It was reported on Tuesday that Carolina Hurricanes prized defence prospect Adam Fox will not sign with the Carolina Hurricanes, opting instead to return to Harvard for his senior year, after which he will be granted free agency. But, what does this mean for the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Adam Fox was one of the main pieces going to Carolina in the draft-day deal that sent Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Fox, Dougie Hamilton, and Micheal Ferland. Fox was, and still is, highly coveted by the Hurricanes. The Flames selected the young defenseman in the third round of the 2016 draft out of the U.S. National Development Program, but after incredible freshman and sophomore seasons at Harvard, he shot up prospect rankings. The Flames tried to get him under contract before the 2018 draft, but Fox declined in favour of going back to college for his junior year. This December, prohockeyrumors.com reported that the Hurricanes were “very confident” that he would sign with them at the end of the season. Now, Jeff Cox of the New England Hockey Journal says that he may shun them as well.
Per multiple sources, Harvard junior D Adam Fox will return for senior season, opting not to sign with Carolina Hurricanes. Favors becoming free agent next summer. Great news for Crimson and college hockey as a whole.
— Jeff Cox (@JeffCoxSports) March 26, 2019
Why would he not sign with the Hurricanes?
The Hurricanes are a team with lots of defensive talent. This is evident in a quick look at their statistics this season. The Hurricanes rank top-10 in goals allowed (T-8), shots on goal allowed (3), CF% (shot attempts for) (2), and xGF% (expected goals for) (1). Their defensive pairings are so stacked with talent that they have to leave a prospect like Jake Bean in the AHL. Their pairings are as follows:
Their fifth and sixth defensemen, de Haan and van Riemsdyk could play higher in the lineup on most other teams. Thus, this logjam of defensive talent could block a prospect like Adam Fox from receiving lots of minutes. This may be why he chooses to forego signing his contract this year and wait to sign with a team of his choice.
Precedent for the Leafs
Leafs fans have seen a situation like this before. The Nashville Predators selected Jimmy Vesey in the third round of the 2012 draft. Vesey, like Fox, played for Harvard. However, when GM David Poile offered him a spot for the end of the 2015-16 regular season and playoffs, Vesey declined, wanting to pick his own team instead. The Leafs spoke with Vesey and were finalists in the sweepstakes. Unfortunately, Vesey ultimately chose the New York Rangers—a team that undoubtedly had less talent than the Leafs, but significantly more minutes and a larger opportunity.
This example shows that the Leafs could have a realistic shot at signing the young defender when he reaches free agency for reasons I discuss below.
The Florida Panthers selected Zach Hyman in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. Amid concerns regarding the Panthers’ chances of signing him, the Leafs traded for Hyman’s rights, giving up AHLer Greg McKegg in return. Of course, Hyman’s situation is different from Fox’s because Hyman was born in Toronto. This situation could be indicative of Fox going to a team other than the Leafs. Fox is a native of Jericho, New York, and it is rumoured that he may be interested in signing with the New York Rangers.
The Leafs and Adam Fox
Fox, a 21-year old, is a right-handed-shot—an organizational need for the Leafs. In 32 games this year, he has tallied 9 goals and 39 assists for 48 points. He is a serious contender for the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the best NCAA player. In 2017-18, he scored 6 goals and got 22 assists for 28 points in 29 games. He has played in the last two World Juniors with Team USA, the last one coming as an assistant captain.
The Leafs, unlike the Hurricanes, have very little talent on their blue-line, and all of it comes from left-handed shots. This summer, Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey’s contracts will expire, leaving two open spots in the lineup. Additionally, Nikita Zaitsev is often a target of trade rumours, and will likely be gone if Kyle Dubas can get a team to take his $4.5 million contract off his hands. Martin Marincin, Justin Holl, and Igor Ozhiganov are nowhere close to having guaranteed spots in the lineup next year. This leaves only Morgan Rielly, Travis Dermott, and Jake Muzzin—all left-handers—with the only guaranteed spots in the lineup for next season.
If I'm Kyle Dubas, I ask Carolina for permission to talk to Adam Fox. Give him the HARD sell then work on a trade.
The Toronto pitch wouldn't even have to be that hard, Given the depth chart, Fox would have stable role on the right side of a very good NHL next season
— Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie) March 26, 2019
If Adam Fox signed with the Leafs, he would join an instant contender. Given the lack of talent on the right side, Mike Babcock would give him lots of minutes, likely in the top four. Calle Rosen, who is expected to be called up to the Leafs this week, Rasmus Sandin, and Timothy Liljegren, who may still need more work in the AHL are the only other legitimate candidates to make the roster next year. Simply put, the Leafs and Adam Fox are great fits for each other, and they would be silly to not consider agreeing to a contract should the defender reach free agency.
Fox is also good friends with two American Leafs prospects, who could influence his decision in free agency.
so adam fox is real good friends with jermey bracco… so looks like we are in for a year of "he's gonna sign with the leafs"
— jakə bənigni (@jbenigni) March 27, 2019
The one thing that should be noted about Adam Fox is he is friends with Joey Duszak who just signed with the Leafs so…LET THE SPECULATION BEGIN
— Paul Ross (@RealPaulRoss) March 26, 2019
Of course, the Leafs will be very close to the salary cap after this summer. However, Fox’s first contract would be an entry-level deal, which is less than $1 million per year. For example, Jimmy Vesey’s contract with the Rangers was a two-year ELC worth $925,000 annually against the cap. It’s not guaranteed that Fox will reach free agency, or that Fox and Dubas will be in contact with him, but it would be prudent for Dubas to at least try, whether it be through free agency or a trade to acquire his rights. On the surface, at least, the two seem like a perfect fit.
Featured Image Photo Credit – Josh Tessler