The long-running rumor that the Carolina Hurricanes would trade one of their talented defensemen has finally come to fruition. Except it’s not Justin Faulk, not Dougie Hamilton, not Jaccob Slavin or Brett Pesce. No, instead it is their most recent blue line addition, last summer’s free agent signing Calvin de Haan. After just one season in Raleigh, de Haan is on his way to Chicago, his new team announced. Accompanying him to the Blackhawks is prospect forward Aleksi Saarela and the return heading to Carolina is yet another defenseman, Gustav Forsling, and goaltender Anton Forsberg.
This is not a swap that anyone could have reasonably predicted. The Hurricanes, who have had a logjam on the blue line for several years, finally move a defenseman, but yet again add another defenseman in return. Many were puzzled when Carolina first signed de Haan to a four-year, $18.2MM contract last summer given their existing depth on defense. Now they move him less than twelve months later and add another left-handed defenseman, albeit younger and much cheaper, to essentially take on the same spot in the organizational depth chart. Forsling, 23, played in at least 38 NHL games in each of the past three seasons, but remains a work in progress. Unlike de Haan, Forsling will have to fight for his starts against the likes of Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury, so in a way the ’Canes have at least changed their defensive dynamic. Forsling is a restricted free agent, but lacks arbitration rights and also much of a case that he is worth anything more than a short-term, low-value contract for now.
The second piece coming to Carolina is also intriguing and that is 26-year-old goaltender Anton Forsberg. The Hurricanes’ 2018-19 tandem of Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney are both unrestricted free agents and recent reports suggest that neither is expected to return. Scott Darling still remains under contract despite rumors that he would be bought out this summer and could be in play again next season. Promising prospect Alex Nedeljkovic, a restricted free agent, is also due an opportunity at this stage in his young career. The acquisition of Forsberg is odd, as the Hurricanes still need a starting goalie and he is not the answer. Forsberg did not make an NHL appearance last season for Chicago and fell down the team’s depth chart and struggled with the full-time backup role in 2017-18. At this point in his career, Forsberg – who is also a restricted free agent – is little more than a third-string depth option, making that three such players for the ’Canes now and no real NHL options in net.
So, the strangest part of this trade is not that the Hurricanes added a defenseman and goalie that they did not need, but that they seemingly gave de Haan and Saarela away. Were this any other team, this trade would be viewed as a salary dump, with de Haan’s $4.55MM cap hit and a sweetener, Saarela, heading to a team for a couple middling pieces and cap relief. However, the Hurricanes are currently below the salary cap floor and are facing no financial constraints. Unless this is a precursor to Carolina adding $15MM+ in free agent signings or trade acquisitions, the team did not need to move de Haan for cap relief. Keep an eye out for the Hurricanes in the coming weeks.
Regardless of the Hurricanes’ motivations, this is a great deal for the Blackhawks. De Haan is a solid two-way defenseman who may only contribute moderate offensive numbers, but plays a shutdown defensive game and can move the puck. By no means is his salary an over-payment, as de Haan is an elite shot blocker, a strong physical presence, and a man-down asset. If there is one notable weakness to de Haan, it is that he is injury prone and is in fact currently sidelined following shoulder surgery and unlikely to be ready for the start of the season. Nevertheless, he is still a great defender when healthy. Saarela, seemingly an add-on, recorded 54 points in 69 AHL games last season and was even better in the postseason, adding 15 points in 17 games for the Calder Cup-winning Charlotte Checkers. Saarela is poised to make his NHL debut sooner rather than later and Chicago could wind up with a nice future scoring winger in the 22-year-old restricted free agent.