The snowball that may unleash an avalanche of Carolina Hurricanes trades slid down the mountain Monday night.
The Hurricanes traded failed enforcer experiment Kevin Westgarth to the Calgary Flames for failed former first-round pick Greg Nemisz as evening fell on the first day after the conclusion of the NHL's unwritten holiday trade freeze.
"Greg is a young player...that we hope will continue to develop into a solid NHL player," said GM Jim Rutherford, per the team website. "We thank Kevin for his time with the Hurricanes and wish him well."
Nemisz was drafted 25th overall in 2008 but has been a career minor leaguer to date, tallying nine points in 32 AHL games with Abbotsford this fall.
Westgarth, 29, never clicked as the tough guy Carolina expected him to be, sitting out all but 12 games so far in 2013-14 and going pointless in those dozen appearances. The trade clears his $725,000 cap hit from the books and opens up a valuable roster spot.
While a fairly meaningless trade on the surface, Monday's transaction could open the floodgates for Rutherford and the rest of the 'Canes front office. Per TSN analyst Darren Dreger on Twitter:
Seems to be more trade activity brewing around the Hurricanes. Could be an interesting night.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) December 31, 2013
The potentially palate-cleansing trade comes after some surprisingly blunt remarks from Rutherford earlier Monday. According to Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer via Twitter:
GM Jim Rutherford had long meeting this morning with Muller, Francis to talk about changes that need to be made to end slide.— Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) December 30, 2013
Rutherford not ruling out trades. Said was on phone last night and today. "Something could happen but you need two willing people to do it."— Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) December 30, 2013
The coming week could be a crucial one for the 'Canes, who are seeking to end a slide that has seen them lose eight of their last nine games despite playing well most nights. As a turning point in the campaign lies in the balance, Rutherford must carefully execute trades that will both jump-start the team and fill some glaring holes.
Summaries and breakdowns of several recurring Hurricanes-related trade rumors and speculations lie below.
Tim Gleason to Toronto Maple Leafs
A trade rumor that has existed since November has experienced a resurgence lately thanks to the team's slump. Ottawa Sun columnist Bruce Garrioch wrote the following back on Dec. 21:
"The talk is the Leafs are trying to sweeten the pot to acquire defenceman Tim Gleason in exchange for John-Michael Liles. For that deal to happen, it will have to get bigger because Gleason for Liles straight-up would be embarrassing for the Hurricanes."
Gleason, 29, is far from the shutdown defenseman he used to be. His hulking speed, conservative style and lack of skating ability—the attributes that formerly made No. 6 so valuable on a run-and-gun 'Canes squad—now make him merely resemble an elephant on skates.
Liles has also worn out his welcome in Toronto, though. The 33-year-old offensive defenseman and four-time 40-point scorer has been largely buried in the AHL this year.
Rutherford would likely ask for a little more than Liles in return. A mid-grade prospect is one possibility, but I think a second swap of Drayson Bowman and Nikolai Kulemin might entice him more. Kulemin, 27, has disappointed after an unrepeatable 30-goal performance in 2010-11, but he has more upside as a mid-line winger than the ever-frustrating Bowman.
If this trade has been contemplated as much as the rumors surrounding it have, it's hard to believe Rutherford would let it drop now, as his trade trigger is looser than ever.
Tim Gleason to Boston Bruins
The news that former Hurricane and reliable top-four defenseman Dennis Seidenberg will miss the remainder of the season for the Bruins with ACL and MCL tears has opened the door for another possible Gleason destination.
Per NBC's Mike Halford via Twitter:
Can't see BOS making big, blockbuster move in light of Seidenberg injury. Cap situation is tight. More of a rental, plug-n-play situation.— Mike Halford (@HalfordPHT) December 28, 2013
If the Bruins do indeed resist the urge to pursue some of the market's biggest items—such as the Coyotes' Keith Yandle, the Sharks' Dan Boyle and the Rangers' Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi—then Gleason may be the best-priced veteran rearguard available.
Boston GM Peter Chiarelli has been trying to get rid of Jordan Caron, the 25th overall selection from 2009, for years, but he might not have much value to the 'Canes.
Ever-gritty Gregory Campbell, one of the longtime staples of the Bruins' perennially potent bottom six, would be a great add in Raleigh, as neither Riley Nash nor Manny Malhotra is truly cut out as a legitimate third-line quarterback. Campbell, who tallied 13 points in 48 games last year, has just six in 39 this year and might be at his lowest trade value in years.
If cap space is to be an issue, Chris Kelly ($3 million) might be pushed into play as well.
Justin Peters to Somewhere
With Justin Peters' miracle run of the autumn now over—he cost the 'Canes two very winnable home games against Columbus and Pittsburgh in the past week alone—it might be time for the 'Canes' long-awaited goaltender trade.
Anton Khudobin is finally returning after a 10-week injury absence and has made 77 saves in two starts for the Charlotte Checkers in his AHL conditioning stint, helping to ease concerns over Cam Ward's continued poor play.
What will Justin Peters' fate be?
Thankfully for Rutherford, an ongoing epidemic of goalie injuries around the league should give him plenty of interested Peters suitors.
Garrioch reported earlier in December that the Edmonton Oilers might be a top candidate. Peters' .922 save percentage in 2013-14 contrasts starkly with Oilers starter Devan Dubnyk's .896 average, but Edmonton may be satisfied to ride Ilya Bryzgalov (.916) for the time being.
The New York Islanders, currently sporting the East's worst goals-against average of 3.30, might like to add Peters to their currently inconsistent duo of Evgeni Nabokov and Kevin Poulin. The Nashville Predators are hurting in goal without Pekka Rinne's stabilizing presence too. The Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets may also be intrigued.
It seems that, after weeks of hype, the time has arrived for the 'Canes to get what return they can out of their netminding depth.
Other Trade Possibilities
I've been very enamored with the possibility of a Mikael Backlund acquisition for months.
Backlund is an excellent, young third-line center on a weak Calgary squad, but the expectations set by his 24th overall selection in 2007 have hung hazily over his entire career in southern Alberta.
Dreger mentioned Rutherford's interest in the 24-year-old back in November. Offering up Jiri Tlusty, Tuomo Ruutu or the aforementioned Peters might get the GM-less Flames management to bite.
Ruutu may be creeping up the trading block. My Sunday column revealed that the 30-year-old Finn has theoretically been paid a team-high $238,948 per point this season, and his checking impact has dropped significantly after two hip surgeries in the 2013 calendar year.
With Ruutu's $4.75 million cap hit weighing heavily on the 'Canes' finances, now might be a good time to part ways with one of the club's longest-tenured forwards.
Although it's purely speculation on my part, I think Rutherford might contact St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong, Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi and Stars GM Jim Nill about the availability of Brenden Morrow, Colin Fraser and Rich Peverley, respectively.
Morrow, 34, has the third-best shooting percentage among active NHL players—a finishing ability the 'Canes lack—and a respectable 14 points in 32 games for St. Louis this season.
Peverley, 31, has 16 points in 37 games for Dallas this campaign. While quite a bit more expensive than Fraser, he could fill the reliable third-line center role that has been open in Raleigh ever since Brandon Sutter's departure.
The trade options may be vast, but one thing seems rather certain: The New Year's holiday could be an active one for the Carolina Hurricanes.