The Carolina Hurricanes, who have not made the playoffs for nine straight seasons, have made it clear that they’re open to making some changes this offseason: apparently, just about anybody not named Sebastian Aho could potentially be for sale.
That brings up a curious question where the Flames are involved. After Bill Peters opted out of his contract in Carolina, it was just a matter of days before he took over the coaching vacancy in Calgary. Who’s going to know the Canes players that may be up for trade better than him?
We’re specifically talking trade, so someone like, say, a right-shot centre who scored 38 points this past season by the name of Derek Ryan won’t really be discussed here. If the Flames want him, especially at their new head coach’s behest, they can pick him up easily.
No, we’re only going to talk those still under contract and restricted free agents here. And we’re going to stick primarily to forwards, too: while the Canes have a number of intriguing defencemen who came of age under Peters, the Flames are particularly full up on both defencemen and near-NHL-ready defensive prospects.
One of the easiest ways to measure whether or not a coach particularly likes a player is by looking at their average ice time throughout the season. Here’s a glance at the Canes’ regularly used forwards.
All situations numbers via NaturalStatTrick.
(Of these nine forwards, Ryan is the only one who is an upcoming unrestricted free agent; I know I said we weren’t going to talk about him, but I figured we should at least include his numbers for context.)
Ice time analysis is one thing, though; having actually regularly watched the Hurricanes and following them over the course of an entire season is something else entirely. So I turned to someone who has done exactly that, Corey Sznajder, and asked him who he thought it might make sense for the Flames to trade for, under a Peters context.
Jeff Skinner is the big name that most expect to be traded, but don’t hold your breath for a deal to bring him to Calgary. According to Sznajder, Peters wasn’t big on Skinner, and we can see that in the ice time stats: despite being fourth in points on the team, he was fifth in average ice time per game.
Worse yet, you thought it was maddening not seeing Matthew Tkachuk as a staple on the first powerplay unit? Skinner was sixth in powerplay ice time on the Hurricanes, behind Teuvo Teravainen, Elias Lindholm, Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, and Justin Williams. Again, that’s with him being a higher-scoring player than the two centres; he also had the second most shots on the man advantage, behind only Teravainen.
At 5v5, Skinner was the most sheltered out of all regular Hurricanes forwards as well: His 63.99% OZS was a little above that of Victor Rask and his most common linemate, Ryan. Which, speaking of, with no disrespect to Ryan, but what was he doing regularly centring Skinner instead of one of their top six centres?
Skinner is a top six forward who didn’t appear to be treated as such under Peters. Considering how his acquisition cost is likely to be pretty high – he’s one of the Canes’ best trade chips – it doesn’t make sense for the Flames to go after him if his coach apparently didn’t trust him.
Lindholm, on the other hand, is a different story. He hasn’t posted point totals as sexy as Skinner has yet, but with a career high of 45 points and a low of 39 over the past four years, he looks like a steady bet to contribute offensively. Keep in mind that he’s only 23 years old as well – the best could be yet to come – and that he’s a right-shot centre, and he only gets more and more intriguing. (And on a superficial note, he was a 2013 first round pick – the guy taken right before Sean Monahan – and the Flames already have five of those, so why not go for six?)
Lindholm has consistently been a +50% 5v5 CF player, and this past season is the only time to date he’s been a negative relative CF player: -1.76%, compared to +1.33%, +2.96%, and +1.33% in years before. Granted, he’s always received offensive zone starts above 50%, but we’re talking about a centre Mark Jankowski’s age who already has a lot more experience and scoring to show for it: worst case scenario, he’d be able to add quality depth to the lineup.
How much did Peters like Lindholm? According to Sznajder, quite a bit: “Played the most among forwards on nights even when he was struggling and he tried to do everything to get him going.” That could be a red flag regarding Lindholm’s abilities – that he has a lower P/60 and was only sixth in team scoring despite his heavy ice time is concerning – but if Peters really liked him, then it’s worth looking at potentially acquiring him.
And would the Canes trade him? Again, entirely possible: he’s a restricted free agent in all likelihood due for a raise over his previous $2.7 million cap hit, the Canes are less inclined to spend money the way the Flames are, and, according to Sznajder: “I could see him being one of the guys moved if only for the fact that he hasn’t been a huge difference maker in the NHL and Dundon likes a lot of the prospects and players from Charlotte.”
How much it would cost to get Lindholm in a trade would be another story, but he’d almost certainly be cheaper than Skinner. And again, a right-shot centre who can score is something the Flames could really use.
On the other hand, while the Flames really don’t have much in the way of assets to trade, not everyone on the Hurricanes roster is going to come at a high price.
McGinn was a depth player liked by Peters, and all things considered, he did pretty well: his 30 points on the season would have had him ninth in Flames scoring (he was tied for 11th on the Hurricanes). This past season was just his first as a full time NHLer, but he’s only 24 years old; there could be more hope for him yet. He was just barely a negative relative player for the Hurricanes (-0.33% 5v5 CF) and didn’t get particularly favourable zone starts compared to the rest of his team.
Joakim Nordstrom is another possibility Sznajder listed to me as someone Peters liked; however, neither his counting stats nor his underlying numbers leave much to be inspired by: averaging just 10:34 a game throughout the season, he scored only seven points, and posted a -3.50% 5v5 CF. He’s played roughly three full NHL seasons now, and at 26 years of age, this is probably who he is.
Both are left-shot left wingers.
Trading for a defenceman from any team seems particularly unlikely, but there could be an avenue there if it’s for a player Peters really, really liked and thinks would be an addition to Calgary’s corps. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce stand out one way in particular: they’re signed long-term, and though both came up under Peters, it would likely take a lot to get them out of Carolina.
According to Sznajder, Noah Hanifin would be interesting, but Peters also sheltered him for some time, and it took Hanifin a while to break into the top four.
If the Flames pick up any defenceman from Carolina, then Justin Faulk could be the most likely candidate. He had, by his standards, a down season (31 points over 76 games: a drop from his career high of 49 in 82 set in 2014-15). Faulk was, however, heavily turned to this past season, averaging 22:16 a game (second on the Canes) and playing 222:56 on the powerplay (first out of all Canes players). Sznajder also said Peters would frequently turn to Faulk in high key defensive situations, so there’s a great deal of trust there – and if he’s someone the Hurricanes are content to clear out, then perhaps Peters could persuade the Flames to pick him up.
Faulk is a right shot, but who knows: acquiring a defenceman wouldn’t mean that none wouldn’t also be on their way out. Though I wouldn’t anticipate it, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.