Free agency is now less than a month away from opening up and there are quite a few prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. Here is a breakdown of Anaheim’s free agent situation.
Key Restricted Free Agents: F Ondrej Kase — After just a 15-point season a year ago, Kase came on strong this year and proved to be invaluable for the Ducks in a season in which not much went right. The playmaking forward came out and put up 20 goals in his second season and that was despite playing in just 66 games. That’s not the best timing in terms of salary cap issues for the Ducks as Kase, who made $670K last season on the final year of his entry-level deal, could be due for a significant raise as he will likely fight for a spot on the team’s second line next season. The only real issue that Kase has is the injuries he’s dealt with over the years. He hasn’t played a full season yet for Anaheim as he just played 53 games the previous season and combined to play just 39 games over two seasons with the San Diego Gulls of the AHL between 2015-17.
D Brandon Montour — After a breakout season a year ago in which Montour came up to Anaheim to replace an injured Clayton Stoner, the young blueliner established himself quickly as a top young defenseman. The 24-year-old proved to management that they could part with Shea Theodore last season in an expansion draft deal and survive with Montour amongst their top four. The defenseman took that step and has been a reliable anchor to the Ducks’ defense, averaging 20:28 of ATOI this season. And now after making $925K last season in the final year of his entry-level deal, Montour should also get quite a pay raise and could walk away with a long-term deal.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: D Kevin Bieksa — At 37 years of age, Bieksa doesn’t have as much to offer the Ducks than he did in his prime. Now with his $4MM cap hit gone, however, there may still be quite a bit of interest for both parties to remain together as a depth option, albeit at a significantly lower cost. Bieksa did miss some time this season after undergoing hand surgery in March and while he did return by the end of the season, he wasn’t the same as he played in just one of the team’s four playoff games. Regardless, with some of the depth issues the team dealt with last year after trading away Theodore and Sami Vatanen, the team wouldn’t mind bringing the physical veteran back.
F Derek Grant — After years of bouncing around the NHL as a spare forward for many years, Grant has finally found a team that has brought the best out of him. The 28 year old managed to appear in a career-high 66 games where 40 was his previous best and put up 12 goals and 12 assists for Anaheim in a bottom-line role, averaging a career-high 11:06 in ATOI. After signing last year with the Ducks for $605K, he is in line to get a better deal. Throw in the possibility that top center Ryan Kesler might miss all of next season and the team may want Grant around even more.
Projected Cap Space: The Ducks don’t have as much wiggle room as they would like as they have just over $9MM of projected cap space available to them. While they don’t have any significant unrestricted free agents they need to sign, some of the cap space will have to be devoted to their restricted free agent group, including Kase, Montour and Ritchie, which leaves them with little room to go out and add a high-profile free agent to bolster their veteran roster. With much of their money going towards their veteran core, the team may have to try to find some players in the bargain bin to bolster their roster for next season.