This is a 30 part series analyzing the short and long term cap situations of each team in the NHL as we head into the 2015-16 season. The stats and information that I use in these articles is courtesy of Hockey Reference and War on Ice, and of course, NHLNumbers.
The Anaheim Ducks were far and away the best team in the Pacific Division last season. They rolled through the Winnipeg Jets and the Calgary Flames on their way to the Conference Finals before they were stopped in the seventh game of the series by the Chicago Blackhawks, the eventual Stanley Cup winner. The Ducks had a busy offseason resulting in their team looking very different than the one we watched in the playoffs last season. They lost Matt Beleskey and Francois Beauchemin, traded away Kyle Palmeri, Emerson Etem, and James Wisniewski, added a handful of depth forwards through free agency, and signed Carl Hagelin and Jakub Silfverberg to long term deals. When it was all said and done, the Ducks look like just as strong a team as they were last year. That being said, they only have eight forwards and three defencemen signed heading into the 2016-17 season, and seven key young players will be in need of new RFA contracts next summer.
- Signed Ryan Kesler to a six year contract extension with a $6.875 million cap hit.
- Signed Chris Stewart to a one year, $1.7 million contract.
- Signed Shawn Horcoff to a one year, $1.75 million contract.
- Signed Mike Santorelli to a one year, $0.875 million contract.
- Signed Brian McGrattan to a one year, $0.600 million contract.
- Bought out Mark Fistric, $0.517 million cap hit for four years.
- Traded a 2016 second round draft pick to the Canucks for Kevin Bieksa, then gave him a two year extension with a $4 million cap hit.
- Traded Kyle Palmeri to the Devils for a 2015 second round pick and a 2016 third round pick.
- Traded Emerson Etem and a 2015 second round pick from New Jersey to the Rangers for Carl Hagelin and a 2015 second round pick and sixth round pick, then signed him to a four year contract with a $4 million cap hit.
- Traded James Wisniewski to the Hurricanes for Anton Khudobin.
- A few minor signings: Harry Zolnierczyk, Korbinian Holzer, Chris Mueller, Joe Piskula, and Matt Hackett.
- IN: Chris Stewart, Shawn Horcoff, Kevin Bieksa, Carl Hagelin, Mike Santorelli Anton Khudobin.
- OUT: Francois Beauchemin, Mark Fistric, Emerson Etem, Kyle Palmeri, Matt Beleskey, Sheldon Souray, James Wisniewski, Jason LaBarbera.
*Ryan Kesler’s contract comes to an end at the end of the 2015-16 season. But he has a six year extension with a $6.875 million cap hit beginning in 2016-17.
The Ducks don’t have much to worry about up front, as their core forwards are signed for the foreseeable future. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are signed until the end of the the 2020-21 season, which will take them each to the age of 35. Earlier this summer, Ryan Kesler inked a contract extension that’ll take him to the end of the 2021-22 season and Carl Hagelin and Jakub Silfverberg signed deals that keep them in Anaheim until the end of the 2018-19 season. They also have Patrick Maroon and Andrew Cogliano, two of their key depth forwards, signed to reasonable deals for three more years before they hit free agency. All in all, the Ducks have seven of their top nine forwards, and essentially an entire top six, signed for at least three more years at a combined cap hit of $36.5 million. Even if the cap ceiling remains stagnant — which it won’t — for the next three years, the Ducks will be in pretty good shape. The only contracts the Ducks are really going to have to worry about next summer in terms of forwards are RFA deals for Rickard Rakell and Jiri Sekac. They’ll need to deal with another revolving door of depth forwards as Shawn Horcoff, Chris Stewart and Mike Santorelli are signed to one year deals, but that shouldn’t be an issue for a team like the Ducks who have a decent amount of cap space to work with.
Not much has to be said about Getzlaf and Perry. The Ducks’ offence revolves around these two guys, and they’re absolutely worth the combined $16.875 million that they’re paid each season. Last year, they scored 70 and 55 points respectively, meaning they combined to be involved in over half of the team’s 236 goals. Right now, with the cap ceiling at $71.4 million, Getzlaf and perry account for 23.6 per cent of the Ducks’ cap space. Even with a lower than expected cap ceiling, that still isn’t bad. As the cap rises over the next few seasons, it’s going to look even better. The slightly more concerning contract is the one that was handed out to Ryan Kesler this summer. Like I mentioned above, Kesler has an extension kicking in next season that’ll see him get a pay increase from $5 million to $6.875 million. He’s a good player right now, but in a few years he probably isn’t going to be worth that price tag. Over the past four seasons he’s played (I’ll ignore the 2012-13 season in which he only played 17 games) his Corsi For percentage has steadily decreased on its own and in relation to his teammates. To be fair, though, even though his 50.5 Corsi For percentage last season was the worst of his career since 2007-08, he made the most defensive zone starts and faced the most difficult competition of any forward on the Ducks. His $6.875 million cap hit is going to look pretty ugly in four or five years, but they’re paying him because they’re in win now mode, and they don’t have any other ugly contracts, so it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
*Kevin Bieksa’s contract comes to an end at the end of the 2015-16 season. But he has a two year extension with a $4.0 million cap hit beginning in 2016-17.
