their fit for the Canes and the likelihood of the deal. All five are forwards, as while I would not rule out a goalie trade if something opened up, it seems unlikely with Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek under contract for next year. Let’s see who the Canes could wind up with.

*Note: While there were reports Faulk had a limited no-trade clause kicking in July 1, I haven’t been able to find anything to verify that.

5. Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks- Saad has already been discussed in connection to Faulk, but it was Elliotte Friedman saying the Canes had asked for Saad but Chicago didn’t want to do that. However, how many times have we heard “team A shopping player X wants player Y from team B but team B doesn’t want to give up player Y” (come for the hockey talk, stay for the algebra lesson), and that’s exactly what ends up happening?

Saad did not exactly light the world on fire in his first season back in Chicago after an offseason trade with Columbus. He put up just 18 goals and 35 points after three straight seasons of 20-plus goals and 50-plus points. I’m not really sure why the Hurricanes were after Saad. Yes he probably has more in the tank than what he showed last year, and is only two years removed from a 31-goal season, but he’s a bit pricey for his production level at $6 million over three more years. Adding that kind of deal when the Canes will need to re-sign Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen next summer is risky. Hopefully for Don Waddell and co’s sake, Stan Bowman sticks to his guns here.

4. Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens- Pacioretty has been in the rumor mill since before last season’s trade deadline. He’s coming off a down year with 17 goals in 64 games, but is still one of the best goal scorers in the league with 30 or more goals in each of the six prior seasons (pro-rated for the lockout year). It was initially reported earlier this offseason that the Canadiens would try to negotiate on a contract extension for their captain, but Marc Antoine Godin of The Athletic reported today that Marc Bergevin told Pacioretty there will be no further negotiations and he will be traded “as soon as possible”.

However, there’s a couple things working against this one. With the Canadiens needing to rebuild or at least retool, Bergevin probably wants a package of futures, including a young center, for Pacioretty. Trading him for two years of Faulk would not accomplish their likely goal of building for the future.

From a Hurricanes’ standpoint, Pacioretty would be a great add for 2018-19, but then his bargain deal with its $4.5 million AAV expires. He’s going to (deservedly) want a big pay day, but he’ll be 30. With the extensions they have coming up in the next few years, the Canes can’t afford to give Pacioretty a big-money, long-term deal. It’s nice to imagine the Habs’ sniper in a Canes jersey, but the money probably doesn’t work long term.

3. Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings- Friedman mentioned the Red Wings as a team that has had and still has interest in Faulk. It would make sense for Waddell to ask Ken Holland for one of his young forwards. Dylan Larkin isn’t happening, but Nyquist would make a nice add.

He’s coming off a 21-goal, 40-point season. He failed to hit the 20-goal mark the two seasons before that, but had 28 and 27 his first two years in the league. Nyquist only has a year left at $4.75 million until he’s a UFA, so the Red Wings may need to add an asset or two. This would be a sensible need-for-need swap of two players on soon-to-expire deals.

2. Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers- This one makes a lot of sense. Nugent Hopkins, a natural center, was pushed to the wing by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton last year. He put up 24 goals and 48 points in 64 games last year, and has fairly consistently put up 20ish goals and 50ish points per 82 games. In Carolina, he could return to center and possibly slot in between Aho and Teravainen.

RNH is signed for three more years at $6 million, a reasonable amount for his production and position. This would help both teams, giving the Canes the top-six center they’ve needed for years and the Oilers a necessary upgrade on D.

1. Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs- This almost makes too much sense. The Maple Leafs’ signing of prized free agent John Tavares pushes Kadri to the third center spot behind the former Islander and Auston Matthews. A player coming off back-to-back, 32-goal seasons may not be happy in that role for long. This could end up being a carbon copy of what led to Jordan Staal being traded to the Canes, as he was trapped behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh.

The Leafs need to upgrade their blue line without spending a ton to do it, and Faulk comes at a very reasonable cap hit the next two years, which is important for a team that will need every available dollar under the cap it can get.

For the Canes, Kadri is signed at a $4.5 million AAV through 2022, which is a bargain for his production level. Imagine being able to roll Kadri, Martin Necas and Staal down the middle, and plugging in a 30-goal pivot between Aho and Teravainen.

Of the five options on this list, a Kadri deal makes the most sense, both for the Canes and the team acquiring Faulk.