The Carolina Hurricanes already made a major splash this offseason with the Dougie Hamilton trade, but it seems the team may not be done shaking up its defensive corps.
Justin Faulk's name has been swirling about the NHL rumors mill for quite some time, and it seems one team could have a track towards landing the big-shot defenseman. He is not the only player who could find a new home, as Chris Kunitz and Tobias Rieder are homing in on teams.
Partner for Faulk?
Carolina disappointed a year ago with a record that was far inferior to the talent on the roster, so it's been no surprise the team has been busy this offseason. Now it appears the Canes could have a trade partner for one of their longest-tenured stars.
Faulk is one of the top defenseman in hockey on the power play thanks to his blistering shot. It has resulted in 74 goals and 223 points in seven seasons, but his career 23 minutes, 25 seconds average ice time suggests he can play in all situations. However, he will need a new contract in two seasons after making $4.83 million annually, and the Hurricanes have a bevy of defensive depth.
Even before the Hamilton trade, Noah Hanifin's presence still helped make Faulk expendable thanks to the emergences of Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, along with budding prospects Jake Bean, Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown knocking on the door. Per Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, the Chicago Blackhawks are intrigued.
Friedman says the word around the league is the Blackhawks are continuing to "monitor" the possibility of orchestrating a trade for Faulk.
It makes plenty of sense, as the Blackhawks are an aging team, particularly on defense. Duncan Keith is 34 and coming off of his lowest postings in points, plus/minus and average ice time since 2008-09, while Brent Seabrook, 33, was actually healthy-scratched this season while averaging his lowest ice time since 2006-07. On top of that, Keith is owed $5.54 million over the next five seasons, and Seabrook is owed a whopping $6.88 million over the next six.
The two declining defenders are still the top options for a team that missed the postseason in 2017-18 and only has $9.23 in cap space before free agency. This team needs to get younger and lose salary, which explains their recent efforts on the Marian Hossa front, per TSN's Frank Seravalli:
Faulk's cap hit is manageable, and he would greatly help reinvigorate the Blackhawks' defensive group.
The issue on Chicago's end is that it does not have an ample amount of young assets to sell off, which makes it difficult to include high draft picks in a potential trade. The team would likely refuse to part with Alex DeBrincat, defensive prospect Henri Jokiharju or Nick Schmaltz. That leaves Gustav Forsling, Vinnie Hinostroza and Jordan Oesterle as the only remotely desirable assets, and any of them would not not nearly enough to get Faulk without including a first-round pick.
So while Faulk would be a nice fit, the Blackhawks have an uphill battle to get a deal done, especially if they can't shed some of Hossa's money. If they are serious, they need to include someone like Schmaltz, which would be a tough pill to swallow and seemingly not realistic.
Kunitz Market Too Large?
Kunitz can still play, and he is entering into the Matt Cullen echelon of guys who have developed into impact role players while approaching their 40s.
Like Cullen before him, the 38-year-old has garnered interest from Stanley Cup contenders, but they may not be the only clubs looking to add the veteran winger. Per Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a return to the Pittsburgh Penguins is unlikely after the two sides were thought to have had mutual interest.
Mackey cites sources saying the interest of several other teams as a reason why his return may have been "torpedoed."
The other possible suitors were not named by Mackey, but going back to the Tampa Bay Lightning is not an option, as the team made clear at the NHL draft:
Kunitz enjoyed his most successful NHL years with the Penguins, putting up 388 points in 569 games over nine seasons. His run included three Stanley Cups, an All-Star honor and Team Canada appearance at the 2014 Olympics. As expected, his production and role have diminished as he's aged. He put up 29 points in each of the past two seasons, both of which are his lowest totals in a full season since becoming a full-time NHL player in the 2005-06 season.
The 11 minutes, 57 seconds of ice time he averaged this past season was also his lowest total in that span.
Still, he put up 29 points playing in a fourth-line role, which is good by NHL standards. He only accounted for a $2 million cap hit last season, which one would have to think would only decrease for his next contract given his age. It makes sense that a team would want to add a veteran forward with pristine credentials to its locker room.
Given the Penguins' signings of Jack Johnson and Riley Sheahan, Kunitz may not have been willing to take such a steep discount. However, do not expect him to be sitting around long Sunday, and do not be surprised if another contender inks him to shore up their fourth line. Kunitz's history shows they likely will not regret it.
Canada Wants Rieder
Teams looking for a talented winger at a discounted rate would be wise to take a run at Rieder. Unsurprisingly, it seems multiple clubs are.
Per TSN's Darren Dreger, a handful of outifts have expressed interest in Rieder, especially from a certain geographical location:
Dreger later added that the Montreal Canadiens are one of the teams involved. This would make sense since there have been reports for close to a year that they are shopping top winger Max Pacioretty. What's more, the team ranked 29th in the NHL with 2.52 points per game last season while ranking 10th with 32.8 shots per contest. Simply put, the Canadiens are looking to get younger while still finding players who can bury the biscuit.
Rieder has proved in the past that he can develop into a top-six forward, but he just needs more consistency. He broke through with 71 points combined in his second and third seasons, but he fell off a bit this past year. He put up just 25 points in 78 games, and he stumbled even more when he was dealt to a playoff team in the Los Angeles Kings, with whom he totaled a measly six points in 20 games and no points in four playoff games.
Still, Rieder is only 25 and is a skilled offensive talent. He only made $2.25 million last season, and that hit could go down after his rough season. This means teams could be looking at buying low at a potential 40-point or more scorer who is entering the prime of his career.
That seems like a solid deal for any team looking for additional scoring without much risk, so it is no surprise he has plenty of suitors. Expect him to be a hot commodity come Sunday.