Outside of Sebastian Aho’s trip to San Jose for the NHL All-Star Weekend, the Carolina Hurricanes took some time off the ice before returning Thursday for practice in preparation for tonight’s home game against the Vegas Golden Knights. This week’s Category 5 dives into Vegas’ roster — including the only former Hurricane to play for them — prospects that could be of interest to the Hurricanes in a Micheal Ferland trade, Jordan Martinook’s new deal and the team’s change in attitude, and the return of Bill Peters and three former players when Calgary visits Sunday.
Category 1: The Hurricanes return from their combined All-Star break/bye week with a game tonight against the visiting Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights have proven last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final wasn’t an aberration — Vegas is firmly in playoff position and 29-19-4 with 62 points on the season.
How have they done it? Good team defense: The Knights rank second, behind only Carolina, in fewest shots allowed at 28.4; and their 2.67 goals-against average is fifth-best in the NHL.
Coach Gerard Gallant has also done a magnificent job of molding the Knights into a team. Thanks to the expansion draft, the team was assembled from a mishmash of players from all over the league. In fact — according to my research — only four of the NHL’s 30 other teams have not had a former player suit up for the Golden Knights: the Islanders, Senators, Avalanche and Coyotes.
Vegas selected goalie J-F Berube from the Islanders but traded him to Chicago before he played for the Golden Knights. That said, Luca Sbisa, who played for Vegas last year, now plays (sparingly) for the Isles.
Vegas also traded its selection from Ottawa, defenseman Marc Methot, to Dallas before he had a chance to join the league’s 31st team.
Colorado lost Calvin Pickard in the expansion draft, and Vegas dealt him to Toronto just ahead of the Knights’ debut. Pickard did, however, play two preseason games for Vegas.
Finally, Teemu Pulkkinen played last season with Vegas’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, after being drafted from Arizona, but he never made it to the NHL. He’s now playing in the KHL.
Category 2: As for the Hurricanes, they negotiated a trade with Vegas to get the Golden Knights to select forward Connor Brickley. Ten days later, Brickley became a free agent and signed with Florida. He then signed on with Nashville for this season, but he was traded to the Rangers a couple weeks ago.
The only former Hurricanes player to suit up for the Knights is Valentin Zykov, who has played one game for Vegas after being claimed off waivers from Edmonton on Dec. 29. The Oilers had snatched Zykov off waivers from the Hurricanes on Nov. 30, but he managed no points in five games with them before he was waived again.
The Golden Knights haven’t given up on Zykov yet. The Athletic’s Jesse Granger reported ($) Wednesday that Vegas sees the 6-foot, 220-pound Russian winger as a possible solution to their lack of scoring on the third line and are trying to ease him into the team’s system and play him once they feel he’s in a position to succeed.
For whatever reason, Zykov — who got a two-year, one-way deal from the Hurricanes this past offseason worth $675,000 annually — didn’t fit in with new Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour’s system and played under 10 minutes a night despite getting early-season power play duty. Two of his three assists did come on the PP, but the addition of Micheal Ferland took away the cozy 5-on-5 spot Zykov had at the end of last season alongside Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.
Furthermore, Zykov — who had seven points in 10 games with Carolina last year — had seemed to sour on his role with the Hurricanes. When he was was the Hurricanes at the end of last season, Zykov seemed at ease and was even funny at times. I didn’t see any of that this season with the Hurricanes.
Carolina had hoped Zykov, the AHL’s goal-scoring leader with the Checkers last season, could provide secondary scoring for them. The Golden Knights are now hoping for the same. The latest Zykov experiment could begin tonight.
Category 3: The smoke surrounding a possible Micheal Ferland trade is spreading, with Boston, Nashville, Pittsburgh and even Calgary being mentioned as possible destinations. Let’s look at those four teams and what they could potentially offer.
Carolina is reportedly looking for a first round pick and a prospect. That might be a tough ask, given that Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin — with a cap-friendly year left on his contract — landed a first and two prospects from Toronto.
All four teams still have their first-rounders and each has something to give up beyond that. But let’s hypothesize that no team is willing to trade a No. 1 for Ferland. Do these teams have top-end prospects or players that would be considered a first round value? Yes and no.
Nashville might be most promising. They have Eeli Tolvanen, a Finnish (!!) sniper who looked like an absolute steal at the end of the 2017 draft’s first round after he tore up the KHL and Olympics last season. He’s been slow to adjust to the North American game, with just seven goals in 29 games with AHL Milwaukee and one goal and an assist in four with the big club. Would Nashville be desperate enough for Ferland to sell low on Tolvanen?
