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Risk, reward: Hanifin’s deal; future of Flames

When word surfaced that the Calgary Flames bet big – but not necessarily recklessly so – on Noah Hanifin with a six-year deal that comes in just a hair under $5 million per year, my personal reaction was “Well, that is … fascinating.”

Let’s break down the ins and outs of not just the Hanifin deal, but GM Brad Treliving’s general vision for the Flames.

Assessing Hanifin

Hanifin, 21, inspires some pretty interesting banter. One thing just about no one can deny is that the 2017-18 season was by far his most promising in the NHL.

[For an in-depth breakdown of his breakthrough, check this post]

That said, it’s only so useful to compare 2016-17 Hanifin to last year’s model, at least when you’re trying to gauge if he’ll be valuable during the six years of his contract.

The good: Hanifin checks out as the speedy type of player who fits into the “modern” style of NHL game. Plenty of metrics indicate that, even as he struggled in other areas of the defensive gig through the early years of his still-young career, he was strong in transition.

You could project bigger offense from him in the future, too. Hanifin didn’t just explode (by his previous standards) with 10 goals and 32 points; he also managed nine of those goals at even-strength. If he starts getting more opportunities, might he put up eye-popping offense? It’s at least plausible.

The bad: Hanifin was sheltered early in his NHL career, and Bill Peters, the same coach who sheltered him (and possibly didn’t trust him?) in Carolina, is now in Calgary.

His peak ice time with the Hurricanes came last season, yet he averaged 18:52 minutes per night, a pretty modest total for a guy who’s now making $5M-ish per year. Hanifin also began 63 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone last season, the most sheltered of what’s been a very sheltered career.

Overall, the jury’s out on what kind of player Hanifin is, but Calgary is clearly projecting bigger things for him. It’s easy to forget just how young he is, after all.

Brad Treliving is developing a reputation for witty one-liners, and he nailed that sentiment when discussing the fact that Hanifin already has 239 regular-season games of NHL experience despite being just 21.

“We’re talking about a 21-year-old guy who has played three years in the NHL,” Treliving said, via Postmedia’s Kristen Anderson. “I don’t buy into that, ‘Oh, he’s not where he should be.’ Most guys his age are learning to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Good stuff.

Personally, this tweet from The Athletic’s Kent Wilson falls in line with my take on Hanifin, and Hanifin’s contract: there may be some reasons to question his true value, but this contract could end up being a nice deal for Calgary. Look at the Predators as an example: they signed guys like Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis before they matured to their highest levels, and have enjoyed bargain contracts as a result. You ultimately need to trust your staff’s ability to project players and assign proper value for players. The Flames could have a gem if they’re right about Hanifin.

And it could still be mostly OK if he’s, well, just mostly OK.

Big, but mostly reasonable, gambles

To some extent, the overall price tag of trading away Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland for Hanifin and Elias Lindholm shows the perks of locking up star players Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan for term and very reasonable prices. It gives you the luxury to pay up for other players, betting on greater returns from youthful talent (ideally) just about to enter primes.

When you consider the Flames’ big-picture situation, it mostly looks reasonable, with some tantalizing upside:

Not awful even if you don’t love every player, right?

On the other hand, another point is clear: this team is committed to Treliving’s vision, for better or worse.

The bottom line is that, for all of the high-end skill of Gaudreau-Monahan, Mark Giordano, and “The 3M Line,” the Flames missed the playoffs last season. They really haven’t put all of that on-paper promise together, yet they’ve continued to make costly investments.

When a GM gets fired, they’ll either leave behind a fairly clean slate (which has its drawbacks, in that the next person will need to do all the building) or a ton of commitments. If things don’t work out with Treliving, the following GM will probably struggle to make a mark on this franchise. Treliving is locking the Flames down with several lengthy deals, and the nightmare scenario is that Calgary could end up being stuck much like the Minnesota Wild (who boast some talent but generally a ton of headaches).

Hanifin’s contract doesn’t feel like it is the sort that can submarine a franchise. The low end seems to be an overpay, rather than an albatross.

It’s still risky, especially when you look at the Flames’ summer overall. After missing the postseason, Treliving pledged $18.675M to Hanifin, Lindholm, James Neal, and Derek Ryan, with the latter two players being 30 and 31-years-old respectively. Treliving changed to head coach Peters and decided to part ways with Hamilton and Ferland.

***

Hanifin could suffer by comparison to Hamilton, and this overall vision could look grim instead of promising if things go wrong in 2018-19.

