Hockey News and Discussions
First and foremost, thank you all for being patient for this one as I finished my dreadful finals for the last 3 weeks.
The Anaheim Ducks are a hard team to analyze. Their myriad of injuries heavily affected their statistics and the Ducks finished with 40 different players (including goalies) seeing NHL action. Moreover, Ryan Kesler only played 44 games after recovering from his hip injury and even he wasn’t playing at 100%. Patrick Eaves also missed 80 games and the entire first round and he is recovering from Guillain-Barre Syndrome and is questionable to begin training camp in the fall.
However, the Ducks did have one huge bright spot: goaltending. When healthy, Ryan Miller and John Gibson were among the best tandem in the league. Gibson played 60 games, going 31-18-7 with a .926 save percentage and 2.43 GAA. His Quality Start Percentage was also 65% (typically around 53% is the league average). Additionally, Ryan Miller went 12-6-6 with a .928 save percentage and 2.35 GAA.
Anaheim’s defense was also really good as Josh Manson had a career year with 37 points and finishing +34. Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Brandon Montour also heavily contributed from the backend, while Marcus Pettersson showed flashes of potential during his rookie season.
On the forward side, newly minted allstar Rickard Rakell carried the Ducks, while Ryan Getzlaf (61 points in 50 games) also produced when healthy. Jakob Silfverberg (40 points) and Ondrej Kase (38 points, including 20 goals) also were great depth scorers. Mid-season acquisition Adam Henrique added 20 goals and 36 points in 57 games with Anaheim. Derek Grant and Andrew Cogliano also helped the team in more limited roles.
…And that’s pretty much where the team ended. It’s hard to predict what Anaheim should do since they have plenty of options and last year was not the best indicator of their future success.
The good news is that aside from their young stars, Anaheim has some great young players in the wings. Sam Steel and Max Jones have star potential and Maxime Comtois looks like he’ll be a great top-9 player. Jacob Larsson will be a top 5 defenseman on this team in the next year or two and Julius Nattinen might develop into a decent top-9 player. The Ducks also have 4 picks in the first three rounds this year.
Anaheim plays in the Pacific Division. Next season, the Golden Knights will likely be as good, or at least near as good as they are now; the LA Kings could possibly have continued their resurgence (discussed in the last article); the Sharks are likely going to try for one more Cup run; Arizona will likely improve since Antti Raanta was great down the stretch and their young core will only continue to grow and produce; the Canucks are coming back with Brock Boeser, Elias Petterson, and Bo Horvat; the Edmonton Oilers are definitely going to try to improve after their disaster this past season; and Calgary will continue pushing for the playoffs. That leaves the Ducks in a bind. They could either try to contend against those teams or try to rebuild and prepare for the next 3-4 seasons. I’d argue a re-tool is out of the question since Getzlaf and Kesler will be in their mid to late 30’s and Anaheim doesn’t have that time to waste.
Nick Ritchie, Kase, and Montour are Restricted Free Agents this offseason and the latter two will probably command hefty raises from their rookie contracts. The Ducks also have Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly, JT Brown, and Derek Grant as forward Unrestricted Free Agents and the team could choose to either let them go to free up cap space or re-sign them. Defensively, Kevin Bieksa and Francois Beauchemin are not returning (which frees up $5 million in space to pay for Josh Manson’s raise, with a remainder of $1.9). Bieksa publicly stated he was upset at the Ducks’ decision not to play him in the San Jose series, so he’s likely gone. Meanwhile, Beauchemin officially retired from hockey after a great career.
If Anaheim wants to continue to try to contend, they’ll need a big left wing to play with the Ryan Getzlaf and will probably be competing against the Kings and Sharks for the same players. But the real wild card is Corey Perry. Perry has been on a downward trend since 2014.
2014: 43 goals, 39 assists in 81 games
2015: 33 goals, 22 assists in 67 games
2016: 34 goals, 24 assists in 82 games
2017: 19 goals, 34 assists in 82 games
2018: 17 goals, 32 assists in 71 games
However, there is some hope. Perry’s shooting percentage since 2017 (8.8% in 2017 and 10.1% in 2018) has been much lower than usual (career average 13%). He also had a great 2017 playoffs where he produced 11 points in 17 games.
Capfriendly.com has a buyout calculator and Corey Perry has consistently been one of the more popular candidates (among fans) for a buyout. Starting next season, Perry has 3 years left on his contract at a cap hit of $8.625 million. He’ll be 33 in a couple of days. If his contract was bought out, it wouldn’t be pretty, mostly due to his signing bonuses. His buyout cap hit over the next six seasons would be as follows:
In the short term, buying him out wouldn’t be viable. Anaheim would have to pull an Ottawa and try to move him (similar to Phaneuf), likely by retaining significant salary (maybe 20-30%). In short, Ducks fans are stuck with him for at least one more year. It’s not that Perry hasn’t produced, it’s just that he hasn’t produced like a guy who gets paid $1 million less than Alex Ovechkin.
This is where Anaheim gets to play “choose your own adventure” and decide how they want to proceed. They are definitely at a hockey crossroads. In three years, when Perry’s contract is over, they will likely have Rakell, Manson, Montour, Lindholm, and Gibson, but Getzlaf and Kesler will be in their mid-30’s, making it unrealistic to contend. Anaheim could either rebuild now or try for one more year and then try to buyout Perry when the cost is much less.
They could also try mixing up their forward lines. Prospect Troy Terry will be a really good winger as he continues to grow, as he has the hands and the speed. Anaheim could try to balance the scoring so it’s not so dependent on Rakell and Getzlaf, but that likely means breaking up the Cogliano/Kesler/Silfverberg “shutdown” line. It’s an experiment I think is worth trying. That line peaked in 2016-2017, but was heavily hampered by the absence of Kesler and hasn’t found them the playoff success that they hoped it would. If Anaheim was willing to play more up-tempo, a top-9 line combo like this, assuming they bring all of these players back next season, would help them:
Troy Terry Ryan Getzlaf Ondrej Kase
Rickard Rakell Ryan Kesler Jakob Silfverberg
Andrew Cogliano Adam Henrique Corey Perry
Then there’s Ryan Kesler, who only adds to Anaheim’s crossroads problem. Starting next season, he has 4 years left on his contract at an AAV of $6.875 million. The past 4 seasons, he has been a 20 goal scorer and has reached the 50 point plateau twice with Anaheim (2016 and 2017). During that span he was one of the best faceoff men in the league, a shutdown 2c, and a star penalty killer. Kesler, who’ll be 34 next season, will not have many years left playing at that level. He’s also coming off a major hip injury that severely limited his effectiveness in this past campaign. If Anaheim wants to rebuild, they need to retain $1 million and get the best offer for him. If they want to continue on their Cup hunt, they need to build a team in this offseason and go all in now.
Anaheim is stuck in a tough situation. They have the core and the dept to win a Stanley Cup, but they don’t have the stars to do it, nor the cap space to acquire them. When you look at the teams left in the playoffs, you see that they have some of the best players in the league, which is why they’ve gotten this far.
Vegas has Marc-Andre Fleury, William Karlsson, and Jon Marchessault
Tampa Bay has Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Victor Hedman
Washington has Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby, John Carlson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov
And Winnipeg has Mark Scheifele, Patrick Laine, Dustin Byfuglien, and Connor Hellebuyck
Meanwhile, the Ducks have Getzlaf, Rakell, and Gibson. It’s a start but that combo alone isn’t good enough in 2018 when a third or fourth line is often the difference between the lottery team and the wildcard team.
cap info from Capfriendly.com
stats from hockey-reference.com