Canes should look to build through trade rather than draft
Posted June 23
The Carolina Hurricanes take the next step towards a 2017-18 improvement Friday night in Chicago with this year’s amateur draft. The first building block came Wednesday with the expansion draft that stocked the Vegas Golden Knights with their inaugural roster. Carolina, who greased Vegas’ palm with a late-round draft pick, kept their NHL roster intact when they lost only minor league forward Connor Brickley.
I'll give you Google time to figure out if this was a significant loss
Then, General Manager Ron Francis sent a second round pick, the 62nd overall selection that came from Pittsburgh in the the Ron Hainsey trade, to the Golden Knights for 26-year-old defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk. The Middletown, NJ, product, who was a college teammate of Carolina's Brett Pesce at the University of New Hampshire, played the last two full seasons with the Blackhawks and is coming off a 5-goal, 16-point season in which his plus/minus rating was a spectacular 17 in 58 games. Barring something odd, van Riemsdyk should fit very nicely on the third defensive pairing, ideally with Haydn Fleury. The seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft came on strong over the second half of last season in Charlotte, helping lead the Checkers to the playoffs while finishing with 26 points and a plus-16 rating.
Now comes the NHL Draft, and Francis has eight remaining picks at his disposal. Carolina will select five times in the first three rounds (12, 42, 52, 67 and 73), and keep in mind that they’ve already used second and third rounders to acquire van Riemsdyk and goalie Scott Darling, respectively. Think of those draft picks as assets, some to be used on draft-eligible players and others included in trades for veteran, established players who could help the Hurricanes snap their current 59-year playoff drought.
Oh, it’s “only” eight years? Seems a lot longer.
This year has to be one in which the Canes fall out of the playoff group. Is it a MUST make the postseason year? In my view, no. But, it is one in which Carolina has to get off to a good start and be in the mix all season long. None of this 10-3-6 stretch in March just to climb back to within 3 points of a spot. That’s not going to cut it. We all know that it’s hard to crack the group of eight in the Eastern Conference. When you consider the recent history of the Penguins, Capitals, Rangers and Canadiens, then the up-and-coming young stars in Toronto and Columbus, this side of the bracket is a beast. But, there’s simply no reason the Canes can’t be in the mix for a playoff spot. Securing one is going to be a difficult task, but competing for one is paramount.
As it stands now, the Hurricanes have at least $8 million to spend just to get to the salary floor! And, it’s not like they have a lot of automatically open roster spots. If you assume that the club brings back forwards Brock McGinn and Phil DiGiuseppe and elevates Fleury to the NHL, that would only leave Carolina looking for three forwards to fill out a 13-player roster up front. Make another assumption that at least one of those forward spots comes from within — Lucas Wallmark, Valentin Zykov, Aleski Saarela or by resigning Derek Ryan — and there would still be a lot of money that needs to be spent just to meet the minimum payout.
Then consider the potential trade of one (or both) of Carolina’s back up goalies. If Francis were to move either Cam Ward or Eddie Lack, that would free up an additional $3 million in mandatory spending. Now, before you go blowing all of Peter Karmanos’ money, keep in mind that three of the Hurricanes’ four young defensemen are hitting restricted free agency next year. Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin and Pesce are on the final years of their entry-level contracts. If the Canes want to keep them, they are looking in the neighborhood of a 300 and 400 percent increase in salary for the trio.
The 2018 season will also see a new deal needed for Elias Lindholm, and you can certainly make a case for extending him now, before the price gets out of control next spring. Sure, it depends on which version of Lindholm shows up in 2017-18, but he sure did continue his strong play as Sweden won the gold medal at the World Championships in May. It’s also worth noting that he played on a line with Victor Rask and Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, a very popular trade target that the Canes would be wise to consider pursuing.
So, while this might not be the year to start spending a lot of the roughly $25 million in cap space, it’s clear that Francis has room to add several pieces to continue the Canes’ development into a team that is consistently part of the postseason tournament.
What to expect?
I’ll be surprised if Carolina uses all eight picks this weekend. Wait, I’ll be stunned. And, it will likely be a very big mistake if they do. There is no one in this draft, apart from swinging a big trade that would push the Canes into the top two, who is going to make a significant NHL impact this year. There is also no one in the system, whether in Charlotte or the junior/college ranks, who is likely going to fit in a top-six role, so if that’s where you’re looking to bolster the NHL roster then this season is likely going to be very similar to last year — although there is expected improvement in goaltending which could certainly close much of the gap.
Any impact scorer, and preferably a center, is going to have to come through a trade, and it may take parting with a player Francis doesn’t want to give up in order to acquire one he has to have. While I’m not advocating for that, it may be the only way to get what you feel you need in order to break this bottomless bucket of failure that has been the Hurricanes’ fate.
Would you give up a Hanifin for one of Toronto’s dynamic scoring forwards, Mitch Marner or William Nylander? Then there’s Landeskog or Avalanche teammate Matt Duchene. What about Artem Anisimov of the Blackhawks, the Canes’ regular dance partner? The answer to any of those potential acquisitions would depend on the asking price. But, I will tell you this, parting with Justin Faulk, even with his defensive deficiencies, would be very difficult considering the Hurricanes do NOT have anyone whot can replace his booming shot from the point.
You could certainly argue that Slavin and Pesce are superior defensemen, but neither possesses Faulk’s thunder from the blue line.
Speculating is never a good thing, especially when we’re all in such a vulnerable, emotional state ahead of the draft. But, here’s a game plan. Draft a defenseman and a second-round draft pick for a top-tier offensive forward, sign a steady, Trevor Daley-type to play on the second pairing and find an energetic, abrasive fourth-line center who can play between McGinn and DiGiuseppe.
Oh, and even though I’ve never seen any of the draft-eligible players skate, let alone shoot and score, the guy who most intrigues me is Nicholas Suzuki. He won’t turn 18 until September 10 (send him a card), but at 5’11” and 185 lbs. he’s got a hockey body, a motor that doesn’t quit and might be the best two-way player among those likely to be available when Carolina selects 12th.
Again, I know nothing, and that's just from reading people who have seen all of these prospects, but isn’t that the fun part? Enjoy the draft Friday night and we’ll see you at PNC Arena very soon.