RALEIGH — The NHL trade deadline, set for Monday at 3 p.m. and for the first time in a long time the Carolina Hurricanes could be buyers in an effort to reach the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Despite Carolina being one point out of a playoff spot entering Friday’s home game against the Penguins, several news organizations have listed Hurricanes players as potential trade targets. TSN, for example, had both Derek Ryan and Jeff Skinner in the Top 20 of its “Trade Bait” board.
Coach Bill Peters has made it clear he believes his team is in a position to add rather than subtract talent in an effort to return to the playoffs.
“If we do anything, I want to add to the group,” Peters said following Friday’s morning skate. “I don’t want to delete the group. If the group is the way it is, I think we can get in. I strongly believe we’ll be able to get in with what we have in the room. If they’re able to add to the group, that’s great too.”
Peters said the same leading up to last year’s deadline, but the team stumbled out of contention approaching the deadline and general manager Ron Francis traded two veterans on expiring contracts — Ron Hainsey and Viktor Stalberg — in exchange for draft picks.
If Carolina attempts to push itself over the top, the obvious need is scoring. There are, however, several directions the Hurricanes can go.
Pundits, fans and even the team have all talked about how important it is for Carolina to get a No. 1 center. The Hurricanes, though, have said they see burgeoning superstar Sebastian Aho as a center and have experimented with him there.
Aho doesn’t appear ready to fulfill that role yet — the performance of his line in Carolina’s 7-3 win over the Kings on Feb. 13 led Peters to move the 20-year-old Finn back to the wing in the third period — but the team believes he will be a center.
Furthermore, Carolina seems to have found a future gem in Martin Necas, the 12th overall pick in last summer’s draft who also projects as a center. Does it make sense to add a center at the deadline — or even in the offseason — if the team feels it has two players who can fill the void?
If focus shifts to the wing, Carolina could make an addition that helps it in both the short term and down the road.
The easy answer is Ottawa left wing Mike Hoffman, who has everything the Hurricanes could want: he’s fast, consistently scores in the 25-goal range and still has term (two years at a cap hit of nearly $5.2 million) on his contract.
It’s an obvious fit if Aho was entrenched at center, but with him still on the left wing it creates a bit of a glut at that position. Aho and Jeff Skinner are locked into top-nine roles, and Brock McGinn is one of Peters’ favorites and has been a catalyst when flanking a center across from veteran Justin Williams on the other side.
The same problems hold true for Valentin Zykov, a left wing who leads the AHL in scoring. Yes, he’s having a breakout scoring season. Most of that damage, however, has been done on the power play, and Carolina’s special teams have performed well and it’s unlikely Zykov does enough at 5-on-5 — specifically defensively — to yet warrant a chance at a critical juncture.
The team likes AHL rookie Warren Foegele as well, but he needs polish before he’s ready to contribute during a playoff push.
An injury to one of the team’s scoring forwards could lead to one of those two players getting a shot, but otherwise Peters is likely to continue with the guys he has.
The most prudent addition might be a right wing. Phil Di Giuseppe is, at best, a fourth-liner, and Lee Stempniak has struggled to find a niche since missing the first half of the season with an injury. Ottawa’s Mark Stone, a pending restricted free agent, is an option, but he’s not the fleetest of foot and adds size but little physicality. The right wing market, otherwise, is thin.
Now, for a bit of fantasy time.
One would think the most intriguing name to pop up in trade rumors, Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson, would not be on Carolina’s radar. But should he be?
New Hurricanes majority owner Tom Dundon clearly wants to win, and what would make a bigger splash than taking a run at arguably the game’s best defenseman? The asking price would be astronomical, but it’s one Carolina could afford to pay.
To get Karlsson, who has one more year on his deal, a king’s ransom — and perhaps taking back a cap anchor — would be required. With Jaccob Slavin entrenched as the team’s No. 1 left side defenseman, Carolina could offer either Justin Faulk or Brett Pesce — Karlsson would take the top right-handed D spot, making one expendable — for starters. A 2018 first round pick would certainly head the other way, as well as a top prospect and probably more.
The Senators would reportedly like to be rid of the remainder of winger Bobby Ryan’s contract (four years and $30 million remaining), meaning any team who took Ryan as part of getting Karlsson would get a discount.
The Hurricanes have the cap space — and the deep-pocketed owner — to take Ryan’s contract, and Ryan would even be an upgrade to the team’s right wing situation despite his regression as a player.
There’s plenty of risk in such a bold move, and it would require a lot of moving parts — the biggest of which would be Karlsson not listing Carolina among the 10 teams he can deny a trade to as part of his no-trade clause — but it’s the kind of trade that could shake up an organization staring nine years outside the playoffs in the face.