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Hurricanes still have power to alter NHL’s power balance this off-season

Trade talk has gone quiet around the league in recent weeks but, in Faulk and Skinner, the Canes are dangling two players who could turn pretenders into contenders.

It’s more or less the Silly Season in hockey now. Fishing lines are cast and sunscreen is rubbed in. Most of the news we’ve seen in the past couple weeks involves contract extensions and arbitration hearings. We’ve seen two trades since July 3, one of them Chicago’s salary dump of Marian Hossa’s contract, the other a minor deal involving low-level prospects from Columbus and Arizona.

All’s quiet on the trading front, even as it’s all but guaranteed two captains, the Ottawa Senators’ Erik Karlsson and the Montreal Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty, end up on new teams at some point between now and the 2019 trade deadline.

That feeling of calm can lull us into believing all the major off-season movement is done. The Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues and Buffalo Sabres look like the summer’s biggest improvers while the Toronto Maple Leafs scored the top prize in John Tavares. We think we have a pretty good handle on our predictions for 2018-19 now, right? At The Hockey News, we’ve even finished projecting our standings, which will appear in our Yearbook when it hits newsstands in a few weeks.

But there’s still one team out there with the power to alter the league’s power structure before the season starts. Don’t sleep on the Carolina Hurricanes.

They’ve already been busy under new owner Tom Dundon, nudging out GM Ron Francis and hiring Don Waddell, hiring a new coach in Rod Brind’Amour and swinging a draft-day blockbuster trade, shipping out 2013 and 2015 first-round picks Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox.

The Hanifin trade wasn’t a huge surprise because it was widely known the Canes had a monstrous surplus of quality defensemen. Oddly enough, though, they’ve since amassed an even bigger surplus. Not only did Hamilton come back their way, they also landed a good blueline prospect in Fox and signed UFA Calvin de Haan to a four-year, $18.2-million deal. So that gives the Canes a top four likely consisting of shutdown duo Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, plus Hamilton and de Haan. That leaves two right-handed shots, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Justin Faulk, as the bottom pair, with prospect Haydn Fleury likely ready for NHL duty but without a spot available in the lineup, and with two other good prospects in the system in Jake Bean and Fox.

There is simply too big an overflow on defense for us not to foresee another trade, and it has to involve Faulk. He has two years left on his contract at a highly team-friendly $4.83-million cap hit, he has zero movement restrictions on his deal, and he has been somewhat marginalized in recent seasons, seeing a decline in his minutes and responsibility. It makes enormous sense to trade Faulk and, as a 26-year-old righthander, he has the ability to significantly impact the fate of whichever team gets him. It’s no secret the Toronto Maple Leafs want that mobile right-handed shot on D, but the team to watch closest is arguably the Chicago Blackhawks. They are desperate for help on defense as longtime stalwarts Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook creep deeper into their 30s. Chicago cleared cap and roster space by sending Hossa’s contract, blueliner Jordan Oesterle and winger/center Vinnie Hinostroza to the Arizona Coyotes.

The Blackhawks could probably use another scoring winger, too, as could several other teams, most notably the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers. And the Hurricanes again factor in as a potentially massive influencer, because they of course can dangle speedy left winger Jeff Skinner. By his 26th birthday he’s cleared 200 career goals. He can help almost any team that gets him given the need for fast-paced attacking in today’s NHL.

Depending on who lands Faulk and Skinner, the standings projections really could change for 2018-19. How much deadlier are the Penguins with Skinner playing alongside, say, Evgeni Malkin? Are the Leafs the best team in the East if they land Faulk, addressing their one glaring need? Do the Bruins catch up or even leapfrog Toronto and Tampa if they end up with Skinner?

The Hurricanes hold some crucial cards this summer. The question is whether they can strike a deal for what they really want: a dominant center. It’s unlikely they can land one in a trade, meaning Skinner and Faulk are more likely to fetch picks and futures. That was the ask for Skinner according to the Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun in June – a prospect and a first-rounder – but that was before the 2018 draft. Are the Canes comfortable chasing 2019 draft picks now? Doing so while sending important roster players out would be surrendering to another year in rebuild mode, and the aggressive moves so far in the Dundon era imply this team wants to win now. That’s probably why we haven’t seen a Faulk or Skinner trade yet. The price has to be right.