With free agency right around the corner and the NHL Entry Draft behind us, teams are beginning to make moves to prepare for the heat of the offseason. Monday evening, the Canes struck a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks to send Calvin de Haan (D) and Aleksi Saarela (F) to Chicago in return for Anton Forsberg (G) and Gustav Forsling (D).
When this trade alert popped up on my phone, I was bamboozled. I couldn’t figure out why the Canes would make, what appeared to be, such a one-sided move without obvious and instant benefits. So, I screamed into the void and let it sink in for a while. Before I try to consolidate the reasons I think the trade was made, I just want to remind everyone to trust the process. We trusted the 3-5 year rebuild, and that got our Charlotte Checkers a Calder Cup. We trusted the Canes’ new management last season, and that got us an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Take a breath with me. We’ll be fine.
First and foremost, this trade was a cap dump. Calvin de Haan was a great addition to the Canes this past season, and I’m sure we’ll miss his consistent defensive prowess. However, he had a tough year injury wise, and is currently slated to miss the beginning of next season coming off shoulder surgery. For that level of uncertainty, the $4.5 million he was making on our 3rd pair looked rough. I’m not a general manager, but I know that’s not ideal cap distribution. This frees up some space for subsequent free agent signings. It also potentially opens the door to acquire a top-6 forward with term via trade (*looks in Nikolaj Ehlers’ general direction*).
Another ripple effect of this deal involves Haydn Fleury. I don’t know about you all, but I watched the entirety of the Calder Cup Finals, and it’s obvious Fleury is just too talented for the AHL. He’s an NHL defenseman, cut and dry. The swagger he was playing with in that series was impressive. His body language every time he took the ice was, “I’m the best player out here right now, and I know it.” His skating was simply smoother than every other player, and his breakout passes looked even better than during his recalls a few months ago. Regarding Fleury’s spot with the Canes, the door was always at least cracked. Now that de Haan is gone, that door has been kicked down. This is his top-4 role to seize, and I think the organization is saying directly, “You’re ready, and we believe in you. Let’s see you deliver.” I want this to be the narrative we push. The kid has been patient and earned every bit of it.
It’s not all positive though. Our left side depth has taken a hit, and there is some uncertainty there. We’ve got Slavin, Fleury, and then the third pair is going to be occupied by one of Forsling, Bean, or even Carrick. He (Carrick) has some fans that think he could translate to an NHL 3rd pair. I thought he looked good in the Calder Cup. I’m just not fully sold and think we’ve seen his peak in his NHL stints. It’s my opinion that Forsling still has some untapped potential that he wasn’t going to reach as a part of a rebuilding Chicago team. However, that’s not something you place bets on when you’re trying to follow up an Eastern Conference Final run. Bean, on the other hand, just led AHL rookie defensemen in points, and the team desperately needs a true powerplay quarterback. I think Bean’s offensive upside coupled with the progression of his own-zone awareness warrants an extended look. The trade opens the door for him to take on a 3rd pair/powerplay specialist role, and in my eyes, this is likely the next domino to fall.
Speaking of development, Aleksi Saarela’s 30-goal season with the Checkers in 2018-2019 was quite impressive. I really wanted to see him get a shot with the Canes. It was to the point I was sitting here scribbling down potential lines trying to make him fit. This is probably the aspect of the deal that bums me out the most. But to be realistic, he’s a left shot. I’m not sure where exactly he’d have fit into the lineup if we were going to get the most out of him. A 4th line role wouldn’t have played to his strengths at all nor would it have been enough ice time. A 3rd line, checking role would’ve been iffy since Saarela is more of an offensive glass cannon, if you will. It’s just a bummer to see that type of a prospect let go.
The goaltender that came over in the trade, Anton Forsberg, is an NHL backup. I know his sample size is still small, but he doesn’t strike me as anything more than that. The Canes’ goalie situation heading into next season has a lot of question marks, but here’s a snapshot. The Canes likely won’t get Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney signed before July 1. It’s still possible Mrazek returns as an unrestricted free agent later on, but he’ll certainly test the market it seems. There’s also the consideration that Alex Nedeljkovic is ready for his shot. His development has panned out right on schedule, and now he’s won tough games, tough series, and a Calder Cup. Furthermore, the Canes took the #2 ranked goalie in this year’s draft, Pyotr Kochetkov, 36th overall. He’s probably a year, maybe two, from making a dent in the NHL. The last time the Canes took a goalie in the second round was Nedeljkovic, and you don’t really take goalies that early on unless you think they have high floors and could be NHL starters. For me, acquiring Forsberg invites a feeling of uncertainty. However, drafting Kochetkov is reassuring in a way.
All this considered for the organization’s goalies, I just don’t see where Forsberg fits in long term. They’ll let him fight for a spot I’m sure, but a Nedeljkovic-Forsberg tandem makes me uneasy. I can’t be alone with that sentiment. I have to hope that they’re thinking about a different path. The only reason I see Forsberg as useful in the context of the trade is that his presence makes it so the Canes can complete the buyout of Scott Darling. They need to have three goaltenders under contract in order to buy out another. Forsberg, along with Callum Booth and Jeremy Helvig, makes three. The latter two are long-term projects, at different points in their development, and not yet directly impacting the Canes. At the very least, getting Forsberg in the deal provides some camp competition for the backup job while they search for a starter.
I’ve sat here and mulled over all the possible implications for the team’s future roster construction, and I have to say, I still don’t like the trade. I don’t feel the team is objectively better than they were before it. Calvin de Haan was a rock-solid, albeit injury-prone, defender and teammate. It sucks to see him go. I don’t like Saarela leaving simply because he was such an exciting prospect. It’s probably best for his future, for there could be a roster spot in Chicago. The trade just leaves me with more questions than answers, and that’s the best way to sum it up. All we can do is believe in the GM by committee. Trust the process, Canes fans. They’ve delivered thus far. Buckle up, though. July 1 is coming.