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Peeking at the Market: UFA forwards (Part 1)

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The Carolina Hurricanes already have a complete forward group signed, but if a multi-part deal were to materialize out of Carolina, then the UFA market would be a place the Canes could look to.

Nashville Predators v Arizona Coyotes - Game Three Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2020 offseason will be one of the most chaotic times for many NHL clubs with the entry draft on Oct 6-7, and Free Agent Frenzy beginning only a few days later. Then add the fact that the flat cap and league wide decreased revenues will be pressing down on all the teams and it should prove to be quite interesting.

While I don’t really see the Hurricanes making any UFA signings this offseason— the team already has contracts filling every available roster spot — it still warrants taking a look at the current names out there. I mean, maybe the Canes make a package deal trade and need to then fill in one of the spots, who the hell knows.

There is also the big question on if the flat cap will impact what contracts look like. Will players want less term to pursue a bigger pay day when the cap starts rising or do they look at this as financially unstable and try to get as much for as long as they can now? Regardless, team’s offers will be lower than previously seen.

So here are a few of the biggest and not so biggest names in the 2020 forward UFA class.


BIG NAMES

  • LW Taylor Hall (28): 16-36-52

Last Contract: 7 years; $6 million AAV

The supposed gem of the 2020 UFA class, the 2010 first overall pick will be looking for potentially his fourth team in his 11th year in the league and with only two postseason appearances in that span, he should be looking at a contender.

In all honesty, I see Hall as one of those players who should take a shorter term contract with a competitive team if he really wants to get a taste at a deep postseason. A Hart trophy winner, Hall is a high-end caliber player and still has much to prove as a big, play-driving and high-scoring winger.

Would Carolina be a fit? Sure. But only if the price is right. The Hurricanes already have an established core with youth and growing experience and the biggest thing they’re looking for is additional scoring help. Hall would be a tremendous upgrade for the Hurricanes, so long as it didn’t shackle them.

The team needs cap space to sign both Dougie Hamilton and Andrei Svechnikov to extensions next year and if Hall wants money and term, it just won’t work out. But if he wants to slide onto a roster where he doesn’t have to carry the team in the hopes of making a solid playoff run, then Carolina could make sense.

But as with most of the big name free agents, suitors will be out there and Carolina can’t afford to enter any bidding wars unless they shed contracts.

  • RW/LW Mike Hoffman (30): 29-30-59

Last Contract: 4 years; $5.1875 million AAV

If you’re looking for goal scoring, Hoffman has a great track record. He was on pace for back-to-back 30 goal seasons, and has been the go-to trigger man on the power play in his time with both Ottawa and Florida.

A great shot from the circles, Hoffman offers a bit of versatility to power plays and can chip in offensively on rushes. However, that may be the extent of his usability. Even with heavily favorable offensive zone starts — 61.1% — Hoffman still had an expected goal share of -2.2.

Micah Blake McCurdy

Add onto that the off-ice drama that created a big issue in Ottawa that helped move Erik Karlsson out as well as his age, and that may leave him without many high-offer suitors come free agency. If he wants to take less it could work, but I don’t see the Canes as a potential buyer for Hoffman.

  • RW/LW Evgenii Dadonov (31): 25-22-47

Last Contract: 3 years; $4 million AAV

Could Dadonov make his return to the Carolina Hurricanes? Dadonov actually once upon a time was in the Hurricanes’ system having been acquired by Carolina in 2012, but he opted to return to Russia and play in the KHL.

After five years, he returned to the club that originally had drafted him, the Florida Panthers, where he put up three straight 25+ goal seasons.

The smaller Russian has made a home for himself in front of opposing nets and has been highly effective with a grittier game. He has also been an effective two-way player as well as power-play contributor.

I don’t blame him for avoiding the disaster that was the last era of Carolina Hurricanes hockey, but I don’t see him as a player that is as opt to represent the Hurricanes’ brand which has been a staple for Brind’Amour in bringing players in.

  • RW/LW Tyler Toffoli (28): 24-20-44

Last Contract: 3 years; $4.6 million AAV

Toffoli is a really strong two-way player. Typically on a 20+ goal pace per season, Toffoli was still a bright spot on a floundering LA team and gave the Canucks a great boost when he went there at the deadline.

Along with a cup winning pedigree, Toffoli is the type of player that fits into Brind’Amour’s style as a 200-foot player with an impact on each side of the ice.

Micah Blake McCurdy

He proved to be able to reelevate his game with a dynamic center when he slotted in with Bo Horvat or Elias Petersson, putting up six goals and 10 points in 10 games to close out the regular season with the Canucks.

A solid body, Toffoli knows how to play the typically rougher style of Western Conference hockey and could be a great fit in Carolina if the team frees up cap space for another shot at a top-six forward.

  • C/RW Mikael Granlund (28): 17-13-30

Last Contract: 3 years; $5.75 million AAV

At one point in time, Granlund seemed like Minnesota’s best forward. Two 60+ point seasons and a 50+ point season in the last four years, Granlund hit a bit of a rut with a Nashville team that he just never seemed to fit in with.

He can easily slot into the top-six with a team like the Hurricanes on the wing and his dynamic playmaking can be a huge boon with anyone he lines up with.

As well as being a 200-foot player that can play on both the power play and penalty kill, Granlund can add that multi-threat option that takes pressure off of Carolina’s other top players.

Micah Blake McCurdy

While it may be too early to try another reclamation project, if the Hurricanes were interested in one, Granlund could be an enticing option.

Oh, and he also has pulled off the Svech/Michigan/lacrosse goal before too, so imagine two players pulling that off in one game. Traditional hockey heads would explode.


Now the thing is, the UFA market is one fraught with landmines. Players on the wrong side of their prime with only another 2-3 years max of their best before regression starts to set in. These players tend to be the ones handcuffing struggling or resurging teams to mediocrity due to the weight of their contracts.

Players like James Neal, Milan Lucic, Louis Eriksson, David Backes and more were all free agent signings for players who showed up big for years only to free fall from relevancy once the ink started to dry.

EvolvingHockey.com did a report on age curves in the NHL using WAR — wins above replacement, or how much a player individually impacts a team’s win rate — to show where players peak and where they start to fall off.

EvolvingWild

As the chart shows, the average peak for an NHL forward is 25 with a gentle decline until 28 where a steady decline takes effect. Obviously there are outliers, but the current free agency class doesn’t have the sort of age defying talent available.

Power-play production can sustain itself for a few more years, but starts to steadily decline after 30. So strong power-play contributors like Hoffman and Dadonov should start seeing the regression take hold of their numbers.

Micah Blake McCurdy

Big name free agency is a dangerous game and, in all honesty, one the Hurricanes should avoid if these players want term. It would involve moving salary out which is even harder in the NHL’s current situation and would also require additional assets being removed all to gamble on players heading away from their prime.

Instead, trades or cheaper, budget free agents are where the Canes should be searching and Saturday we will go over some players in the UFA market who would make sense and be easier on Carolina’s front office.