RALEIGH, N.C. – Looking for another scoring forward, or stay-at-home defenseman, or not sure how to analyze whether a deal that you offer in a trade, or that is presented to you is a good one?
No doubt Carolina Hurricanes executive vice-president and general manager Ron Francis and his amateur and pro scouting staffs have been scouring through their notes to look back at not only their players in the system, but others they missed out on.
Each management staff has its own version of their ‘Blue Book’ values of players, also referred to as assets, to compare to if they look to make such a deal.
Much like buying or selling a car or house for example, you must be diligent in knowing what the current market is, but also to have and review your historical records of past considerations and factors that played a role into making your decisions to acquire or let go of that specific asset.
You want to look at comparable values, or ‘comps’ before making a deal because who wants to make a bad decision or be ‘snookered’ or taken by making an uninformed decision – i.e. making a bad deal.
Nearing the end of a bye week, having played 45 games, the Carolina Hurricanes currently sit three points out of an NHL wildcard spot in the standings with a 20-17-8 record.
Recent injuries to leading scorer Sebastian Aho, utility forward Derek Ryan, and defenseman Brett Pesce have now presented the Hurricanes with roster depth challenges.
How they will address them will be paramount to continuing to toe the razor-edge line to stay in a playoff-spot hunt this season without mortgaging the future.
Though not cryptic, Francis’ stock answer to past inquiries of why or why not a deal was made have been generic.
To paraphrase: “If the deal makes sense and will help the team, we’ll do it.”
Taking a look at how Carolina’s roster is currently constructed, with actual data of current player performance via the NHL.com site, provides one perspective to better understand how deals could be made or not, according to players’ values relative to their draft status.
Top picks lead the way
Carolina currently has eight first-round picks playing on its current roster – five of which were original team picks while three were acquired by trade.
From oldest to youngest in draft class, Cam Ward, Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Haydn Fleury, and Noah Hanifin have been selected by the Hurricanes, while trade deals brought Justin Williams, Jordan Staal and Teuvo Teravainen to the club.
Note that former GM Jim Rutherford made the original picks and/or trades that involved Williams, Ward, Skinner, Lindholm, and Staal.
Obviously past experience and success in winning three Stanley Cups played a role in making such a decision, but holding the pedigree of being a former first-rounder had to be considered when comparing Williams to his draft class.
We’ll get to that comparison soon.
Seconds, thirds, fourths reinforce the foundation
Looking at the rest of the roster, a mix of second, third, and fourth round picks have been the ‘pieces’ Francis has tried to fit into, within and around, the first-rounders.
Defenseman Justin Faulk leads the second-rounders along with forwards Aho, Victor Rask, Brock McGinn and Phil DiGiuseppe who possesses significant NHL playing experience.
Defenseman Roland McKeown and forward Janne Kuokkanen have had cups of coffee with the big club, but continue to develop with the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers.
In terms of third-round picks, Pesce is Carolina’s lone homegrown pick while forward Joakim Nordstrom and defenseman Klas Dahlbeck were acquired in deals/signings Francis made.
Defenseman Jaccob Slavin has become the ‘jewel in the rough’ out of the fourth-pick class, joined by short call-ups for defenseman Trevor Carrick and forward Lucas Wallmark.
Digging deep to find more jewels
Francis’ deals to acquire experienced players without high draft pedigree have brought fifth-round forwards Lee Stempniak and Markus Kruger, along with sixth-round goalkeeper Scott Darling and undrafted free agent forwards Ryan and Josh Jooris to the club.
This mix has brought some experience with Stempniak and Ryan providing the most return in relative terms to a team comprised of many top draft picks.
Darling’s experience played into signing a four-year deal as Carolina’s NHL-ready goalkeeping pipeline is not deep.
As the highest goalkeeper pick in the Hurricanes’ system, a second-round selection in 2014, Checkers netminder Alex Nedeljkovic has played 30 minutes of NHL time, in one game played in 2016-2017.
