Last weekend, I looked at this summer’s free agent market to see whether or not there could be a possible solution to the gaping hole the Jets have on the left side of their blue line. The list wasn’t particularly inspiring. I concluded that if the Jets were going to acquire a left-handed defenceman that could be a long-term solution, it was more than likely going to have to come through trade.
The Jets have a lot of talent on their roster, especially up front, and a top-10 pick in this year’s draft, meaning they could make a perfect trade partner for a team with an abundance of defencemen and needs elsewhere. So with that in mind, who could Kevin Cheveldayoff be getting in touch with this summer in order to address this hole?
The Ducks are loaded with talent on the blue line. Because of it, they seem to be the team that everybody (well, fans and writers who like to think about this sort of thing) wants to mine for defencemen.
One wrinkle, though, is the expansion draft. The Ducks have to protect Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kelser, and Kevin Bieksa. They could ask the former to waive his no movement clause, which would allow them to protect somebody else instead. But if that doesn’t happen, it seems the Ducks will opt to prospect eight skaters: Getzlaf, Perry, Kelser, Bieksa, Rickard Rakell, Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler.
That would leave guys like Jakob Silfverberg, Simon Despres, and Josh Manson available for Vegas to nab. I have no idea who George McPhee will decide to take, but I’m guessing, based on the players most likely to be available to the Golden Knights from other teams around the league, they’ll opt to grab Silfverberg, and Anaheim will end up a situation where they badly need a skilled forward to replace him.
That would make them and the Jets great trade partners. Fowler would make a nice fit as a puck mover alongside either Dustin Byfuglien or Jacob Trouba, but also would be a risky addition because he’s only under contract for one more season. But both Simon Despres and Shea Theodore are left-handed shots with upside and multiple years of control.
Like the Ducks, the Hurricanes have an embarrassment of riches in terms of defencemen. Justin Faulk, who just trend 25, is the old man of the group that features 2015 fifth overall pick Noah Hanifin, and Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, who broke onto the scene this season. Beyond that core four, the Canes also have Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean, their top picks from the 2014 and 2016 drafts respectively, waiting in the wings.
It’s a ridiculous amount of talent to have at one position. This team’s blue line is going to be very good very soon, there’s no doubt about that. But up front? The Canes aren’t so hot. Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Sebastian Aho, and Elias Lindholm are a nice group, and all, but there isn’t much high-level talent there, which was noticeable last season when only two players on the team managed more than 20 goals.
Since all of their defencemen are young and under control for multiple years to come, it’s going to take a massive haul to pry them away from Ron Francis and Co. in Carolina. Are the Jets prepared to sacrifice, say, Nik Ehlers in order to get Noah Hanifin, a calm, poised, skilled pivot who can develop alongside Jacob Trouba for years to come? It’s a tough pill to swallow, but that’s probably what it’s going to take in order to nab that coveted young, left-handed defenceman the team so badly needs.
The Wild are also in an expansion draft jam. They need to protect Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pomminville because of their no move clauses, and even if they get Pomminville to waive his as many expect they’ll try to do, they’ll still be in line to lose one of Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella depending on who they ultimately opt to protect. I would guess they’re going to protect Suter, Spurgeon, and Dumba, leaving Scandella and Borodin available to the Golden Knights.
That could mean that the Wild might be inclined to deal away one of those aforementioned defencemen for a forward before they have to leave them exposed to Vegas. Kyle Connor and Nik Ehlers are both expansion exempt, but that’s a high price to pay for a defenceman like Brodin who’s fallen to the third pair on Minnesota’s depth chart. A deal involving Brodin for a draft pick and a prospect like Brendan Lemieux could be more attractive for Winnipeg, and is better for the Wild than letting the former first round pick get taken for nothing.
The trade market for defencemen this summer will largely come down to what Vegas decides to do in the expansion draft. Based on the way it’s set up, the Golden Knights will have more opportunities to grab good defencemen from other teams than forwards, and they could opt to not take certain players from teams in return for a pick at the entry draft.
Regardless, it’s pretty clear that the Jets’ best opportunity to get an impact, left-handed defenceman who can be more than a short-term solution on the team will be through trade this summer. It’s going to come at a high price, as we saw with what Edmonton had to pay to acquire Adam Larsson, but that’s the nature of the beast in the league’s market right now.