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?
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 …
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 Rask – Jordan 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.