The Carolina Hurricanes will take all your defensemen. I remember back in the summer of 2019, the team had two stars on the top pairing in Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton, one of the best shutdown second-pairing blueliners in the league in Brett Pesce, a top-10 pick pushing his way into the lineup in Haydn Fleury, and two stable veterans in Trevor van Riemsdyk and Joel Edmundson, the latter fresh off a Stanley Cup win with St. Louis.
That looked like a legit six-man unit. Then, late in free agency, they added another splashy, offensive defenseman in Jake Gardiner, seemingly out of nowhere. Everybody in the hockey world laughed — “they’re just going to sign all the defensemen in the league, obviously.” Oh, they added Brady Skjei at that year’s trade deadline, too (but the rash of injuries at the position did sort of make that necessary).
Well, history may just be repeating itself. Despite a phenomenal blue line still spearheaded by Pesce, Slavin, and Skjei, alongside Ethan Bear, Ian Cole, and perhaps the best bargain signing of the year in Tony DeAngelo, the team is in the rumor mill again about a big-name defender that is reportedly on the market.
The Dallas Stars, currently sitting in sixth place in an extremely tough Central Division (but still close in the wild card race), are looking to move star offensive defenseman John Klingberg. Although at first glance, it would seem to make little-to-no sense for the Hurricanes to be in on a player at a position they already seemingly have a surplus, where there is smoke, there is often fire. So what kind of fit would the 29-year-old pending unrestricted free agent be?
That’s what we’ll dive into today: why the team may be looking at him, what the pros and cons are, and what it means for both the Stars and Hurricanes. I’ll also take a stab at what a potential deal could look like and what exactly the Hurricanes’ plan would be for adding a piece of this magnitude at this juncture.
Klingberg: The Player and the Pros
Klingberg certainly isn’t having his best year in 2021-22; he still has 22 points in 32 games (five of those coming in the last two games) but has scored just one goal. I doubt that small of a sample brings down the price tag much, if at all, considering his overall body of work.
However, his point totals are down a bit over the last few years as a whole, but that probably has as much to do with Rick Bowness’ system (their breakouts are super basic and largely ineffective if you watch them closely, with forwards flying the zone and few passing outlets available. I feel like that greatly hampers a key component of Klingberg’s game) and Dallas’ general lack of goal-scoring, as anything.
Still, this is a player with tremendous potential in the Hurricanes’ system. He’s not great defensively, but he would make for an excellent partner on the top pairing with Slavin (who can cover for his partner’s shortcomings, as he’s done a majority of his career).
Where Klingberg would really make his money in Carolina is as a power-play quarterback and puck mover. Outside of DeAngelo, there isn’t a big threat to consistently activate from the blue line and create offense, and DeAngelo himself is best suited for a bottom-pair role, as we’ve seen over the last few games. He’s provided a lot of offense… for both teams. Klingberg can eat big minutes, is lethal on the power play as both a shooter and passer, and, in conjunction with the speed and forechecking of the forward core, would likely make for a breakout and zone entry machine.
The Hurricanes did well to try and replace Hamilton with two relatively cheap options in Bear and DeAngelo. The latter especially has provided a lot of scoring punch and looks like one of the best bargain signings of the year. However, adding a true star offensive defenseman would allow two lethal quarterbacks on each power-play unit, would push the right-shot defensemen down into more suitable roles for their skillsets and would give the team two tremendous threats basically in the same breath as Hamilton to create offense down the stretch and into the postseason.
Not to mention that despite being a rental, there is still half a season to go. You’re getting a little more return on investment giving up future assets for a player that’s going to be around a bit longer than a trade deadline acquisition.
When it comes down to it, if the Hurricanes are looking for an upgrade, defense might actually be the most logical place to look. This may seem a bit silly for me to say; I did, after all, just release a post discussing three things that would give the team the best odds to win the Stanley Cup, and one of the talking points was one more big piece at forward.
The way things are tracking, though, I may be willing to reverse course here. Not only are the Hurricanes as well-equipped as any team in the league to endure an injury or two with legit NHLers like Josh Leivo, Stefan Noesen, and Jack Drury, among others, waiting in the wings, but the way young players like Seth Jarvis and Andrei Svechnikov are growing before our eyes, there may not even be a slot to add another forward in without potentially hampering two cornerstone pieces.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of things, some question marks are beginning to sprout. Cole has had some struggles of late, taking two rough penalties and getting boxed out on the momentum-changing goal in the loss to the New Jersey Devils. One game doesn’t ultimately mean much, but he’s been up and down at times this season. And then there’s Bear, a healthy extra for the last few games. Since his bout with COVID, he’s really struggled, and I am wondering if he’s not a little banged up despite the “healthy” moniker. He definitely hasn’t looked the same as he did earlier in the season, so his case, in particular, is quite curious. A Klingberg addition could go a long way to shoring up the top-six on defense.
The Downsides and the Confusing Parts For Carolina
Do the Hurricanes really need to pay what is likely a premium for a rental defenseman? There’s obviously no way of knowing exactly what the price would be, and he could theoretically be insurance for DeAngelo if he decides to leave in the offseason. His big season and, by all accounts, successful re-implementation into the NHL has done quite a bit to shore up his image. After many questioned when he would get another chance in the league, the slick defenseman has definitely made himself some money on his one-year “prove it” deal.
