Two days ago, the Carolina Hurricanes traded Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres. In return, they got four assets.
Opinions (mostly negative) have been flying around all over the place since then, so I’m not necessarily interested in talking about the missteps by Skinner and the organization over the past eight years, the emotions of the trade, “culture”, no-trade clauses, or any of the extracurriculars surrounding the trade.
Instead, I want to talk about what the Hurricanes are getting and what it means this season and beyond - on the ice.
For starters, the Canes got a prospect - Cliff Pu. The 20-year-old forward was drafted in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Sabres and has since totaled 170 points in 128 OHL regular season games and 24 points in 29 OHL playoff games. Prior to getting drafted, he was pegged by many as a second-round pick, being ranked as high as 34 by ISS Hockey. TSN and McKeen’s Hockey also had him ranked safely in the second round.
The numbers alone look pretty good, if not great. Looking deeper into it, his NHLe (a translation of points in one league to another, pioneered in part by Rob Vollman) last season was 32. That means that his OHL numbers last season indicate that he would score 32 NHL points this upcoming season if he were to make the jump.
That’s very impressive. And it’s even more impressive that it wasn’t just one good year of production. Pu put up almost the exact same numbers in the 2016-17 season as well.
Pu has the size that you’d like. As of now, he stands at 6’2”, 192 pounds. He can play both the wing and down the middle, but he projects as a right shot center at the NHL level. He has speed, skill, size, and a track record that suggests he will be a real player for this organization in the near future.
He will likely play for Charlotte in the AHL this upcoming season, but maybe he makes a good enough impression on Rod Brind’Amour and company that he throws himself into the conversation for a roster spot or, more likely, as a call-up option.
In addition to Pu, the Canes got three draft picks - a 2019 second-round pick, a 2020 third-round pick, and a 2020 sixth-round pick.
I’ve seen the terms “magic beans” and “lottery tickets” thrown around about these picks, which, in a sense, is true - you don’t know what you will get with those picks. That being said, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair in this case.
If you are using those selections to draft 18-year-old players who are four or more years away from being NHLers, then yes they are magic beans. However, they aren’t magic beans if you are using those picks to acquire known NHL assets, which is something Don Waddell hinted at after making the trade.
The 2019 second-round pick and the 2020 third-round pick, in particular, hold some value moving forward.
At the 2018 NHL trade deadline, the New York Rangers traded Michael Grabner for a decent defensive prospect and a second-round draft pick, the Edmonton Oilers traded Patrick Maroon for a third-round pick and a decent center prospect, Vancouver traded Thomas Vanek to Columbus for assets that many believed didn’t even add up to that of a third-round pick, and the list continues.
If the Hurricanes are so inclined, they can package a second-round pick out of Buffalo (a team that projects to not make the playoffs) and acquire a player that makes them better immediately. That 2020 third-round pick is less valuable, but it still accomplishes the same goal, even if it is just for a rental that helps Carolina end a near decade-long playoff drought.
That’s why, if you were to ask me who won the trade, I’d say TBD.
Right now, Carolina is not getting better because of this trade. They’re just not. They traded out at least 20 goals this season and got back zero. Though, Carolina’s management would argue that they’re getting back goals from the young player who takes his role in the lineup, which is entirely possible, but for now it’s just an “if”.
For me, this trade isn’t complete until we see what happens with the draft picks that were acquired. There is a very real possibility that one, two, or all of those draft picks will be used to acquire an NHL player. Then, instead of it being Skinner for Pu, a second, a third, and a sixth, it’s Skinner for Pu and [insert name of player(s) here].
Now, imagine if Pu turns into an NHL player, which he is expected to do, the Canes deal two of those picks for a player or two, and Skinner hits free agency and signs elsewhere after the 2018-19 season. In that case, the trade starts to look different. Of course, those are all assumptions, but It’s a very reasonable outcome based on what we know right now.
Would it have been more valuable for the Hurricanes to just keep Skinner? Could this trade blow up in Carolina’s face? Maybe, but I think it’s just as likely that the Canes look back on it a year from now and find themselves pretty happy with how things worked out.
For now, though, the Hurricanes have more trade assets and one more good prospect than they did on Wednesday. And now it’s up to Don Waddell and the GM by committee to get as much value as possible out of the assets they now have.
One thing that is for sure, though, is that the Canes will have a tough time selling a “we’re trying to be a winner right now” narrative and then turn around and use all of those draft picks on 18-year-olds. I think they have to flip some of those picks at some point, be it prior to training camp, prior to the trade deadline, or at some other point in the relatively near future.