Sometimes, another team’s loss can be your own gain. Today, the Carolina Hurricanes bought out James Wisniewski after an illustrious single-shift career, to ensure that their emerging young defensive corps can keep building together. This leaves the Leafs with perhaps the only non-Stamkos veteran worth seriously exploring this offseason.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) June 30, 2016
Wisniewski was signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets to a six-year deal in that began in 2011/12, and was about to enter into the final year of his deal this season. Along the way, he’s been traded to Anaheim (in March 2015), and Carolina (in June 2015). The Columbus trade was made as part of a rebuilding effort, while Anaheim did it as a “strength for weakness” attempt.
Unfortunately, Wisniewski topped his 13-game stint in Anaheim with just a 46 second run with the Hurricanes. In his first game with his new team, Wisniewski collided with Viktor Arvidsson and tore his ACL, ending his year on opening night.
As it stands, a healthy Wisniewski is still a quality first or second pairing defenceman in the NHL. His teams generate much more offence when he’s on the ice, which seems to keep the puck away from his net as well and generally tilts the ice in his favour. He scores at a decent enough level at even strength and can contribute on the powerplay. More than that, he’s a right-handed shot, which many have harped on the Leafs for not having enough of at a high end level.
Certainly, Wisniewski would be an upgrade on Frank Corrado or Connor Carrick this season, and is more of a known quantity than Nikita Zaitsev is. Being 32-years-old will likely scare off a lot of fans, but he would provide a veteran presence to a defensive core that, for the most part, is 25 or younger.
Wisniewski’s prior cap hit was $5.5 million, and he was due $3 million real dollars this year; he’ll get $2 million instead as a result of the buyout. One would expect due to his age, his lack of play last season, and the fact that he’s become a free agent on the last day of the negotiation window and after a couple of huge trades have already gone down that his dollar amount for this year won’t be high.
Not that that matters much to Toronto. As we mentioned repeatedly during Stammergeddon, the team has $7 million in pre-LTIR cap space to work with and the capacity to go over by $5.3 million Hortonbucks. If you can get Wisniewski locked into a one-year “prove it” deal, the price doesn’t matter very much. I’d even consider it for two years, as it would leave the Leafs a defenceman to expose to the Expansion Draft afterwards.
Many will say that signing a veteran goes against the rebuild model, and in many respects, that’s true. But Right Defence is a specifically outlined position of weakness, and this is a quality player that is very likely to be undervalued on this market due to his age, time of arrival, and lack of ice time over the past year. I don’t believe the organization seems themselves as contenders just yet, but they probably don’t believe themselves to be bottom feeders either. If you think the team has any chance at decency, this is a solid option to pursue.