The good and bad news is that, rather than standing pat, Treliving is rolling the dice. Will these bets look smart in hindsight? It should be fascinating to watch and find out.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flames sign defenseman Noah Hanifin to 6-year deal

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) The Calgary Flames signed defenseman Noah Hanifin to a six-year, $29.7 million contract Thursday.

The 21-year-old Hanifin had 10 goals and 22 assists in 79 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. He joined the Flames along with forward Elias Lindholm in a June 23 deal that sent defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Adam Fox and forward Micheal Ferland to Carolina.

Hanifin had 18 goals and 65 assists in 239 games in three seasons with Carolina. He was drafted fifth overall by the Hurricanes in 2015 after one season at Boston College.

PHT Power Rankings: Best trades of the summer

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It is the summer and with no games being played at the moment it is awfully difficult to rank the NHL’s 31 teams on a weekly basis. So the PHT Power Rankings will spend the next month taking a look back at some of the best (and worst) developments in the NHL, both past and present. Best trades. Worst trades. Best all-time teams. Any other random things we feel like ranking. This week we look step into the present and look at the best trades that have been made (so far) this summer.

The two big trades we all expected to happen at this point this summer were Erik Karlsson and Max Pacioretty. To this point neither one has happened and it seems increasingly likely neither one will happen before the start of the season. Even though we are still waiting on the two blockbuster trades, there were still some big names changing teams this summer, some of which will make a huge impact for their new teams.

Today we take a look at the 10 trades from this summer (so far) that might help their new teams the most.

1. Carolina gets Dougie Hamilton. Of all the players to get traded this offseason (so far) none of them have the potential to make a greater impact than Hamilton. He may not be Erik Karlsson, but he is still an outstanding player.

At age 25 he is in the middle of what should be his peak years in the NHL, he is already a legitimate top-pairing defenseman, and he is still signed for another three seasons at what is probably a steal of a salary cap hit ($5.75 million per season). He is coming off of a 2017-18 season in Calgary where he led all defenseman in goals with 17 and was one of the best possession players in the league, finishing with a 57 percent shot attempt share. Given the makeup of the Hurricanes roster it was a little surprising to see them add to the defense (probably already their strength) but when you have an opportunity to add impact talent you can’t really pass that up. Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin are good players, but neither one is likely to ever make the impact that Hamilton does and will continue to make. With Carolina still holding on to Justin Faulk its defense has the potential to be outstanding over the next few years with him, Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Haydn Fleury, and free agent addition Calvin de Haan.

An underrated part of this deal for Carolina: It also got Micheal Ferland and prospect Adam Fox as part of the package. Ferland was just as productive as Lindholm this past season and for a cheaper price. He will be in line for a new contract after this season, but it’s a strong trade all around for Carolina.

[Related: Hurricanes acquire Hamilton from Flames]

2. St. Louis gets Ryan O'ReillyThis trade raised some eyebrows simply due to the number of assets the Blues gave up, shipping Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, and a couple of draft picks to the Sabres. It was definitely a lot to give up for one player. But what if that one player offers more value than the sum of the parts you gave up? Thompson is an intriguing young player, and the draft picks are a couple of lottery tickets that may or may not amount to anything. Beyond that, Sobotka and Berglund probably had contracts the Blues were looking to jettison. There is a lot of value in a 60-point center that plays the defensive game O’Reilly plays without taking penalties.

3. Buffalo gets Jeff Skinner. After years of rumors and speculation the Carolina Hurricanes finally went through with the Jeff Skinner trade and the return was … underwhelming. Skinner’s no-trade clause and ability to choose where he went no doubt handcuffed the Hurricanes in this situation, but in terms of talent-for-talent it is not a great exchange for them.

Cliff Pu is an intriguing prospect and they added three future draft picks to their cupboard (giving them 18 over the next two years). Still, this is a big win for Buffalo, even if Skinner doesn’t re-sign before being eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. He is one of the better goal-scorers in the league, and while there always seems to be some kind of concern about his health (he has had some concussion issues in the past) he has only missed 19 games over the past five seasons (and only eight over the past four). During that same stretch he is 16th in the league in goals scored, giving Buffalo some much-needed goal-scoring punch on the wing.

Even if the Sabres end up being lousy again and they can’t get Skinner to re-sign they can easily flip him at the deadline and get back some of the draft pick capital they gave up in the original trade.

4. Colorado gets Philipp Grubauer. Having Grubauer this high on the list is all about potential, because if he ends up being the player he showed that he can be in his limited time with the Washington Capitals he could be a massive addition both in the short-and long-term.

