For the first time in a while, welcome to Quick Whistles, a column wherein I discuss a number of different topics having to do with the Carolina Hurricanes.
The exciting part of the offseason has come and gone. It’s now mid-July, otherwise known as the start of the summer doldrums of the hockey calendar.
For the Hurricanes, though, there might be work to do still. Of course, some of that work has to do with a pair of mainstay names - Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk.
More rumors have surfaced as of late.
What to do with Skinner and Faulk?
On Friday, there was another interesting development in this whole thing.
Scott Powers of The Athletic reported that the Chicago Blackhawks had interest in not one but both of the rumored Carolina trade chips. Beyond that, we got an idea of what the asking price is.
Powers said that the Canes wanted 22-year-old center Nick Schmaltz and a first-round draft pick in a deal involving both Skinner and Faulk going to the Hawks.
Naturally, there are varying opinions on this rumor. Hurricane fans think it’s awful and that this return isn’t good enough for two good hockey players. Meanwhile, Blackhawk fans think it’s awful because they don’t want to lose a young, promising top-six center.
In a lot of cases, when both fanbases think a trade is awful for their team, that means that it’s a pretty fair deal. In this case, I tend to think that holds true.
I think it’s important to look at the entirety of the situation. While Skinner is a perennial 25-30 goal man, he also has just one year remaining on his contract. Upon the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, he has the right to go wherever he wants to go as an unrestricted free agent. That reduces his value.
Faulk, on the other hand, does have an additional year on his contract. That being said, he is coming off one of his worst seasons in the NHL. Is he a top-four defenseman? Yes, but he isn’t the borderline number one/two defenseman that many thought he was two years ago when he put 17 pucks in the back of the net. We don’t know what his true value is, but I don’t think it’s as high as what some people may think.
On the flip side, the Canes want a pretty fair package coming back, headlined by Schmaltz. The 22-year-old right-handed center is coming off of a 52-point season on Chicago’s second forward line. For comparison’s sake, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is three years older than Schmaltz and hasn’t reached the 50-point mark since the 2014-15 season.
Schmaltz would slide right in as an offensively-competent top-six center and he has room to grow into potentially a 60-70-point top-six pivot. On top of that you get a first-round pick. Ask a team like the New York Islanders or the Detroit Red Wings is they think having multiple first-rounders is valuable. Spoiler: they’d both say yes.
You don’t even have to use both first-round picks. You can wait for the trade deadline to roll around, look at what the team needs are, and dangle one or both of those picks in front of a rebuilding team for a really good player. Then, all of a sudden, it’s no longer Skinner and Faulk for Schmaltz and a pick. It’s now Skinner and Faulk for Schmaltz and -insert name of great forward or starting goalie here-. Now it looks like a great move, if it didn’t already.
Will this trade happen? Probably not, but if it were to go down like that, I think the Hurricanes should be fairly happy with their haul.
With all of that being said, though, perhaps holding on to one or both of those players into the regular season makes even more sense. Faulk would be one of the league’s best third-pairing defensemen and Skinner would get some good opportunities to light the lamp in Carolina’s newly formed forward lineup.
The Opening Night Lineup
With the boring summer months come lineup speculation, so let’s speculate about what the opening night lineup will look like.
This is a very difficult thing to do right now for two big reasons - we don’t know if or when Skinner and Faulk will be moved and we don’t know for sure who Carolina’s centermen will be (i.e. will Sebastian Aho be a full-time center).
What we can do, though, is start to set up some pairings. For example, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are a lock to play together, as they have for the vast majority of the past two seasons.
Assuming both players make the team, the organization sure seems to like the combination of Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov. I’d imagine that a guy like Michael Ferland or even Justin Williams would be a perfect fit alongside of those two rookies.
On the blue line, the Canes have two ways to organize their top-four, and both of the options could be extremely effective.
Rod Brind’Amour and company will have to decide between keeping Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce together or splitting them up. My early on-paper preference is splitting them up and going with a top-four of Slavin-Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan-Pesce.
I think Slavin has a higher offensive potential that he can reach, and he has a better chance of getting there next to Hamilton as opposed to Pesce. That’s not a knock against Pesce, as he is an excellent two-way defender, but Hamilton is an elite offensive producer.
A Slavin-Hamilton top pairing has potential to be one of the very best in the entire league, and I think it’d be foolish not to at least give it a look.
Then, Slavin gets replaced by de Haan next to Pesce, which should be a phenomenal shutdown pairing and both of those guys can hold their own with the puck on their sticks.
And if it doesn’t work, you have the ultra-reliable Slavin-Pesce pairing to fall back on and de Haan and Hamilton also lineup well together on paper. There are some fun options that the Canes’ coaching staff can play with going into October.
The New Tandem
For the first time since 2005, the Carolina Hurricanes will not have Cam Ward on their roster.
It’s a transition period for the organization; one which will rely on their new tandem of Scott Darling and free agent signing Petr Mrazek.
There are a multitude of ways to look at this. From one angle, both of Carolina’s projected 2018-19 goalies are coming off of career-worst years (Mrazek’s struggles increased after he was dealt to the Flyers at the deadline), so there’s little reason to be optimistic about what they can do this upcoming season.
From another angle, both of them have the talent to be starting goalies and there’s really no way for either of them to do worse than they did in the second half of last season. Darling’s conditioning issues a season ago have been covered in great detail, especially as of late. This offseason, he’s in Raleigh working out with team trainers to make sure that conditioning isn’t a problem again this season.
As for Mrazek, he decided to sign a one-year deal for a reason. He said himself that having that kind of deal motivates him to play at the top of his game. It’s a contract year for him, and if he doesn’t bring his best stuff, there’s a good chance that his NHL career will be over next April.
So, while everything is up in the air with regards to this goalie tandem, I think there are reasons to be optimistic. The Hurricanes will come into camp with two goalies that have their careers on the line. They both have all the talent in the world, but now it’s time for them to prove it.
I think one of them will do that this season.