It is Rumor Mill season in the NHL once again, and it has been churning non-stop the past few days. Carolina Hurricanes GM Don Waddell is faced with a rumored trade that he absolutely should not make.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The Stanley Cup Finals are winding down, and we are one (maybe two) games way from the next Stanley Cup Champion being decided. The Carolina Hurricanes are in the offseason officially along with 28 other teams.
While the hockey season may be winding down for players, GMs and team owners around the league are just beginning the bulk of their work to prepare for next season.
Alongside various actual General Managers, several armchair GMs seem to be out in force, as is usual for this time of year. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve already seen several big-name players mentioned in trade rumors already, and it’s only a week into June.
A vast majority of these rumors are not true, but there have been quite a few that have managed to make their way to headlines of various hockey websites the past few weeks that may actually hold some weight.
One potentially true rumor in particular involves none other than recently-spurned Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, and a number of Carolina Hurricanes defensemen.
According to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, Toronto is interested in potentially moving Nikita Zaitsev and Kasperi Kapanen to the Hurricanes in exchange for either Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce, or Justin Faulk.
If it were me, that deal would be dead in the water, save one specific circumstance. This is a trade that Don Waddell shouldn’t touch with a 39-and-a-half foot pole. However, Kapanen does have plenty of upside, and I fully expect Zaitsev to return to his former 30+ point performance after leaving Toronto.
This leads me directly into the trade that Don Waddell SHOULD make. I know, this will definitely be polarizing with some of you. What kind of writer would I be if it weren’t? A bit of a disclaimer before we jump into it: I do not dislike Justin Faulk, by any means. I have a ton of respect for him, and you couldn’t meet a nicer person. That being said, Faulk is no stranger to defensive missteps, and has cost the Hurricanes quite a few influential goals. Take that as you will, and proceed with caution.
To start off, I know most every single one of you reading this have questions already. Isn’t Zaitsev terrible? Wasn’t he widely considered a bust by fans and pundits alike throughout the league? Why don’t we just offer sheet Kapanen? Don’t worry, I’ll get to those.
In my opinion, the pressure of playing in Toronto got to Zaitsev, causing his game to slip quite a bit. Toronto is easily one of the most difficult teams to play for in the league, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day.
A trade that consists of nothing but Zaitsev and Kapanen alone heading to Raleigh would not be worth sending Hamilton, Pesce, or even Faulk to Toronto in return.
As much upside as both Kapanen and Zaitsev have, neither are guaranteed to fully fit within the team culture and system of hockey Rod Brind’amour has cultivated this past season. Zaitsev could, indeed still turn out to be the bust that Toronto fans have him pegged as. That being said, I would be content with an altered version of the aforementioned trade.
Zaitsev, Kapanen, and an early-to-mid round pick from Toronto. I’m talking at least a 2nd rounder, and no later than a 3rd rounder; this draft is the weakest we’ve seen in awhile. In return, Carolina sends Justin Faulk ONLY. Not Hamilton. Not Pesce. Not Faulk and a pick. Not Faulk and ‘future considerations’. Justin. Faulk. Only.
Justin Faulk is not a bad hockey player. Neither is Nikita Zaitsev. Nor is Kasperi Kapanen. That being said, Faulk is about to enter the final year of his contract. Yes, Don Waddell has mentioned he is willing to offer Faulk an extension. That is a story in and of itself, if I’m being completely honest.
In my opinion, extending Faulk will turn out to be quite the conundrum. Faulk, despite being the most tenured Hurricane on the roster, is not our best defenseman. That being said, does Waddell offer him more than the Carolina Hurricanes are paying Jaccob Slavin? I hope not. Despite this, I believe Faulk played his best defense I’ve seen him play in awhile during the latter half of the postseason, and could potentially be his saving grace this offseason.
I don’t believe Faulk will be interested in taking a pay cut, so I honestly don’t see him signing a contract reflecting his actual worth, which in my eyes would be closer to $3.5M in a multi-year deal. I don’t see Waddell offering him a contract higher than Slavin’s and I don’t see Faulk accepting a contract lower than Pesce’s, both of which are absolute bargains. Interesting situation, no? This, to me, makes him the perfect candidate to be dealt to Toronto.
As far as offer-sheeting Kapanen, we have to step in Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas’ shoes for a minute to understand why that could be a bad idea from the inside looking out.
As Dubas, I am faced with an impending cap conundrum, and am faced with the possibility, however unlikely, of potentially allowing Mitch Marner to become a restricted free agent. Salary projections for the young center remain up in the air, and I need to shed cap space, and shed it quickly and intelligently.
I have a defenseman who wants out, and a solid, young right-winger with plenty of potential to pair him with and make a more attractive trade out of potentially just a defenseman who could still very well turn out to be a flop.
One of two things will likely happen: a team will show interest in a Zaitsev/Kapanen combo, and Toronto will shed much-needed cap space, and receive a solid player in return who (hopefully) is still cap-friendly.
The other scenario is that I’m stuck with Zaitsev (who at this point not only doesn’t want to play here, but whose cap hit is also one of the things standing in the way of me signing my leading point-getter) and a team comes along and offer-sheets Kapanen for a reasonable price.
If I’m Kyle Dubas, and I’m already on the verge of letting Mitch Marner go into RFA status, I might as well cut my losses and match whatever offer sheet a team throws at Kapanen (barring a Milan Lucic-type offer). Toronto has many decisions to make this summer, and I don’t envy Mr. Dubas in the slightest. But I’ll leave that to our friends at Editor in Leaf to discuss. There are various other scenarios that could play out, but those become increasingly unlikely the closer we get to July 1st.
This theoretical trade is very risky, and I honestly hope with each passing day that it isn’t something that comes to pass, but I’m not at all mad at the prospect of looking at Kasperi Kapanen aside from the aforementioned deal(s). He’ll be a solid contributor to whichever team he ends up with in a very short amount of time.
If we are able to get that much in return for Justin Faulk, I’d be thrilled and this would further prove Waddell’s GM sorcery (thanks for Nino, Minnesota!) is for real, but I highly doubt the trade would look like that if it is, indeed, true. A guy can hope, right?
Question for CC Readers: Do you agree with the trade I suggested? If not, who would you want to see sent to Toronto in return for the players mentioned?