Canes trades that could make sense
First, the broad disclaimer. Trying to predict any specific trade is about like trying to win the lottery. I did blog about Cole coming back to the Canes before it became a buzz, so I am declaring that my credibility for 2009 and calling this "shots in the dark for fun."
Second, the team disclaimer. There are no gaping holes such that GM Jim Rutherford MUST do something to give his team any chance of making the playoffs. And with the success in the 2009 playoffs and number of 2009 roster free agents to be worked out, it is very possible (and not a horrible thing) if Rutherford does nothing trade-wise.
Disclaimers aside, Rutherford has been known to make a trade here or there to shore things up. The majority are in-season teams where he looks to address holes only after seeing what they are in real games. But he did make a big trade of Cole for Pitkanen last summer and will at least explore options again this summer.
First, it is important to understand what he might and might not be shopping for.
Could be shopping for:
1) A top-line wing to play with Staal.
2) A 2nd line center.
3) A top 4 or ideally top pairing defenseman who fits on Pitkanen's right side.
4) Just clearing space and salary. The Canes suddenly have a lot of young players who could earn ice time. On offense, Boychuk and Bowman seem most ready. On defense, the lot includes Rodney, Carson and Borer who have all seen NHL ice time and looked decent and McBain who many thing will jump over all of them. There just are not many roster spots available right now assuming most of the free agents are signed.
What he will not be shopping for:
1) A goalie. While we might be able to do better behind Ward, this is just oo low of a priority given that Leighton is already under contract. Ward has held up well with a heavy work load and Leighton does not stir things up in the room.
2) Any kind of prospect types. He might take such a player back in a salary dump/roster opening trade, but he is not shopping for unproven youth he can drop in the lineup. As noted above, we already have a bunch of this.
3) Depth type forwards or defenseman. We have plenty of decent players. Adding more just adds cost and takes away ice time from the kids. So any "good 3rd line player" just does not fit.
I think the 2 areas that Rutherford explores most aggressively are the top line wing and the top pairing defenseman options. The center is easily left for next summer when Matt Cullen comes off contract and after another year to see if Rod Brind'Amour recovers and how much Sutter progresses. And given the team's success in the 2009 playoffs, I do not expect Rutherford to get too aggressive unloading veterans. The issue is that the guys who make the most sense (Kaberle, Walker, Wallin) are difficult to trade due to their prices and no-trade clause limitations.
So with that (remember it is for fun), let me throw out a few trades that could actually make sense.
1) Tuomo Ruutu and Anton Babchuk for Martin St. Louis and a decent pick or prospect. The big issue with the 1st line wing for Staal deal is that top line wings are just hard to find and expensive. St. Louis is signed for 2 years at $4M/year. (His cap hit is higher but that number is mostly irrelevant to the Canes.) Is he the perfect, big young space-making wing with scoring skills a la Corey Perry? No. But his price is very reasonable, even in his 30s he skates well enough to hang with Staal and Whitney, he can finish and he plays with the fire and intensity you want. In terms of what we are giving up, I think you can make an argument that you are only giving up 1 "very valuable" player in Ruutu. I like Ruutu. He fits with the Canes. But you must give up something to get something. Personally, I think you unload Eaves and his contract in some kind of deal to get out of it. He has had multiple chances to fit in the top 9 and has not done it. At $1.55M/year for the next 2 years, he is too expensive for the 4th line. And I would rather spend the top 9 ice time on Boychuk and/or Bowman than a 4th or 5th try with Eaves at this point. Babchuk is the hard 1. Rutherford must decide if he thinks Babchuk fits in the Canes top 4. If he does, then you probably do not trade him. If he does not fit in the top 4, then maybe you are better moving him while his value is high. Remember that we are suddenly deep with young defensemen who need ice time.
For anyone who gripes how much younger St. Louis is than Ruutu, I don't buy it. St. Louis is under contract for 2 years. Ruutu will be probably signed for 2 or 3 and then be an unrestricted free agent. So the length of time you keep Ruutu for sure is 1 year longer at worst. And based on injury history, you could argue that St. Louis is likely to be good for more games than Ruutu anyway.
But why would this make sense for Tampa? 2 reasons: 1-The build around St. Louis and Lecavalier plan has now failed for multiple years in a row and St. Louis is not getting any younger. 2-The Bolts have a lot of holes right now and coming off another bad year, they are going to have a tough time attracting good free agents for the right price. This trade gives them 2 NHL roster players for 1 and both players are fairly young.
2) Anton Babchuk plus Patrick Eaves and/or a pick or prospect for Kevin Bieksa. He is a little risky having only 1 great year and also having injury issues, but Bieksa's style of play fits the description of the perfect partner for Joni Pitkanen. He is nasty and physical (and though his 195-200 is not that big he plays bigger especially with the open ice hits). He brings a decent shot from the right side. And at least when healthy a couple years ago, he looked like a top 4 borderline top 2. The bet that Rutherford would be making is that Bieksa is closer to his best over the past few years than his worst. The high end is a borderline top pairing guy, but the low end just adds another #4ish defenseman which we have a stockpile of already. You can think of Bieksa being the right side equivalent of Tim Gleason in terms of big hits, physical play, nastiness, willingness to drop the gloves, etc. but with more offense and puck-moving ability and just a little bit better wheels.
Why would this make sense for Vancouver? It would be mostly about the money. If the Nucks sign the Sedins as expected. And if they plan to keep Roberto Luongo next summer. And if they also decide that they would rather keep Mattias Ohlund than Bieksa (If I were not right-shot biased for our need, I would just because Ohlund is more of a sure thing.), then Bieksa and his $3.75M contract could become a necessity to let go. In return, they get a big right shot replacement in Babchuk at half the cost. They also get a filler top 9 in Eaves at about the right price. And at this point, I think the money becomes more important than whether Vancouver likes or does not like Bieksa.
