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The loss of Justin Williams to semi-retirement was a blow the Carolina Hurricanes, who relied on him not only as a captain and leader, but also a player who provided plenty of value in almost all situations.
While he was getting on in years, 2018-19 was one of Williams’s best seasons in a while and he is a player that would be near-impossible to replace, especially on the open market and especially this late in the summer. There are still good players available, but none who would provide as many wins above replacement as Williams was likely to, even if last season’s output was an unsustainably strong high-water mark for a player closer to 40 than 30.
The Jake Gardiner signing in the wake of Williams’s announcement, however, gave the Hurricanes some serious wiggle room. They added a defenceman who was — and, though there are some questions about his back injury, presumably still is — as reliable a middle-six defender who can chip in offensively as there is in the league. Adding him to an already-strong blue line not only gave the Hurricanes options, but necessitated a trade. It was likely Justin Faulk, an expensive-ish and probably overrated player entering the last season of his current deal, at the end of which he’ll be 28 years old.
Useful though Faulk is on the ice, he is perhaps more valuable to Carolina as a trade chip: Lots of teams need middle-pair defenders and Faulk is one with a strong reputation. Arguably a stronger one than he deserves, but a strong one nonetheless. This is exactly the kind of player that fetches a good top-six forward option from teams searching the trade market, and Carolina was always likely to test the waters for Faulk before it considered the absurd Dougie Hamilton or Jaccob Slavin swaps that were also being bandied by rumour-mongers for much of the summer.
Within a day or two of the Hurricanes reportedly putting Faulk on the block, a bidder came calling: Anaheim, having lost some right-shot D in the last few summers, needs just such a man, and the reported player coming back in the trade is apparently Ondrej Kase.
Believe the Hurricanes have a deal in place with Anaheim for Faulk. Anaheim is not listed among his 15 preapproved teams, so it’s in Faulk’s hands now. Hurricanes have had a longstanding interest in Ondrej Kase, would be surprised if he isn’t involved.
— Luke DeCock (@LukeDeCock) September 9, 2019
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: If you’re entering into a trade with the Hurricanes these days, the odds are good you’re coming out on the losing end. Their ability to identify and secure talent at below the market rate is basically unmatched in this league, and few teams are as behind the times when it comes to evaluation as the Ducks. To say Faulk-for-Kase would be a benefit to the team acquiring Kase is an understatement, even if that team weren’t desperately trying to replace one of the most reliable top-six right wings in the league.
We need to be as clear about this as possible: Kase is basically a 23-year-old Williams, at a minimum. While he doesn’t seem to be able to stay healthy (he has just 149 career games played over his three seasons in the league), he’s less than a win shy of Williams’s WAR over the same period, but in 95 fewer games. And he’s also been on much worse teams, with a fraction of the power-play time at almost 400 fewer minutes.
This trade is a win walking away for the Hurricanes, as they deal from a position where they have absolutely no need and acquire someone who might just be a top-line right wing if he can stay healthy. And as an added bonus, he won’t be 24 until early November. Another bonus? He’s signed this year and next at just $2.6 million. That’s more than $2 million in AAV cheaper than Faulk and certainly cheaper than what Williams commanded last year. If Williams does indeed come back later in the season, he might even be pushed down the depth chart by a younger, Czecher version of himself.
For the scoring freaks, the production isn’t quite there, but the per-game numbers certainly are. Kase’s running at 0.32-0.28-0.6 over his parts of the last two seasons versus Williams’s 0.23-0.4-0.62. So too are the underlyings; Williams’ share of attempts when he’s on the ice at 5-on-5 over the last two years is 56.8 per cent, versus Kase’s 54 per cent. The results are even closer in shots on goal at 5-on-5. In all situations, their expected-goals percentages are separated by a few points, but again, Williams played an extra few hundred minutes on the power play on better teams, so that helps.
Staying healthy is a skill, of course, and it’s one Kase hasn’t really shown, with a pair of concussions over the last two seasons and a big shoulder injury last year. Williams, despite his age, hasn’t missed more than two games in a season since 2010-11, when Kase was barely a teenager.
The other issue, of course, is that Faulk has a partial no-trade clause and Anaheim is one of the 15. Understandably so, as that’s a team going through at least a “reload” period, if it’s not considered a full rebuild. But the weather sure is nice and, if the Ducks are able to talk extension with him and want to go nuts, he might be persuaded to waive that partial no-trade.
Now, maybe the Hurricanes need to throw in something else here, or take on a bad contract to make the money work. That’s all stuff that can be figured out later and wouldn’t be enough to deter Carolina from making this kind of trade. But if the general framework of the deal is Faulk-for-Kase and you figure it out from there, this is a no-doubter home run for a Hurricanes team that’s had a real high OPS of late.
And that’s before it inevitably acquires Jesse Puljujarvi’s rights for pennies on the dollar.
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