How to analyze notable comps
Thus, as the Feb. 26th, 3 p.m. deadline approaches, what deals, if any, can Francis make to bolster the roster to carry it forward and across the playoff wildcard finish line?
In comparing where each player sits among his respective draft class, it becomes evident why it is a tough decision to make.
Many sit within the top 25th percentile with fellow picks around the league.
Aho is the most glaring success story of a pick as he sits atop his class of 10 NHL players getting playing time this season, posting 37 points (16g, 21 a), while Christian Fischer (Arizona) is the only other double-digit scorer of the group.
Williams, Ward, and Darling are atop their draft classes, as well as Teravainen leading a productive grouping that includes Filipp Forsberg (Nashville), Morgan Reilly (Toronto), and Alex Galchenyuk (Montreal).
Slavin stands third of nine in his class, and is the leading defenseman of only three, including Brett Kulack (Calgary) and Carrick.
Faulk and Rask sit fourth in their relative pick and class groupings.
Faulk leads all seven defenseman listed of the 16 total players in a class led in scoring by forwards Jason Zucker (Minnesota), Tyler Toffoli (Los Angeles) , Calle Jarnkrok (Nashville).
Rask currently follows behind Nikita Kutcherov (Tampa Bay) , William Karlsson (Las Vegas), and Brandon Saad (Chicago) in a class of 17 playing in the league.
Staal, Lindholm, and Skinner sit fifth, sixth, and seventh, respectively, among the deepest draft classes that provide many teams in the league their offensive leadership and depth.
Staal rests behind Claude Giroux (Philadelphia), Phil Kessel (Pittsburgh), Nicklas Backstrom (Washington), Jonathan Toews (Chicago), and Derick Brassard (Ottawa).
Skinner has Taylor Hall (New Jersey), Vladamir Tarasenko (St. Louis), Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington), Tyler Seguin (Dallas), Mikael Granlund (Minnesota), and Jaden Schwartz (St. Louis) ahead of him in offensive production to date.
Lindholm has Nathan McKinnon (Colorado), Sean Monahan (Calgary), Aleksander Barkov (Florida), Seth Jones (Columbus), and Anthony Mantha (Detroit) in front of him.
Paralysis by analysis
It eventually becomes clear that when looking a little deeper from the outside in, that differences in players’ abilities, expectations realized or not, and current quantitative performance are only a few factors that an NHL GM must consider to make a deal.
Using all forms of data and analytics can help guide decision-making, as some of the cursory data provided here has attempted to present.
As media and fans can utilize such information to attempt to establish their own ‘armchair GM’ rationale for trade decisions, what is missing is the qualitative details and notes that GM’s like the Hurricanes’ Francis and his scouts possess.
On paper, a great scoring year, or an established career of success can seem like the main reason to go after a player to put on your roster.
However, notes on his psychological makeup from pre-draft interviewing, or negative ‘gut reaction’ feelings on how good a ‘fit’ an individual would be will influence that decision-making process.
Having not taught, or indoctrinated, a player into the coach’s and team’s system of play and culture may be another reason not to go after an established, ‘slam dunk’ superstar, let alone if he doesn’t want to come into the organization either.
Thus, dealing for established veterans, aside from a higher salary cost, will first require combing through all the scouts’ notes, the players’ dossier, to find out how they’ve developed from pre-draft to current pro standing.
The big question seems to be, ‘will he make us better while not slowing other players’ development or disrupting team chemistry and culture?’
For Carolina Hurricanes fans, the patience exhibited by Francis in making deals points to asking that question and then continuing to mine for top-draft level talent that can be molded into the team’s system and culture.
If any type of trade(s) are made within the next month involving the Hurricanes, it will be very likely that the acquired player(s) will be near the upper echelon of his draft class.
The numbers to date seem to point in that direction.
Carolina Hurricanes Draft Class comps (links provided to view on NHL.com)
Rankings indicated for 45 games played as of 1/18/18
Draft Year (Round Selected) – Name (Current Draft class Ranking)
Peter Koutroumpis, 401-323-8960, @pksport