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Would Matt Duchene be worth Hurricanes trading Noah Hanifin?

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Tuesday represented the return of Elliotte Friedman’s treasured “31 Thoughts” for Sportsnet, and with that, the venerable reporter described three situations for Matt Duchene: the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, and Carolina Hurricanes.

Friedman indicates that the Blue Jackets’ offering* wasn’t sufficient, and raised eyebrows that a Duchene – P.K. Subban swap was at least broached, though maybe just by one side.

The Hurricanes stand as an especially interesting consideration because they’re hoping to take that next step to become a real player in the Metropolitan Division. Check out this intriguing assessment from Friedman:

This is my opinion, but the kind of player Colorado covets is Carolina’s Noah Hanifin. Hurricanes GM Ron Francis has made it clear he doesn’t like the idea of trading for two years of Duchene if Hanifin is the price, but there comes a time a GM must gamble.

The Hurricanes are doing the right things — building, trending in a good direction. You see it coming. Their window to chase a playoff berth is opening. They are deep on the blue line, but need scoring. In hockey’s toughest division, your flaws are even more exposed. Would it surprise you if Sakic is looking at his fellow Hall of Famer, thinking Francis is ready to play the final card for a big pot?

Hmm.

Let’s ponder some of the thought processes involved.

Trading from a position of strength

The Hurricanes are loaded with quality, young defensemen. Hanifin may boast one of the highest ceilings, but Justin Faulk is a scoring machine on the blueline while Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin are up-and-comers who just signed beefy contract extensions. The Hurricanes also have some intriguing defensive prospects, Jake Bean included.

MORE: Get to know the Hurricanes’ deep group of talented, young defensemen.

Meanwhile, the Avalanche are downright atrocious on the blueline, and it’s plausible that they won’t return to respectability anytime soon. They’d likely relish getting the chance to develop 20-year-old Hanifin, thus landing an intriguing asset for 26-year-old Duchene.

Struggles in 2016-17

It’s fair to argue that the scary thing for the Hurricanes is that Hanifin is less of a known quantity.

There’s the risk of this trade looking quite bad if Hanifin explodes to a star-level in Colorado, even if Duchene seems likely to at least flirt with the 25-goal, 60-point form we’re more accustomed to.

Interestingly enough, both players would hypothetically be moved at moments of perceived lower value. Canes Country’s Peter Dewar notes that Hanifin’s game really blossomed once he was given more reps following Ron Hainsey‘s departure, but there are a lot of ways in which the fifth pick of 2015 looked overwhelmed last season:

In a strange way, it would be oddly fair: both players are likely to play at a higher level than they did in 2016-17. The challenging part would be gauging just how much better Duchene and Hanifin might be.

Know when to hold them …

Hanifin (15) defending Duchene in international play, via Getty

Personally, a Hanifin – Duchene trade smells a lot like Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones, or even Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev.

There are issues on both sides. Hanifin’s entering the final year of his rookie contract, so a breakthrough year could be very costly. Duchene’s $6M cap hit expires after two seasons; after that, he’d be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Cost certainty wouldn’t be included in this deal, so the Hurricanes could worry that they’d end up paying a lot more for Duchene than the Avalanche will for Hanifin, at least any time soon. And, again, there’s the concern that Hanifin could see dramatic growth upward.

Still, much like the Predators when they dealt Jones, sometimes you need to give up a valuable asset to make your team better. That’s particularly true when you’re addressing a strength while dealing with a weakness. Even Francis (kind of, sort of) admits that the Hurricanes lack a true No. 1 center.

Duchene might not be perfect in that role, but a Duchene – Victor RaskJordan Staal trio could get things done by committee. (Duchene or someone else could go to the wing and allow Marcus Kruger to be part of that pivot group, too.)

Now, it’s crucial to remember that Friedman was merely providing his opinion in stating that Hanifin might be the guy that the Avalanche desire in a potential Duchene trade. If that’s indeed true and you were in Francis’ shoes, would you pull the trigger?

* – Note: reports from earlier this summer indicated that the Blue Jackets were dangling intriguing (yet frustrating) defenseman Ryan Murray as part of a potential package for Duchene.

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

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The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.

 

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

Letang set to return to Penguins lineup vs. Blues on Sunday

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For the first time since February, Kris Letang is expected to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21. He underwent neck surgery in April and missed the entire Stanley Cup playoffs as a result. Despite the absence of their best defenseman, which is a huge loss in Letang, the Penguins were able to overcome that and emerge as champions over Nashville.

According to Pens Inside Scoop on Saturday, head coach Mike Sullivan said Letang will play in Sunday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

That wasn’t the only Letang news Saturday:

Getting Letang back into the lineup will provide a huge boost to an already strong Penguins team, with his ability to log heavy minutes and act as a catalyst in Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

“I want to be the same player I was before. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Letang. “Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old way, playing over 25 minutes and in all situations.”

But what is most critical is having Letang healthy, and Sullivan this offseason has stressed to the star defenseman to recognize situations when he should make a simple play rather than risk taking an unnecessary hit.

“When people try to dissect all of that, they make assumptions that they understand, but they don’t,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Mike and I have a clear understanding of what he wants me to do. I think I’m tired of hearing people around it because I had a talk with Mike and Jim. It’s just a way of avoiding those unnecessary hits. It’s not going to be reducing ice time or anything like that. It’s taking a different approach on certain plays.”

Related: Letang isn’t interested in getting less ice time now that he’s healthy

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

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The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’