Goalies can be difficult to project, especially when they have such a limited NHL track record, but among goalies that have appeared in at least 50 games over the past three seasons only two (Antti Raanta at .926 and John Gibson at .924) have a higher save percentage than .923 mark Grubauer produced.

He has, at the very least, earned the opportunity to be a full-time starter to see what he can do and it was never going to happen in Washington with Braden Holtby already in place. The Avalanche only had to give up a second-round and take on the final year of Brooks Orpik‘s contract (which they promptly bought out) to get him. Combined with Grubauer’s new contract and the buyout hit from Orpik’s deal that’s a $14 million investment over the next three years and a second-round pick. If Grubauer becomes the player the Avalanche think he can, be that is a tremendous trade.

5. Arizona gets Alex GalchenyukGalchenyuk gets a chance for a fresh start on a new team that might actually trust him a little bit more and give him an opportunity to excel at center. Along with Derek Stepan and (maybe, hopefully) Dylan Strome, the Coyotes will have a pretty intriguing look down the middle that should give them a chance to compete.

To land Galchenyuk they had to give up Max Domi, whose 18 goals over the past two seasons were less than Galchenyuk scored just this past season.

Given his previous production, skill level, and his underlying numbers from a year ago there is very good reason to believe Galchenyuk can once again be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL, perhaps even as soon as this season. He is only a few months older than Domi and their cap hits are similar. Put it all together and this has the potential to be a strong one-for-one trade for the Coyotes.

[Related: Six teams that improved the most this summer]

6. Florida gets Mike HoffmanHoffman is a producitve player and still signed for two more years at a fair price. He is a steady 20-goal, 55-to 60-point player and under normal circumstances would either still be in Ottawa or have been traded for a significantly better return. These were not normal circumstances as the Senators have devolved into the most dysfunctional organization in the league, with Hoffman and his fiancee being at the center of some of it. As a result, he ended up getting traded twice this offseason harassment allegations against his fiancee.  Senators general manager Pierre Dorion addressed the trade and said their locker room was “broken.” It was clearly a bad situation beyond repair.

7. Buffalo gets Conor Sheary. Buffalo ended up getting Sheary and defenseman Matt Hunwick in what was strictly a salary dump trade for the Pittsburgh Penguins. All it cost Buffalo was a conditional fourth-round pick in 2019 and some future salary commitments to Sheary and Hunwick. Sheary is the intriguing one here because even after three years in the NHL we are still not really sure what he is. A lot of his success in Pittsburgh was almost certainly the result of playing alongside Sidney Crosby, and when he is not putting the puck in the net there is not much else that he does to provide value. You can live with a player like that if they score 30 or 40 goals. Sheary is not that type of player, though. Still, given the cost Buffalo had to give up (very little) and the fact it had the salary cap space to take on the two contracts it is an okay gamble for a team that needs an influx of talented players.

8. Ottawa gets Mikkel Boedker. This was the main part of Ottawa’s return for Hoffman when it dealt him to the San Jose Sharks. Along with Boedker, the Senators also picked up a prospect and a sixth-round draft pick. Given the off-ice situation it’s not a surprise that the Senators did not get full value for Hoffman in return, but it looks even worse when the Sharks were able to turn around and deal Hoffman later that same day to the Florida Panthers — a team in Ottawa’s division — for what was probably better return than the Senators received.

9. New York Islanders get Matt Martin. Martin was a popular player in his first stop with the Islanders as a part of their physical fourth line, but his return in a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs does not make much sense. Just another fourth-liner with a multi-year contract being added to a team that already has a lot of fourth-liners on multi-year contracts. The optics of it are especially bad when it came just days after the Maple Leafs signed John Tavares away from the Islanders in free agency and the trade simply helping the Maple Leafs create some additional salary cap space.

10. Chicago dumps Marian Hossa‘s contract. Honestly I’m not really sure who the real winner here is but it was a pretty big trade just for the salary cap ramifications and the names involved.

Arizona was once again the dumping ground for a contract another NHL team didn’t want, this time taking on the remainder of Marian Hossa’s deal. Arizona picked up Vinnie Hinostroza to add some depth to its forward group, while Chicago ended up getting back Marcus Kruger and no longer has to worry about Hossa’s $5.25 million salary cap hit over the next three seasons. I still wonder if maybe Arizona could have done better in this deal in exchange for taking on Hossa’s contract (it is not like Chicago had many other options or teams that would be willing or able to take on that deal) but the Hinostroza for Kruger swap is probably a plus for them.

More PHT Power Rankings: The NHL’s worst alternate jerseys

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

It’s Carolina Hurricanes day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes.