The Ducks have a much more interesting situation on the defence than they do up front. They have three defencemen signed past this season, they don’t have any signed past 2018, and they just lost Francois Beauchemin — who led the team an average ice time last season — to free agency. They managed to replace him with Kevin Bieksa, who’s signed for one more year at $4.6 million before a two year extension with a $4.0 million cap hit kicks in. Over three years, they’ll be paying Bieksa $12.6 million, while Beauchemin is being paid $13.5 million over those same three years by the Avalanche. I don’t know what happened between Beauchemin and the Ducks, but it’s safe to say that even though he’s one year older and slightly more expensive, he’s the better player of the two. Over the past few seasons, he’s logged more minutes per game against tougher competition, and he’s managed to have better possession stats and he’s produced a lot more offensively. According to hockey reference, Beauchemin was worth 16.6 point shares over the past three seasons, while Bieksa was worth just 11.
It’s safe to say that Beauchemin to Bieksa is a downgrade in the short term, but in the long run it doesn’t really make much of a difference, because the future of the Ducks’ defence is Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and Simon Despres. Of those four, only Fowler is signed past next season, as the other three will be looking for new RFA deals at the end of the season. Vatanen and Lindholm will both be looking for pretty fair pay raises this summer, possibly similar to the ones handed out to John Klingberg ($4.25 million per year over seven years) and Adam Larsson ($4.167 million per year over six years). Of course, their new contracts will come down to how well both of them play in their new, expanded roles this season.
The Ducks’ free situation doesn’t end with their defensive core. All three of their goalies — Anton Khudobin, John Gibson, and Frederik Andersen — have contracts expiring at the end of the season. Khudobin will become a UFA, while Gibson and Andersen will become RFAs.
Khudobin split time with Cam Ward in Carolina last season, managing a pretty unimpressive 0.900 save percentage and -12.40 goals saved above average through 34 games. That was a disappointing step back from his numbers in 2013-14, in which he posted a 0.926 save percentage and 12.72 goals saved above average in 36 games. Andersen won the starting job last year in Anaheim over John Gibson and it’s pretty safe to assume he’s going to be the number one guy heading into 2015-16. It’s hard to say what direction the Ducks will go long term, but next season it appears that Khudobin will be used in a backup role with Andersen starting, while Gibson continues to develop in the AHL. After that, it’s anybody’s guess what happens with this goaltending trio, but I assume Gibson and Andersen are viewed as long term pieces of the team while Khudobin isn’t.
The Ducks are going to have an interesting summer in 2016. They have Sekac, Rakell, Lindholm, Vatanen, Despres, Andersen, and Gibson with expiring RFA contracts and five depth forwards set to become UFAs. We don’t know what the cap ceiling is going to be in the future, but they already have $49.35 million invested in eight forwards, three defencemen, and no goalies past the end of the 2015-16 season. If the cap stays the same, that’ll give them just over $22 million to deal with all seven RFAs and the rest of their roster. I really, really think the cap is going to go up, but I don’t expect it to take an astronomical spike in the next year, so it’s going to be a bit of a squeeze for the Ducks.
That being said, the Ducks certainly aren’t in a bad cap situation moving forward. They’re going to have to make some difficult decisions as to who they move forward with, but enough money is there that their top priority free agents can easily be signed. My guess is that Lindholm is their top priority, followed by Andersen and Vatanen. If the Ducks decide they value Lindholm, Vatanen, and Despres over any other defenceman on their roster, it won’t be difficult for them to find a trade parter for Clayton Stoner or Cam Fowler. Same goes with their forwards. If they decide they value Sekac and Rakell as key parts of their group, they won’t have a hard time moving Cogliano, Thompson, or Maroon to make space. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, I’m just saying that the Ducks have a lot of options moving forward and they don’t really have any terrible, unmovable contracts weighing them down at all. In a few years, Kesler’s deal may become an albatross, but that isn’t a concern right now.
The Ducks are a contender right now, and if they continue to do a good job managing their cap, they’ll be one for years to come. Like I said before, the Ducks have their core forwards signed for at least three years, and their dynamic duo of Corey perry and Ryan Getzlaf are signed for another six. The key for the Ducks is going to be picking which players they hang on to, and which ones they let go of to open up cap room. Obviously that’s the nature of a cap league, but ultimately that’s what makes the difference between being a long term contender and finding yourself in cap hell.