After yet another successful regular season that ultimately ended in playoff disappointment, the Anaheim Ducks let go of head coach Bruce Boudreau and chose to move on by taking a massive step backwards (both figuratively and literally) by hiring Randy Carlyle to man the team’s bench for his second tenure.
And that’ll just be the beginning of the shuffling in Anaheim this season, as a wealth of free agents, a strict internal budget, and the imminent threat of an expansion draft will result in significant changes to the Ducks’ roster over the summer.
The Ducks jumped out to a flying stop at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, winning only one of their first ten games while struggling mightily to score goals. Despite the horrendous first month, the Ducks got their act together, which really wasn’t all too surprising considering their underlying numbers and the results simply didn’t match up.
After the turn of the New Year, Anaheim was one of the league’s hottest teams, going 31-10-4 and ultimately climbing all the way up over the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings for first place in the Pacific Division. Because of the hot finish, the Ducks appeared to be major contenders in the Western Conference. And that made a lot of sense, considering the fact that the previous year they had come within just one win of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals.
Their underlying numbers also showed a team that appeared to be one of the real juggernauts of the West. They ranked in the top third of the league in shot attempts for per hour, and they were fourth best at suppressing their opponent’s ability to do the same. Unfortunately, since the West is stacked, they ended up facing another really good team in the first round.
The Nashville Predators ended up winning the series in seven games and the Ducks were lauded for choking. Although they finished seventh in the Conference, the Preds had some of the best possession numbers in the league, and struggled in the standings largely because of a poor season from Pekka Rinne. So while losing to a seventh seed looks terrible, I wouldn’t really consider Nashville your average bottom-end playoff team.
Anyways, the finish was enough for the Ducks’ brass to say enough is enough with Bruce Boudreau, who, despite all of his success in the regular season, has never been able to get it done in the playoffs. Of course, blaming the coach is always the easy thing to do, even if it is ultimately on the players for not getting the job done. That’s just the way it always goes when you have players signed to mammoth multi-million-dollar contracts who are much more difficult to come by.
While they were able to jettison their coach and move in a completely different direction with that role, the Ducks are pretty much stuck with their core of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler. And I don’t mean stuck with them as some kind of terrible curse, but these are the players that the team is going to live and die with for the foreseeable future.
Getzlaf and Perry each had lower-than-expected seasons in terms of production, as their on-ice goals for per hour production was significantly worse than it has been in each of the past three seasons, but their possession and shot generation numbers suggest that this was more of a bad luck thing than a these-guys-are-getting-old-and-aren’t-all-that-good- anymore deal. That said, those two are into their 30s now and aren’t getting younger, so while the decline hasn’t shown up just yet, it will sooner rather than later.
Ryan Kesler gets a lot of crap for not being quite the two-way force he used to be back during his days in Vancouver, but he still plays a damn good game on the defensive side of the puck. Last season, he started more than 60 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone, and still managed to have a 53.1 Corsi For percentage. Again, though, Kesler is part of the 2003 NHL Draft All-Star team the Ducks have acquired, and is closer to turning into a lemon than he is to his prime years.
Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg, who each chipped in with 20 goal seasons last year, round out Anaheim’s top six, then it starts to dry up pretty quickly. Other than Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, Silfverberg, and Rakell, nobody on the Ducks scored more than ten goals last season, but that said, their depth forwards did excel on the defensive side of the puck, which was key in the team allowing the fewest goals against of any NHL team.
Of course, the major reason why the Ducks were so good at keeping the puck out of the net last season was their excellent defensive core and their tandem of goaltenders.
Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm ranked first and fourth in the league among defencemen in suppressing the other team’s ability to generate shot attempts, while Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen provided value offensively for the Ducks at the other end of the ice. Beyond those four, Anaheim also has Simon Despres, who missed a good chunk of last season to injury, and Shea Theodore waiting to take on a bigger role on the team, and Clayton Stoner and Kevin Bieksa, who, uh, should probably do the opposite.
The Ducks have eight forwards, six defencemen, and two goalies signed with just under $17 million in cap space available. That said, Anaheim also operates with an internal budget, and will likely remain well below the salary cap ceiling by the end of the summer.
The available cap space they do have will be used to sign key RFAs Brandon Pirri, Rickard Rakell, Hampus Lindholm, and Frederik Andersen. Sami Vatanen was just given a new four-year deal, but it’s anybody’s guess as to which of those players will be given a new deal, and which will be traded.
The Ducks kicked off their summer by signing defenceman Sami Vatanen to a four-year, $19.5 million contract extension, which comes as somewhat of a surprise. It was pretty well known that the Ducks wouldn’t be signing all of their RFAs — Vatanen, Lindholm, Rakell, Pirri, and Andersen — but the common buzz surrounding the team was that Lindholm would be kept, while Vatanen would be dealt before he could be grabbed in the expansion draft.
Of course, Vatanen could certainly still be dealt, as a player with a freshly signed four-year contract could be more attractive to a general manager than one without a deal in place, but his signing, and the fact that they announced it at an event for season ticket holders, does make it seem as though another player will be moved instead. That player could be Lindholm, or it could possibly be Cam Fowler, who has just two years left on a $4 million annual contract, and doesn’t have numbers as impressive as either Vatanen or Lindholm.
Obviously ideally the Ducks would be able to pawn off Kevin Bieksa and/or Clayton Stoner to somebody, but with the cap not going up at all, and so many teams in difficult financial situations, those contracts are just as unattractive to 29 other teams as they are to the Ducks. And to make matters worse, Bieksa has a no movement clause in his contract, so he has to be protected in the expansion draft, meaning if the Ducks manage to squeeze Vatanen and Lindholm in, they’ll still have to leave Fowler, Simon Despres, and Josh Manson available to get snagged.
Speaking of the expansion draft, it’s pretty obvious that the Ducks are rolling with Josh Gibson as their long-term solution in net, as he was given a three-year extension last season, and he’s four years younger than Andersen, who, as I mentioned earlier, is currently an RFA. And, as we know, a team can only protect one goalie, so that leads to Andersen being a surefire trade candidate this summer, which bodes well for the Ducks, as quite a few teams — Calgary and Toronto, especially — are in the market for a new goalie.
When it comes to forwards, most of the Ducks’ depth will be shored up by signing Rakell and Pirri, then with the money they have left over, they’ll be able to flesh out the remaining fourth line roles on the team via free agency. And, of course, the holes up front also largely depend on what they’re able to reel back in a trade for Andersen/Vatanen/Lindholm/Fowler. I’m guessing that the Ducks are going to be looking for a top-six lear winger to play alongside Getzlaf and Perry on the team’s top line.
So while it is very unfortunate that the Ducks are going to have to sell off a handful of talented young players, it’s still an opportunity to acquire talent at other positions of need. That’s why it’s so important for the Ducks to be smart with who they bother signing, because the last thing they want is to lose a player to the expansion draft that could have been used in a trade to fill a hole.
Welcome to the Anaheim Ducks wet n’ wild summer 2016: A story of how to deal with an internal budget and the threat of an expansion draft at the same time. Sound like fun? Not really, unfortunately. It’s going to be a busy offseason in Anaheim as the Ducks’ front office tries to get the most out of the team’s assets before they’re openly exposed for the Las Vegas team to grab for free.
Of course, it isn’t all doom and gloom. The Ducks have a lot of holes, especially up front, and they’ll be able to use their assets from a position of strength to go about dealing with them. And they have a brand new (old) coach! Which, uh, might not be the best thing, considering how ugly his last stint was, but hey, they won with him before, so you never know.