They did it. They finally did it. After weeks of speculation about who would go and when it would happen, the Carolina Hurricanes finally trimmed their blueline by one and, after an earlier and widely reported flirtation with the Anaheim Ducks, did so by shipping Justin Faulk to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday afternoon.
As has been touched on in the time since the deal, the trade accomplished two important things for the Blues. First, it landed them another right-shot defender and one with some offensive upside and puck-moving ability. Second, it gave St. Louis a security blanket should captain and top-four defenseman Alex Pietrangelo decide to test the open market and subsequently bolt as a free agent. But it shouldn’t be overlooked what a tidy bit of business this was for the Hurricanes, too.
Following Tuesday’s swap, colleague Ken Campbell noted that beyond landing Joel Edmundson in the swap, a blueliner who Carolina GM Don Waddell said brings a little extra oomph to the backend and can play a different role than those already in the lineup, the Hurricanes were also able to scoop up prospect Dominik Bokk. And it’s how the Hurricanes did so that’s impressive, leveraging Faulk’s pending unrestricted free agent status and the Blues’ interest in negotiating a long-term pact with the defender into an agreement that if an extension was settled upon, Carolina would receive the promising prospect. One thing led to another and now Bokk finds himself as part of the Hurricanes’ cadre of prospects. Hats off to Waddell for that one.
But now that Waddell has done his work in offloading Faulk, who had long been rumored to be the odd-man out on the Hurricanes’ blueline, and clearing up one spot on his blueline, where does the spotlight for next-team-to-make-a-move now turn? Here are five teams who could be the next to make a swap before the start of the season:
Matthew Tkachuk’s contract was always going to make the cap situation a bit more complicated in Calgary, but his actual signing – he put pen to paper Wednesday on a three-year, $21-million deal – might be the impetus the Flames needed to really start working the phones. The issue, as it stands, is that Calgary is some several-hundred thousand dollars over the spending limit, and while the solution can be as easy as shuffling someone such as Dillon Dube to the minors, the actual solution to the Flames’ problem, and what gives them the chance to ice the best possible lineup, might be a touch more complex.
It’s been no secret, for instance, that the Flames have dangled Michael Frolik in trade talks before. Notably, he was reported to be part of a trade package that would have seen Jason Zucker land in Calgary ahead of last season’s trade freeze. Such a deal never came to fruition, but it hasn’t stopped Frolik’s name from bubbling to the surface. He’s not the only one who’s been orbiting the rumor mill, however. Defensemen T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic have also seen their names crop up, but they’re far less likely to be moving on following the training injury suffered by rearguard Jusso Valimaki.
The Flames don’t necessarily have to make a move beyond some minor tweaks and tunes to become cap compliant. If Calgary wants to get Dube, who shone last season in the AHL, onto the big club this year, though, don’t be all too surprised if there’s a cap-clearing deal made.
Surprise! The more things change, the more they stay the same, because even though Carolina did what it needed to clear Faulk from the blueline and free up cap space in the process – they’re not yet compliant, but it shouldn’t be an issue becoming compliant by the start of the season – one could argue that there still needs to be another move involving a defenseman. (That sound you hear is a chorus of tiny violins being played by the several NHL teams who would love to have the same too-many-NHL-defensemen problem.)
Likely on the short list of new odd-men out, coincidentally, is Edmundson, who is, like Faulk before him, a pending UFA and frankly doesn’t have a spot in the top four and could very well be relegated to fill-in duty if Haydn Fleury takes on a full-time role this season. Of course, Edmundson isn’t the only one. Trevor van Riemsdyk’s days are numbered in Carolina, and if the Hurricanes view, say, the recently demoted Roland McKeown as a better option in the near future, maybe it’s ‘TVR’ who is playing his final days in Carolina.
Moving one of Edmundson or van Riemsdyk makes sense for the Hurricanes, too, as it would free up far more cap space than moving on from a youngster making little more than league minimum, and the additional cap space could be used to get Martin Necas into the lineup up front or bring in a forward via trade. Carolina has added firepower this summer, but adding more while also easing the blueline gridlock is a kill-two-birds scenario the Hurricanes could and probably should entertain before the season begins.
Two words: Julius Honka.
Do the Stars absolutely, positively need to move the 23-year-old restricted free agent? Not at all. But Dallas likely doesn’t want to start the season with the 2014 first-rounder sitting on the sidelines and acting as a distraction. It seems clear at this point that Honka and the Stars are either past or nearing the point of no return, and GM Jim Nill making public that, yes, Honka has in fact asked for a trade out of town makes it all but certain that the blueliner will be starting this season elsewhere whenever that time comes. There’s a benefit to moving out the blueliner sooner rather than later, though, and that’s the opportunity to leverage another team’s loss – ahem, looking at a certain team on this list – into a more favorable return.
The thing about Honka, too, is that it’s not as though there’s no upside. There certainly is for whichever team acquires him, which is why Nill could probably move the blueliner at a moment’s notice and to the highest bidder if he so decided. Honka, 23, has offensive upside that’s untapped and what he might need, more than anything, is a bit of guidance, some sheltering and renewed confidence.
The salary cap isn’t the issue in Vancouver. No, it’s the size of the roster. At present, the Canucks have 22 players who would need to clear waivers if they were demoted, but the issue is they have four who are waiver exempt but are absolute locks to take up spots in the lineup. That Antoine Roussel has potential to start the season on long-term injured reserve clears up one spot and gets the Canucks down to 25 players, but there’s still two more who will need to be trimmed in order to get down to a 23-man squad.
The likely scenario? Tim Schaller ends up waived and demoted to the minors and another potential bottom-sixer joins him – Nikolay Goldobin, perhaps? – to clear the logjam. But there may be another way to solve the problem and do so for good, and that’s moving out some bodies.
For that, Schaller might be the best candidate. Not only does he have to clear waivers, but there’s likely some team that would be willing to take a chance on the versatile forward, and having someone pick up his pact would also remove the buried cap hit from the Canucks’ books. Another candidate? Loui Eriksson. Yes, yes, incredibly unlikely because who is going to take on his $6-million cap hit, but the Canucks should sniff around to see if there’s no one who would take him on.
It should go without saying that the Jets’ desire to make any roster additions is entirely contingent on the status of Dustin Byfuglien come the beginning of the season, but let’s operate under the assumption that Winnipeg will be without the defender when the campaign kicks off. If that is indeed the case, there’s going to be a 6-foot-5, 260-pound, power play-running, minute-munching hole to fill on the Jets’ blueline.
Of course, there’s going to be pressure put on those slated to skate on the backend to fill the gap. Josh Morrissey, in particular, will be asked to step up, but depth defenders Dmitry Kulikov and Sami Niku will also be asked to play larger roles than expected, as will off-season acquisition Neal Pionk. But that still leaves question marks on the blueline, and that’s why Winnipeg might start kicking the tires on potential additions.
With Justin Faulk shipped to the St. Louis Blues, he can be crossed off the list of potential additions, but might a deal for one of the Hurricanes other depth defenders be in the cards? Or is there a rearguard elsewhere in the NHL who’s both available and fits what the Jets are after? Winnipeg will have to proceed with caution given the lack of clarity about Byfuglien’s future, but expect them to do their due diligence when it comes to finding a fix, even if it is a short-term solution.
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