Still, Dallas would want a legitimate piece(s), even for a pending UFA. There is a lot to like about the defense right now, too. Slavin is arguably playing at the highest level of his career, especially offensively, Pesce and Skjei have been a rock-solid second pairing for multiple years now, and DeAngelo is exploding offensively, scoring at over a point-per-game pace with 32 points in 31 games as of this writing. Then you have Bear, obviously, who is a question mark right now, as discussed above. However, in his stead, Brendan Smith has stepped up and been huge for the team. He’s been aggressive and physical and really filled a bottom-pairing role nicely for the team.
In general, the last couple of games against the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers suggest that maybe you shouldn’t mess with chemistry. Those are two high-end teams, and the Hurricanes were utterly dominant in both, despite a sloppy early-third period that briefly let the Rangers back in the game. With the way things are clicking, perhaps cutting DeAngelo’s playing time or sending Smith and his physical play to the press box doesn’t end up helping the team overall. That is a possibility.
Related: Carolina Hurricanes’ 5 Best Trades in Franchise History
You don’t get the best points percentage in the league at basically the midpoint of the season without things going well. Pretty much everything the front office could have hoped for has clicked tremendously, and there’s something to be said for keeping the status quo for a team that has played at the level the Hurricanes have for a majority of the season. However, in my opinion, adding a player of Klingberg’s talent level could be the type of move that puts the team over the top and really positions them for a Stanley Cup run.
The Potential Product and the Potential How of Klingberg
Ultimately, despite the Hurricanes’ cap situation likely making him a pure rental who will depart in the offseason, the prospect of having two elite power-play quarterbacks in DeAngelo and Klingberg for a run at a Stanley Cup is something that should make the front office salivate. That is, after all, what the team needs to be thinking about — how to win right now. Special teams have been a huge part of Carolina’s season, and the Swedish defender would make the unit that much better. Not many teams have two right-shot defensemen that can create both on the man advantage and at 5-on-5 like those two would.
The defense as a whole would look pretty stacked at that point. Slavin with Klingberg, Skjei, and Pesce stay together, and DeAngelo gets a little more sheltered at even strength alongside a veteran shutdown defender in Cole. Everybody in this situation gets placed into roles that can best play to their strengths. Then, there’s the Bear part of it all. He’s obviously the odd-man-out here, but perhaps a four-years-younger defenseman with upside could be of interest to the Stars, and he could be a part of a return package. We did see him playing on the top pairing alongside Slavin earlier in 2021-22, and he filled that role very well more often than not before his COVID absence really threw a wrench into his season. It would take quite a few sweeteners on top of it, though.
Speaking of a potential trade, it’s tough to find too many comparable moves over the last few seasons. David Savard, who isn’t the same type of defender as Klingberg, pulled a first-round pick at the 2021 deadline. Savard is mainly a defensive defenseman, but the value probably isn’t too far off. A year prior to that, Alec Martinez went from the Los Angeles Kings to the Vegas Golden Knights for two second-round picks.
Now, when you add in the fact that it’s still mid-season, and Klingberg probably has a bit more value than those two anyway because of his offensive production, that price is likely going to be marginally higher. The Hurricanes, down their first- and third-round picks after the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet, are already in a bit of a tough spot here (they did pick up an extra third in 2021, trading down with Chicago).
So, either they already begin to dip into next year’s draft (which Dallas probably wouldn’t even be too keen on), or they have to really up the ante with prospects or young talent already on the roster. A first-round pick and mid-tier prospect may have done the trick if they could, but could a second-rounder, a higher-end prospect such as Ryan Suzuki, and perhaps another high future pick be enough to get the Stars to move on? Or with Dallas only being two points out of the last wild card slot with four games in hand, they want a right-now piece up front to help them score some more goals for the stretch run so they can stay in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Let’s end with a crazy one. What if the Hurricanes decide to move Vincent Trocheck, also a pending UFA, along with a prospect such as Anttoni Honka (who knows if Dallas would be interested in that after spending a first-rounder on his brother, Julius, which didn’t exactly work out)?
That would allow Kotkaniemi to slide into a role higher up the lineup, while Jordan Staal and Drury, who has proven himself NHL-ready, could center the third and fourth lines. That keeps the Hurricanes’ prospect pipeline intact and doesn’t bleed them even drier on future draft picks. That would be an extremely risky move, though, as Trocheck, despite some struggles early on, has come on strong recently, and the downgrade from him to 21-year-old Kotkaniemi is probably still pretty drastic. Is the defensive upgrade worth the offensive downgrade?
I really doubt that one happens, for the record. I’m actually not sure either side would be particularly interested, but I thought it at least made for a fascinating thought.
Ultimately, it’s hard to say just how real the interest level even is from the Hurricanes’ side. These days we know they’re seemingly always involved, at least in basic conversations, whenever a valuable player comes available. The staff is on record multiple times as saying, “if there’s a player we think could make our team better, we’re not doing our jobs if we’re not kicking the tires”.
Surely plenty of contenders will be interested in adding a right-shot defenseman that can put up numbers the way Klingberg can and has throughout his career. But if the Hurricanes do decide to pull the trigger, I’m extremely interested in seeing how he fits in with such a talented roster. He could really see his numbers explode in the system and potentially would look like a heck of a pickup from the front office — something we should be used to by now.