2017-18

36-35-11, 83 pts. (6th in Metropolitan Division, 10th in Eastern Conference)
Missed playoffs.

IN:

Dougie Hamilton
Micheal Ferland
Adam Fox
Jordan Martinook
Calvin de Haan
Petr Mrazek

OUT:

Noah Hanifin
Elias Lindholm
Marcus Kruger
Jeff Skinner
Derek Ryan
Klas Dahlbeck
Cam Ward
Joakim Nordstrom
Lee Stempniak

RE-SIGNED:

Trevor van Riemsdyk
Phillip Di Giuseppe

The Carolina Hurricanes now sit in the aftermath of one heck of an offseason storm.

A full-blown shake up from top to bottom has the Hurricanes now heading into the 2018-19 with a new head coach, a new general manager and under the direction of a new owner (who took over midway through the season) who appears determined not to let what’s happened for nearly the past decade to continue — missing the playoffs.

Indeed, Bill Peters (who left for Calgary) has been replaced with franchise legend Rod Brind’Amour behind the bench. Don Waddell has taken over Ron Francis’ post (after the latter was relieved of his duties). Tom Dundon, the architect behind the winds of change, became the owner midway through the 2017-18 season. And some of the team’s most well-known names — Cam Ward, Jeff Skinner, Noah Hanifin — won’t be wearing Carolina red this coming season.

[Building off breakthrough | Under PressureThree Questions]

The Hurricanes haven’t graced the playoffs since 2009, and while they put up a bit of a fight down the stretch last season, they never really found the extra gear they needed, eventually finishing sixth in the Metropolitan Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Dundon has employed a hands-on approach to the team he now runs, which perhaps scared away prospective coaches and general managers during searches for both. Brind’Amour is a household name in the franchise, but unproven behind the bench and Waddell… well his track record with other teams isn’t exactly glowing.

That said, Carolina was handed a gift and then some when they moved up from 11th to 2nd in the NHL Draft Lottery and got their hands on Andrei Svechnikov, who scored 40 goals in 44 games in the Ontario Hockey League last season.

Waddell then went out and traded for defenseman Dougie Hamilton to bolster their backend, gaining gritty forward Micheal Ferland and top prospect Adam Fox in exchange for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. He also signed defenseman Calvin de Haan in free agency and traded away Jeff Skinner just last week for a few picks and a prospect.

While the Skinner trade seemed like a major loss given the return, the Hurricanes do have a bevy of young talent ready to try and make their mark this season. Svechnikov should inject the offense and Martin Necas looks slated to become a top center within the club. Hamilton and de Haan are fine additions on the backend. Ferland adds a little bit of everything. And there’s the wave of youth that’s exciting for any team.

“I don’t want to say it’s a new team, but it will be,” Brind’Amour told NHL.com. “We’ll potentially have 12 new players, so I think everyone’s just excited. There’s been a lot of change, but we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping the pieces we wanted to keep and build around, and then we have a couple young players we’re excited to see, new rookie players that I think will be exciting to watch.”

Prospect Pool

Andrei Svechnikov, RW, 18, Barrie Colts (OHL) – 2018 first-round pick

Svechnikov is the type of elite talent any team would be lucky to have. He has size (6-foot-3), an elite selection of shots, and is crafty both inside and on the perimeter. It’s likely that he steps in right away and begins to contribute offensively this season. Svechnikov had 40 goals and 72 points in 44 games with Barrie this season — name the OHL’s rookie of the year — had four goals and eight points and the world under-18 championships and five assists during the world juniors.

Martin Necas, C, 19, Brno Kometa (Czech) – 2017 first-round pick

Necas has spent the last two seasons playing pro hockey in his native Czech Republic with Brno Kometa, which also features former NHLer Martin Erat. Necas is expected to move into the Hurricanes lineup next season, possibly as the team’s second-line center. Necas had 11 points in seven games at the World Juniors this past year and then five more in the same number of games during the world championships this past spring.

“His game has gotten better, he’s gotten a little bigger, and he’s a lot more confident than he was last year,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour told NHL.com. “I think he’s a night-and-day player already from a year ago.”

