It’s going to be hard Friday night for Carolina Hurricanes fans to watch Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog play and not imagine one of them as a permanent fixture at PNC Arena. It isn’t often players of their caliber come onto the open market, and as Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic solicits offers for them, the Hurricanes just happen to have the kind of young defensemen Sakic covets.
Some Hurricanes fans have been savoring this very scenario since the news broke months ago that Sakic would possibly consider moving one or the other, wondering if there’s a deal out there ahead of the March 1 deadline that could deliver the kind of elite forward that would give a much-needed boost to the Hurricanes’ erratic offense.
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but as good as Duchene, 26, or Landeskog, 24, would look in a Hurricanes uniform, there are too many barriers to a deal.
First, and perhaps most important, is price. Sakic is believed to want a young NHL defenseman, a prospect, a first-round pick and perhaps other assets as well. He may be shopping his two young stars, but he’s not giving them away. Even in a year when the draft is expected to be weak, making it a good year to trade a pick, that’s too much for the Hurricanes – especially when the name that keeps leaking out of Denver is Colorado native Jaccob Slavin. No chance.
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Second, if the Hurricanes are going to give up those kind of assets – and they would be dealing from strength, with Slavin and Justin Faulk and Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin and Ryan Murphy in the NHL and Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown in the minors and Jake Bean in junior hockey – they’d prefer to do it in a deal for a No. 1 center. Landeskog is a natural left wing, and there are questions whether Duchene is a true first-line center or a No. 2 center or first-line winger.
And third, even if the Hurricanes decided Duchene was indeed a No. 1 center, he only has two more years left on his contract (albeit at a reasonable $6 million per season). The Hurricanes could potentially mortgage their blue-line future for a player who could walk away in the summer of 2019.
The flip side is that players like Duchene and Landeskog, unquestioned talents entering the prime of their careers, aren’t available very often outside the draft. Sakic knows this, which is why his price is so high. But there’s also something to be said for taking this kind of plunge on these rare occasions it presents itself. So far, in his time as Hurricanes general manager, that hasn’t been Ron Francis’ style.
That doesn’t mean Francis won’t make a deal. It just means he won’t make this one, not at the price Sakic is asking. Francis’ focus remains on the long term, and if there’s a trade with that kind of impact, he said Thursday that he would consider it.
“At this time of year you’re on the phone a lot, talking to lot of different guys, but it’s a really unique year when you look at standings,” Francis said. “There are a lot of teams still hanging around so things have a chance be pretty fluid over the next 10 days. I’m not opposed to making any deal, but we’ll maintain our philosophy of building this thing right for the long term. We’re certainly not going to give up what we feel is a good young piece for something that will help us for two months and set us back. If a deal makes sense, that makes us better now and moving forward, we’re all in.”
So if Sakic suddenly decided he’d take Murphy and Fleury and a first-round pick, maybe that makes a Duchene deal doable. (Don’t hold your breath.) And the Hurricanes do have cap space to spare, which could be leveraged at the deadline – perhaps even with another team trying to clear space for Duchene or Landeskog.
They may yet make a move. But it doesn’t look like it’ll be the one many fans want, the one that will be dangled in front of them Friday night.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock