When the Anaheim Ducks were eliminated this spring by the Nashville Predators in seven games, many pointed fingers at the poor performance of some of the top offensive options. Corey Perry had not scored a single goal, registering a -7 rating in the series, completely erased by a stifling Predator defense group. The Ducks’ defense, even in losing, were just as spectacular, keeping the Predators to only 14 goals in the series and moving the puck with relative ease from their end.
It’s this defense group though, that may be giving the Ducks’ front office the most headaches this summer, as there are furiously tough decisions to make in the coming months. Currently, it has seven men deserving of NHL spots, to say nothing of up-and-comers Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour, and NCAA transplant Andy Welinski.
The group consists of Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, Kevin Bieksa, Clayton Stoner, Josh Manson, Simon Despres and Hampus Lindholm all solid NHLers, with contracts to prove it. The group, led by Vatanen, is set to earn $20.65MM next season, not even including Lindholm’s yet-to-be-signed deal that could push $6MM AAV.
While every team needs depth on the blueline, not many can afford to put millions of dollars in the press box every night, waiting for an injury to happen. While Fowler’s name has been bandied about since the Ducks were eliminated, nothing concrete has come out about Anaheim’s true desire to move him. Indeed, it would be a tough decision to move any member of the group, as each comes with their own strengths.
With Lindholm and Rickard Rakell still to sign, and under $8.5MM to do it, the Ducks will be tight to the cap if they head into the season with all seven blueliners under contract. They also risk losing one of their prized defensemen next offseason, when the Las Vegas TBAs get to pluck unprotected players from unsuspecting clubs in the expansion draft. Bieksa has a no-movement clause, and will therefor be automatically protected, leaving just two more defense slots (or three, if the Ducks choose to go with the eight-skater option and leave a young forward unprotected).
Fowler still seems like the most likely candidate for trade, but there is little doubt that teams would be more interested in the extremely cheap Josh Manson who, while earning only $825K per season, rates well at both ends of the rink and could become a building block for a new team on the right side.
With the pipeline that Anaheim has created, they would do well to leverage it into some help up front. Their current group is getting older, headlined by Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler who will all turn 32 in the next calendar year and are already starting to see cracks form in their production. Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg form a dynamic young duo, but represent the only two threats at forward under 26 years of age for the Ducks going forward.