Adam Fox, D, 20, Harvard University (NCAA) – 2016 third-round pick (Calgary Flames)

There are several players who fit the mold here: D Jake Bean, F Valentin Zykov and F Warren Foegele — but its Fox, who the Hurricanes inherited in the Hamilton trade, that’s intriguing. Fox is widely regarded as one of the top defensive prospects in the NHL, so it’s a good get for a team that gave up quite a bit going the other way. Carolina has amassed quite the stable of defenseman this summer, and Fox fits right into that. He’s spent the last two seasons playing in the NCAA with Harvard where he’s been a point-per-game player on the backend and had five points in seven games for Team USA in a bronze-medal showing at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Three questions facing Calgary Flames

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

Want to chew on more than three questions? Check these posts, too.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

1. Is Bill Peters a better coach than Glen Gulutzan?

Your mileage will vary on Bill Peters, a coach who served as one of Mike Babcock’s assistants in Detroit before getting his first head gig with the Hurricanes.

On one hand, the Hurricanes were analytics darlings and seemed perpetually on the cusp of greater things. While talent on hand naturally helps to push the puck in the right direction, a coach’s systems also can make a big difference when it comes to dominating possession.

Still, there’s also a chicken-and-the-egg discussion regarding Peters’ work and the Hurricanes horrendous run of goaltending. How much of it is on the talent in net – let’s not forget that Scott Darling carried fantastic numbers into Carolina – versus possibly being a matter of his system putting goalies in a tough spot? Goalie nerds undoubtedly love chewing on those questions, whether there are concrete answers or not.

The bottom line is that the Hurricanes never made the playoffs under Peters’ watch, while the Flames frequently underwhelmed under Glen Gulutzan’s tutelage. Peters stands as Flames GM Brad Treliving’s second hire, so there’s a lot on the line.

2. Did the Flames improve this off-season?

As mentioned in this post, the Flames saw significant changes to their roster this summer – not just their coaching staff – with Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and Adam Fox traded away, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin coming back, and James Neal signed to a hefty contract. Naturally, there were also some tweaks in depth positions, while the Flames decided to stick with Mike Smith as their likely workhorse (more on that in a moment).

The question Brad Treliving’s job may ride on is: did the Flames get better? Is it possible they’re merely in the same position or even got worse? You’re likely to hear plenty of differing opinions across the hockey world.

To venture some guesses, the Flames should probably improve on offense. Barring Neal hitting age 30 hard, he’s pretty much a rich man’s version of Micheal Ferland, at least right now. Elias Lindholm is a 50-point-or-so guy, and that outlook could change dramatically if he lands with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

On paper, the Flames offense is more capable, and could possibly boast the depth they’ve sorely been lacking in their bottom-six. Of course, some of that depends upon how Peters deploys forwards, and how restricted they are in being creative versus playing it safe.

Calgary’s defense is another interesting riddle, as the analysis hinges on how you feel about Hanifin and Hamilton. If nothing else, Hanifin is much younger than Hamilton, and should be hungry to seek his first postseason berth.

And then there’s the goaltending …

3. What kind of goaltending will they get in 2018-19?

Considering his health challenges last season, it might be tempting to assume that the Flames would otherwise be in a great place with Mike Smith if you could merely turn injuries off like in “NHL 19.”

Let’s not forget that the towering 36-year-old has been through a lot during his career, and not just happy moments.

Smith began his career as a promising Stars backup before flubbing his first opportunity as No. 1 guy with the Lightning. After that, Smith’s lengthy stay with the Coyotes included a big contract, a Cinderella run to the 2012 Western Conference Final, and plenty of nights facing a barrage of shots on an aimless Arizona squad. Smith’s career and confidence was on the line at least once; as you may remember, he discussed his work with a sports psychologist in October 2015.

(Side note: it would actually be refreshing if more athletes, not just struggling ones, decided to address their mental health in similar ways. That might take some time, judging by the fact that Smith said he was initially “offended” by the Coyotes’ suggestion.)

It’s quite possible that Smith will carry over the best moments from 2017-18 (before the All-Star break, Smith generated a dazzling .926 save percentage in 41 games), and defy age by being a strong workhorse for Calgary.

The scary thing is that it sure seems like the Flames are essentially depending upon that to work out.

Granted, the Flames aren’t short on interesting goalie prospects, as Jon Gillies, David Rittich, and Tyler Parsons are all on the organizational radar. Gillies and Rittich received some NHL reps last season, for better and worse.

Are any of those goalies really ready if the bottom falls out for Smith? If not, would Treliving manage to pull off a trade that wouldn’t just pull the Flames deeper into the quicksand?

The good news is that the Flames boast a lot of talent. There’s an ideal scenario, one that’s not too far-fetched, where it all comes together for Calgary and they go from missing the playoffs to a deep run. That’s especially true if Treliving ends up being correct about Peters.

The Flames are swinging with power rather than accuracy here, though, as there are some considerable gambles taking place. We’ll find out next season if this team laughs its way to the bank or opens the door for even more instability.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.