Boston’s top prospect is probably Ryan Donato, son of a longtime Bruin, Ted Donato. The younger Donato, like Tolvanen, hasn’t been as good as expected this season (six goals, nine points in 34 games with the B’s) and was recently reassigned to the AHL, but he was great at the end of last season. I have a hard time seeing the Bruins trading Donato — it might sting dealing a legacy player, even if Ferland fits the “Big, Bad Bruins” mold perfectly.
Pittsburgh is a bit of a mess prospect-wise — such is Jim Rutherford’s M.O. when he’s going for it — and it has already traded away top prospect Daniel Sprong this season. There is goaltender Tristan Jarry, but he doesn’t seem like an upgrade to Alex Nedeljkovic. There’s also 27-year-old Casey DeSmith, who is signed for three more years at $1.25 million annually — a bargain contract Rutherford would be unlikely to part with. The good news is if either came up in any talks, Hurricanes goalie coach Mike Bales would be familiar with both from his time in that role with the Penguins.
Finally, there’s talk the Flames wouldn’t be averse to reacquiring Ferland from Carolina. Calgary already gave the Hurricanes Adam Fox in the Ferland and Dougie Hamilton-for-Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin trade, and many of their other top prospects are also on the back end. Center Dillon Dube is intriguing, but he’s not a trade centerpiece player, in my opinion.
Elsewhere around the league, the Jets have Kristian Vesalainen — another Finn, though more in the power forward build than smallish Tolvanen — and the Lightning have Alexander Volkov, who is more in the Dube range than some of the others mentioned. Toronto will be mentioned, and Carolina would surely ask for a legacy player of their own — Kaspari Kapanen.
If I had my druthers, I would try to pry Tolvanen out of Nashville — but that may be a pipe dream.
Category 4: Jordan Martinook’s new two-year, $4 million contract is a win for both sides. Martinook gets the same money next season as this year ($1.85 million), but a bump to $2.15 million in 2020-21. Martinook should set a new career high in goals this year (he has 10 already, one shy of his previous best), but his contributions in the locker room are perhaps even more important.
Martinook’s addition after last season added a much-needed boost to the energy level in Carolina’s room. He oozes positivity and has embraced the team’s younger players — most importantly, Andrei Svechnikov, but also Lucas Wallmark.
“I have fun in the dressing room,” Martinook said Thursday following the team’s practice when asked where his positive attitude comes from. “I love playing hockey. I love coming and doing this job. It’s the best job in the world, and when you can come joke around with 20, 21, 23 of your best friends every day, it’s a lot of fun. And I’m just happy I can be here for two more years of it.”
Don’t underestimate the value of that. In fact, most of Carolina’s offseason moves were made, in part, to change the character of the team.
Ferland was brought in to give the team an edge. Mission accomplished. Calvin de Haan may not be as boisterous as Martinook, but he’s a veteran leader on the defense and also a thoughtful and interesting guy. And while Hamilton may never be considered a “glue guy,” he’s nothing like the Canadian media made him out to be following the trade from Calgary.
Lastly, the addition of Nino Niederreiter is a positive one both on and off the ice. Victor Rask, the player traded for Niederreiter, got a bad rap for being seemingly emotionless, but he was an affable and pleasant person. Niederreiter, however, does bring more personality. He was beloved in Minnesota — by the fans and his teammates — and I imagine he’ll be the same here.
Category 5: Lindholm, Hanifin, Derek Ryan and Bill Peters return to Raleigh for the first time for a Super Bowl Sunday matinee at PNC Arena. The two players who were traded to the Flames, in part due to their contract demands, will likely be received warmly by the Carolina fans. The same with Ryan, a feel-good story of a guy getting his payday after spanning the globe to keep his dream alive. But I do wonder what the reception will be like for Peters.
You can’t fault Peters for leaving — he had an out clause and opted to use it, knowing that a multiyear deal to coach elsewhere was likely there while he was only guaranteed a year’s pay with the Hurricanes. That said, professional sports is often viewed as a “finish what you started” business, and Peters essentially gave up on the franchise rather than try to turn out around.
It’s thus far worked out for him. Calgary came out of the All-Star break atop the Pacific Division, and his Flames won the first matchup against his old team on Jan. 22, winning 3-2 in overtime. Round 2 in Raleigh will be much more interesting.