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Adam Fox Rumors: Trade Now or Wait Until 2020?

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The Rangers are in pole position to acquire top prospect Adam Fox, but they can’t take anything for granted.

United States v Czech Republic: Bronze Medal Game - 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect Adam Fox completed his junior season at Harvard following the team’s 4-0 loss to UMass on Friday. The Carolina Hurricanes, of course, are not the New York Rangers. So who cares?

Well, the Rangers should care. Carolina holds Fox’s rights until August 15th, 2020. As such, Fox has a few options at his disposal. He can leave college and sign with the Hurricanes. If he doesn’t, then he’ll return to Harvard as a senior for the 2019-2020 season. Once his senior seasons concludes he can then either immediately sign with Carolina or wait until August 16th, at which point he’ll become a free agent.

Fox, who was traded to Carolina as part of the blockbuster Noah Hanifin/Dougie Hamilton trade with Calgary last summer, has seemingly informed the Hurricanes that he has no desire to sign with them. In fact, it’s another NHL team that appears to be piquing his interest.

We’ll publish a more intensive scouting report of Fox if/when he becomes a Ranger, but here are the basics. Fox, a right-handed defenseman, was a third-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2016. The 21-year-old posted elite numbers with the US National Development Program before heading to Harvard, where he’s been a top NCAA defenseman all three seasons. He featured for the US at the World Junior Championship twice and was a key figure on the 2017 gold medal-winning team. This season, Fox posted nine goals and 39 assists in 33 games for Harvard and led the entire NCAA in points-per-game.

Fox has serious upside as a top-four NHL defenseman, and could perhaps fill that role as soon as the 2019-2020 season. Thus, he is a serious commodity. Carolina appears determined to trade Fox and get some value for him while they still can. That would mean trading him prior to next season, allowing Fox to sign and turn pro with the acquiring team.

Their options are limited to the number of teams that Fox is willing to sign with, though, and the Rangers are the obvious front runner. Fox grew up on Long Island and was an avid Rangers fan. He wants to remain within the proximity of NYC. The Rangers lack reliable, long-term options on the right side of their defense. So, Fox would have a relatively easy path to obtaining quality playing time at the NHL level right out of the gate. Quite simply, Fox’s desire to become a Ranger has been a poorly kept secret in hockey circles for a while.

The Rangers could wait until August of 2020 to sign Fox without having to pay Carolina any compensation. That certainly is an option, though it does come with risk and penalty. For one, it means that they would have to wait an extra season, whereas by trading for his rights they could immediately sign him and make him a pro player. There’s also the risk that another team wins Fox’s allegiance. Maybe the Rangers are his first choice, but there are 2-3 other teams with whom he’d be content to sign. Or, maybe he has a change of heart between now and next August and decides to sign with another NHL team instead of the Rangers.

Thus begins the standoff. The Rangers know Fox wants to become a Ranger. Carolina knows that the Rangers know this. The Rangers will try to play it cool and pretend that they’re perfectly happy to wait until August of 2020, when they can have him for free. Perhaps they’ll also use the media to convince Fox of their interest and try to force Carolina’s hand. Meanwhile, Carolina will act in no rush to move him and will try to create leverage by asserting the existence other potential trade partners and feigning a willingness to wait until next spring to try and sign him or trade him at that point.

The Rangers have the bulk of the leverage here and should certainly milk that. There is a danger of getting too cute and losing out on Fox altogether, though. Winning the trade is not the concern here, as Carolina lacks leverage and Fox will be a better asset than whatever it will take to acquire him. The delicate balance for the Rangers is balancing a desire to obtain Fox as cheaply as possible without overplaying their hand. For the Rangers, what is the price of security? For Carolina, what is the price of saving face? A trade hinges on both team’s ability to find a trade that meets both standards. Otherwise, the Rangers will be left to cross their fingers and hope another team does not scoop him up before they are able to.