No training camp in the entire NHL will be getting as much attention as the the Anaheim Ducks. As Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register writes, there are so many question marks still remaining for the reigning Pacific Division champs. With less than a month to puck drop on a new NHL season, there is a lot of work to be done on the Ducks.
The most important story line to follow is the status of unsigned restricted free agents Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell. Both players are coming off strong seasons and have shown success and sustainability early in their careers. Lindholm may actually be Anaheim’s best all-around defenseman, while Rakell provides much-needed offensive depth. Yet, neither former first-rounder has signed on for the new season. The young Swedes don’t have much bargaining power, since they are RFA’s with no arbitration rights, but a scenario has already occurred this off-season where an unhappy RFA has signed elsewhere, with Dallas’ Valeri Nichushkin bolting for the KHL. The Ducks have just $7.5MM in cap space as of right now. Can they find a way to bring back their young talent, or at least trade one or the other, or will Lindholm and Rakell decide to play outside the NHL in 2o16-17?
Should Lindholm sign, not only will Anaheim face a cap crunch, but they will also have a logjam on defense to deal with. The Ducks have the best defensive depth in the NHL, with recently re-signed Sami Vatanen, 2015 acquisitions Kevin Bieksa and Simon Despres, and veteran Clayton Stoner, as well as up-and-coming prospects Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour. The odd-man out in all of this could be home-grown star Cam Fowler, who’s name has been on the trade block for months now. The Ducks simply cannot keep all of these defenseman, and Fowler may have overstayed his welcome in Anaheim after the first mediocre season of his young career in 2015-16. While teams would be lining up to trade for Lindholm, Fowler would have quite the market as well. Whatever decision the Ducks decide to make about shipping out a defenseman, many believe that it begin a series of reactions across the league as one D-needy team agrees to a deal and the others finally lock up market stragglers like Kris Russell and Jakub Nakladal.
If Rakell doesn’t sign, the Ducks will be even more eager to make a trade for some help up front, as their depth right now is currently lacking. Top-six mainstays Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, and Andrew Cogliano are in place, but without Rakell, more pressure to produce will be thrust upon newly-signed veteran Antoine Vermette, swift winger Jakob Silfverberg, grinder Ryan Garbutt, and the unproven Nick Ritchie. The Ducks would like to alleviate some of that pressure by adding another body up front, hence their interest in the trade market, as well as their camp invites to David Booth, Sean Bergenheim, and most recently David Jones. Even if Rakell does return, expect Anaheim to be in the hunt for forward talent.
As if roster management concerns weren’t enough, the Ducks also have a “new” coach in Randy Carlyle and a new dynamic in net, with John Gibson taking over for the departed Frederik Andersen as the starter and trade acquisition Jonathan Bernier looking to hold off three or four legitimate threats and win the backup job. There is still a long way to go and a lot of questions that need to be answered for the Anaheim Ducks. Stay tuned.