30 IN 30 - CAROLINA HURRICANES (21st place)
The Canes shocked a lot of people in the hockey world last year with their streaky success after fielding such a young, inexperienced roster. Sebastian Aho was a revelation; quickly coming into his own as a marquee playmaker in the league, whilst the presence of Jordan Staal kept this group playing solid possession hockey. After multiple seasons scraping the salary cap floor, and stockpiling defensive depth, the opportunity is there to take on a bigger asset and push forward into the playoff picture next year. This might be a whole lot easier now that expansion has forced GM's to offload skaters in return for minimal compensation. As a willing and able trade partner for those in a bind, it begs the question: could the Canes actually improve this summer because of expansion?
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Staal (*NMC)
The Hurricanes have one and only one choice for their protection list structure due to a lack of eligible AND contracted defencemen on the roster. At 7-3-1 they protect all key forwards within their deep offensive unit and keep the only two D-men with expansion appeal on the roster.
With the likes of Sebastian Aho, Jacob Slavin, Haydn Fleury, Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifan ALL exempt, the Canes are in a better than good position heading into the offseason. Much like their low budget counterparts to the West, the Arizona Coyotes, flexibility exists to take on an additional skater via trade from a team in a more vulnerable expansion position. A stockpile of draft picks in the upcoming entry draft (three 2nd round picks, and two 3rd round picks) make this sort of transaction ever more possible.
[NOTE: On our interpretation of the NHL expansion draft rules, Ryan Murphy is (i) eligible for selection if not protected, because he is in his 4th year of professional hockey, and (ii) fails to meet the NHL mandatory minimum exposure qualifications after only playing 62 NHL games the past 2 seasons (rule = 70GP minimum). Standalone, he cannot be the only D-man exposed by the Canes, but must be included on the protection list or run the risk of being selected.]
YOUNG UNKNOWN OR VETERAN TENDER
The Golden Knights nabbing a quality top-6 forward or top-4 defenceman from Carolina is completely out of the question. What's left is an assortment of former 2nd & 3rd round draft picks still looking to harness their game at the pro-level, and a couple of out of favour tenders who have since been replaced by Scott Darling.
On the forward front, our analysis is limited; none of the players available have accumulated enough NHL ice time for us to properly assess the full extent of their capabilities. What we do have is a limited view into the players' success at the American league (AHL) and Junior/College level, along with the general ability to crack the Canes lineup.
From the list above, names like Phillip Di Giuseppe and Brock McGinn pop out as potential scoring line options. Both appear to have had at least limited success in the big leagues with the minimal exposure they've been given, to go along with scoring success for the farm team in Charlotte.
Andrej Nestrasil provides obvious size down the middle but appears to have struggled with consistency this past year, spending the majority of his season assigned to the Charlotte Checkers (AHL). His 2015-16 season showcased an ability to contribute both on the scoreboard and in the possession game; making his fall from grace in 2016-17 ever more curious. Is this an isolated incident or did he already hit his ceiling as a player in the two seasons prior? Not the kind of question you want to be asking about the player you're selecting in the expansion draft.
All three of these guys carry with them RFA status, meaning the Golden Knights would have to burn one of their 10 non-contract player selections with the pick. On the other hand, Joakim Nordstrom fulfills the contract requirement, signed through 2017-18 at a cheap $1.275M rate. Out of all the forwards available, he unfortunately is best kept as a checking line contributor and that alone; ability to move up in the lineup does not appear to be present.
In the crease, Cam Ward and Eddie Lack have both experienced past success but struggle to display this prior form. Their save percentages have dropped to .900 and goals against average on the wrong side of 2.50. Although both goalies hold contracts set to expire in 2018 and could act as viable placeholders for a developing tender, they just as likely could decline further with what potentially could be a worse team defence in front of them. No matter your outlook, I believe Vegas will have younger, more intriguing goalie options available to them come June 20th and will happily pass on both Carolina tenders.
Without much up for grabs in Carolina, the Golden Knights should look to grab a young forward with a bit of scoring pop. The Canes will likely burn their last forward spot on Brock McGinn, who at this point appears to have the best odds of immediate success out of the group above. Vegas will go with a 'next man up' strategy if McGinn is in fact off-limits and select Phillip Di Giuseppe. Although he may not be ready for a full time role with an NHL club quite yet, he has (i) more offensive upside than Nestrasil and Nordstrom, (ii) will likely come in at a cheaper rate than both, and (iii) has reached a similar level of success in fewer professional years. Don't get me wrong, I'm not particularly pleased with his RFA status, but a skater under contract like Nordstrom offers little value to a team who will have their pick of the litter for checking line forwards.
The Hurricanes are in incredible shape. Their defence has the potential of a deadly well-rounded unit who will be under rights restriction for quite some time. The forward group is dynamic, although small in stature, and displays even scoring contribution across the top-2 lines. A need does exist for size and a 'shoot first' mentality player up front, so trading from a position of strength and letting go of one of their young D-men in exchange for such a forward could be the best move for this team. Eventually there won't be enough spots for players on the back-end so might as well begin the process now before a younger prospect usurps an older one and cuts into his stock value.
Next up: Winnipeg Jets