3) Ruutu plus a young defenseman or maybe Babchuk plus a young forward for Nathan Horton (shorter version: a pretty good package of a roster replacements plus young talent). Horton would be a real interesting addition. He could fit very nicely at right wing next to Staal. But he could also be that young, bigger 2nd line center of the future. When you look at the power in the East (Pit: Malkin, Crosby, Staal; Phi: Carter, Richards, Briere; NYR: Gomez, Drury), if you look forward to the playoffs even a little, the Canes need to get bigger and better down the middle going forward. Cullen looks more like a #3 and BrindAmour more like a #4. And while I like Sutter's chances to grow into a role, he is more of a 3rd line checking makeup than a 2-way scoring force in the #2 slot. You can play Horton some at the open wing slot next to Staal and some at center, and based on results figure out which spot is still open next summer.
Why would this make sense for Florida? It would be hard for them to part with arguably their best young player. And I admit that this a longshot. But there are 2 things: 1-I think Fla is really in rebuilding mode right now. Yes I realize they only missed the playoffs by a little again last year, but at best they are a #7 or #8 team and they have some holes. So if you can turn Horton into a pretty good young roster player in Ruutu and 2 pretty good futures or roster players, just maybe you do it; 2-Like Tampa, they could have a hard time in the free agent market. This is a way to get maybe 3 roster players for 1 and not just the spare part variety.
4) A reasonably priced roster player and/or a prospect for Blake Wheeler. Rutherford entertains this if and only if Boston quits on him. On the 1 hand, he has great physical tools and has long been labeled as a top 6 forward and he played top 9 minutes and looked decent for Boston in the regular season. This version of Blake Wheeler would not be available at all especially given his current low salary and Bostont's issues trying to fit under the cap. But then there is the version of Blake Wheeler who was a disappointing 4th-liner and even healthy scratch in the 2009 playoffs. If Boston quits on him completely and looks to move on in which case he can be had for a reasonable price, maybe Rutherford takes a flyer. He is a big right wing with some skills and decent skating ability. His development getting there has been up and down, but many project him as a top line right wing. For a discarded price, just maybe Rutherford gives him a shot next to Staal.
Why it makes sense for Boston? I don't think it does UNLESS they just quit on him due to attitude or whatever. It seems more likely that they would give it another shot this year on a higher line again, but who knows.
5) A good roster forward (Ruutu?) plus Babchuk plus a #1 pick and/or a decent prospect for Chris Pronger. If there is any truth to the Johnson + a high #1 from LA for Pronger, then you can immediately pull Rutherford out of the bidding war. I would consider Pronger to be a 1-year rental because it seems unlikely we would be able to keep him next summmer. But if you are Jim Rutherford and you think that the Canes are again close and want to get aggressive, this might be it. He is the right shot that fits next to Pitkanen in a 1st pairing and on the power play. Rutherford generally does not spend a bunch of future for short-term stuff, but the 1 time he clearly had a team capable of winning it all in 05-06 he was very aggressive spending ruture to add Weight and Recchi. And it worked. With a lockdown defenseman in the lineup, are the Canes an Eastern Conference frontrunner with Pittsburgh.
Why would this make sense for Anaheim? There plan seems to be trying to build a good, young defense. Whitney and Beauchemin if he returns make a good left side especially if Niedermayer stays. If the emphasis is on "young" and Anaheim does not expect to resign Pronger next summer, then now might be the time to collect a bunch in return. If the Kings rumor is BS and/or if the Ducks management realizes that they might not really want Jack Johnson and his baggage, then just maybe the price includes less of the extreme high-end prospects and picks in which case the Canes could step in.
This seems like a long shot just because of expected price, but if you could drop in 1 huge name into the Canes roster who might actually be available, Pronger might be as good of a fit as anyone based on team needs.
A couple notes:
--Why Ruutu? I am trying to propose reasonable trades for good players. For me to say that we will trade Samsonov or some random 3rd round pick and get guys to fill holes at the top of the roster is silly. To fill the type of holes that Rutherford might be working on, you have to give up something good in return. I like Ruutu. I think he could fit on this team long-term. The team is arguably short on the physical edge that he brings, so losing him would hurt.
More to the point, in no way am I down on Ruutu or want him to be gone, but he is a player with decent value coming off a good year and therefore has good trade value.
--Why Babchuk? It is like I said in an earlier blog about the Canes summer. With Babchuk it is all about slot. If you think he can continue to develop into a pretty good top 4 defenseman (he did a good imitation of this in late 08-09 regular season before struggling in the playoffs), then you keep him. If instead, you just see him as a borderline #4/#5 guy, then I think you consider trading him for 2 reasons: 1-He has decent value right now coming off a pretty good season especially in terms of scoring; 2-The team has a bunch of other guys who can hopefully fill the same #4/#5 borderline slot very soon.
--No Jordan Staal? I think this could happen next summer. The Pens did the "3 deep at center" in 08-09 and won a Cup in the process. Why would you stray from this plan now? But if they are not able to fill in on defense and at wing this summer with the salary limitations maybe they will have to go a different route next summer and get cheaper at #3 center.
Okay...These blogs tend to generate the highest volume of "no way...you are a complete idiot" responses, so I realize that I am putting myself out there. I do it for the good of my hockey brethren to help fill the slow times between the Cup finals and the start of the free agent frenzy. I can take it...