Since their first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Boston Bruins, general manager Don Waddell and the Carolina Hurricanes have wasted little time searching for ways to re-tool their team during the short offseason.
Rumors surfaced recently of the Hurricanes exploring the goalie market, namely Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Carolina also shipped out pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) Joel Edmundson to the Montreal Canadiens for a fifth-round pick.
But another area the Hurricanes should be looking to improve is their offense, as secondary scoring was an issue not just in the playoffs, but throughout the entire season.
With a stacked prospect pool, some enviable roster players, and four picks in the first three rounds of the 2020 draft, the ‘Canes have plenty of chips to play with. But with Andrei Svechnikov and Dougie Hamilton approaching big paydays in 2021, the Hurricanes also need to be cautious financially.
In order for the top line of Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen to keep weaving magic together, the Hurricanes need a solid second-line winger who can provide reliable scoring when the big boys go cold. Here are five of the top candidates for that position.
5. Ondrej Palat
The Tampa Bay Lightning are enjoying a successful playoff run, but they’ll soon be in a cap pinch, with pending restricted free agents (RFAs) Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak in need of new contracts at the end of the season.
The Lightning have three forwards hovering around the 30-year-old mark who all bear similar contracts and play similar roles – Yanni Gourde, Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat.
Gourde comes with five more seasons at a cap hit of $5.166 million – that’s a guy the Hurricanes should stay away from. Killorn is the cheapest option of the three, at $4.45 million, but he’s also 31 years old, has three years remaining, and has only broken the 20-goal mark once – last season.
The reason the Hurricanes should target Palat is he only has two years left, and provides a bit more puck creativity than the other two. He’s stepped up prominently for the Lightning during their playoff run, scoring 8 goals and 13 points in 17 games, which only trails Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point.
The issue with Palat is his heavy cap hit of $5.3 million, and because of that, a potential trade may not work without salary retention. The Hurricanes are already being weighed down by the combined $11.25 million that goes to Jordan Staal and Nino Niederreiter, and if they’re going to bring another big forward on board, they need the best value possible.
4. Jaden Schwartz
It’s no secret the St. Louis Blues’ salary cap maneuvering has resembled that of the inside of a moving truck, and other teams around the league are surely looking to take advantage of their desperation.
The Blues have already shed Jake Allen’s $4.35 million contract by moving him to the Canadiens, but in the interest of re-signing defenseman Vince Dunn, and more importantly, their UFA captain Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues may need to move another contract. That’s where Jaden Schwartz comes in.
Schwartz, 28, is a reliable 50-point man who plays left-wing and can slot in beside Trocheck or Aho. He plays a slippery, high-intensity game, which suits the style of the Hurricanes, and can play big power-play minutes as well. He only has one year remaining at $5.35 million, which gives Waddell the flexibility to offer an extension, or to let him walk after next season to make cap room for Svechnikov and Hamilton.
The Blues could instead choose to move a contract like 27-year-old defenseman Colton Parayko, who carries a $5.5 million cap hit and has garnered plenty of interest around the league, but if Schwartz is available, the Hurricanes may pull off a big trade with the Blues for the second straight year.
3. Andreas Johnsson
The Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs always seem to be at the center of trade rumors – it seems destined they’ll make a trade some point in the near future. If they don’t execute one of those oft-rumored blockbusters though, the Maple Leafs may instead turn to free agency. To do that, they’ll need to shed some salary, which means Andreas Johnsson may have to go.
Johnsson offers a much cheaper option for a second-line winger – the cheapest on this list at $3.4 million – and although he’s not as proven as some of the other players the Hurricanes are looking at, he’s one of the youngest at 25.
Johnsson struggled with various injuries throughout the season and only mustered 21 points in 43 games. In his rookie season the year before however, he tallied 20 goals and 23 assists in 73 games, mostly playing on the third line.
Johnsson is probably the most realistic option if the Hurricanes don’t want to break the bank ahead of the big re-signings next year. He has the ability to score 40-to-50 points in a top-six role, and has the speed and tenacity to keep up with head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s system.
So what would be the return? GM Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs are salivating at the thought of acquiring Brett Pesce, and while there’s been debate over whether or not to trade him, involving Pesce in a Johnsson trade would be an insane overstep. Look instead for a guy like Haydn Fleury or Jake Bean to draw some interest from Toronto, with a dab of picks or prospects to balance the deal.
2. Rickard Rakell
The days of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry carrying the Anaheim Ducks to the playoffs are gone, and the Ducks are now entering a new phase of reinvention. That’s perfect for the Hurricanes, who have plenty to offer the Ducks in that regard.
Rickard Rakell, 27, is a right-handed shot who can play both wings, and is a two-time 30-goal scorer. That checks a lot of boxes for the Hurricanes. He’s also carrying a cap hit of just $3.789 million for the next two seasons, which the ‘Canes would also like. The only question is if they’re able to pry him from the palmate grips of the Ducks.
Luring one of the top point-getters from the sixth-lowest scoring team may sound ambitious, but the Ducks aren’t making the playoffs next season, and Rakell is one of their best trading assets. He’s also had two down years the past two seasons, where he’s failed to reach the 20-goal mark. Another poor year offensively could seriously tank Rakell’s value.
Second-line center Trocheck needs a dancing partner, and with playmaker Martin Necas on one wing and the sniper Rakell on the other, the Hurricanes would have a stabilized and deadly second line.
1. Max Domi
There’s plenty of intrigue in a potential Hurricanes-Canadiens trade, the least of which involves the mystery of Waddell and GM Marc Bergevin’s relationship after the Canadiens tried to pluck Aho from the Hurricanes just last year.
So, the prospect of the Hurricanes targeting Max Domi is interesting. Domi had a miserable playoffs for the Canadiens, failing to score a goal in 10 postseason games and contributing just three assists. His ice time also plummeted to 14:21 – a vast decrease from the 17:06 he averaged throughout the regular season.
It’s difficult to judge any player’s performance within the complex inner workings of the bubble, but in any event, Domi’s 2019-20 season wasn’t his best. Following a career-high 72-point season in 2018-19, Domi responded with just 44 points in 71 games.
Now, Domi is an RFA. That creates an added step for the Hurricanes – they’ll have to both trade for him and negotiate a new contract. It’s hard to put a price on the 25-year-old right now, having had erratic ups and downs the past three seasons. But when Domi is on, his talent is undeniable.
Adding Domi would undoubtedly give Carolina two strong lines of pure offense. The Hurricanes have few players who can handle the puck and make passes like he can – it’s the trait they lack most in their lineup. In addition to wing, Domi can also play center, which would give them powerful depth in the event of injuries.
Montreal would like to add more youth to its young and energetic lineup, and the Hurricanes can provide that. Could Ryan Suzuki join his brother Nick in Montreal? That may just be an enticing enough idea for Bergevin to explore a trade with Waddell and the Hurricanes.
For a dynamic, young player, who doesn’t have a price set on him yet, the Hurricanes should be spending a good amount of time on the phone with the Canadiens, because there could be a very good fit there for both teams.