For those who do not follow the Western Conference or the Pacific Division closely, the Anaheim Ducks have been a dominant team since the NHL Lockout. Since 2005–06, the Ducks have won the 2007 Stanley Cup, reached 4 Western Conference Finals, won their division 6 times, and made the playoffs 11 out of 13 years straight years.
This was due, largely, to the contributions of franchise players like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry; the addition of key defensemen, such as Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Francois Beauchemin, Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Josh Manson; timely depth scoring from the likes of Teemu Selanne, Nick Bonino, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Ryan Kesler, Saku Koivu, and Bobby Ryan; and stellar and clutch goaltending from J.S. Giguere, Jonas Hiller, John Gibson, and Frederik Andersen.
Recently, the Ducks have made the playoffs over the last six seasons, but have been unable to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals since their championship in 2007.
Fast forward to 2018–19. Injuries have affected the team’s early success, Corey Perry has yet to play a game, Rakell has missed 13 games, Fowler has missed over 20 games, Getzlaf has missed 6 games, and Ryan Kesler has been largely ineffective since returning from offseason surgeries. Despite this, John Gibson has been one of the best goalies in the NHL and he has almost singlehandedly kept them afloat.
The Ducks have also used 33 different skaters thus far, which is one of the highest marks in the league. Yet, at one point, the team held a record of 19-11-5.
And then the current eleven game winless streak began. Anaheim has gone 0-7-4 over that span and now currently sits at 19-18-9 (47 points). However, the Ducks sit just outside the Wild Card in the Western Conference.
Anaheim is currently 13 points back of third place in the Pacific Division (Vegas Golden Knights at 60 points), but they are only one point behind the Colorado Avalanche (48 points) for the second Wild Card spot. However, the competition is tight, as the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks also each accumulated 47 points, while the Edmonton Oilers have 45 points and the Arizona Coyotes have 43 points.
Colorado is in a similar situation to the Ducks, having gone winless in 10 of their last 11 games, while Minnesota, Arizona, and Vancouver have gone 5-4-1 in their last ten games, and Edmonton has gone 3-7-0 in their last ten games.
In the Pacific Division, Calgary, San Jose, and Vegas are all hot. Each team has gone 8-1-1 in their last ten games.
The Cogliano Trade:
While fans and even NHL analyst Kevin Weekes have advocated for the Ducks to fire head coach Randy Carlyle, general manager Bob Murray stated that he was “not considering a coaching change,” and challenged the players to step up.
Then, just this morning, Anaheim traded winger (and fan favorite) Andrew Cogliano to the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Devin Shore. While Cogliano scored last night in the overtime loss to Winnipeg, he has produced 3 goals and 8 assists over 46 games. This is a huge decrease from his last three seasons in which he has scored 32 or more points. Cogliano, age 31, is also known for his speed, leadership, penalty killing, and fantastic defensive play.
Meanwhile, Shore has produced 5 goals and 12 assists over 42 games. Shore, age 24, can play any of the three forward positions, and has produced back to back 32 point seasons. He also can play on the powerplay and the penalty kill.
From a cap perspective, the trade give the Ducks more flexibility. Cogliano is in the first year of a three year extension worth $3.25 million per season, whereas Devin Shore is in the first year of a two year contract worth $2.3 million per season. This leaves the Ducks with a projected cap space of $621,067, as they have been exceeding the cap from LTIR relief due to injuries to Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves.
The Dilemma Going Forward:
With the NHL Trade Deadline approaching in a little over 5 weeks, the Ducks have a decision to make. Currently armed with a plethora of good prospects and young players, Anaheim could choose to rebuild around them, or try to find cap friendly and lower risk deals to help them continue their playoff streak.
The Short Rebuild Option:
While the word “rebuild” is a scary term for any team and its fan base, especially for small market teams like Anaheim. However, the Ducks have done a great job finding young talent over the last few seasons and have solidified a pretty impressive future lineup.
Anaheim is really only one great center prospect, and a couple defensive prospects away from having a fantastic collection of players under 25. In fact, I could almost make a team with them:
Max Comtois, (Center Prospect they need), Rickard Rakell
Max Jones, Isac Lundestrom, Ondrej Kase
Nick Ritchie, Sam Steel, Daniel Sprong
Jack Kopacka, Devin Shore, Kiefer Sherwood
Troy Terry, Antoine Morand, Benoit-Olivier Groulx
Everyone knows how great John Gibson has become. Furthermore, Dostal and Comtois (aside from the penalty shot) shined at the World Junior Championships U20 (“WJC”) this last month, while Lindholm and Montour have proven they are reliable top 4 defensemen.
Lundestrom is on loan in Sweden, but has produced 6 assists in 12 games in the AHL and 4 points in 5 games at the WJC. Additionally, Kase and Rakell are both 20 goal scorers at the NHL level, while Ritchie has generated 18 points in 31 games this season for the Ducks.
Clearly the youth depth is there, which is important in a league where it is increasingly important to have contributions from young players. Just look at the bottom six of the 2018 Washington Capitals and the 2016 and 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins.
This option is also realistic, since Anaheim has only traded its 3rd and 7th round picks this year and they have retained all of their own draft picks in the future.
Through this option, it is not going to be feasible to move Ryan Kesler or Corey Perry until more time has passed and they have shown more production. Even then, it would probably take retaining a large chunk of each players’ respective salary to net anything of value in return.
As much as Ducks fans would not want to hear it after seeing Cogliano traded, Getzlaf would probably be the next piece. Getzlaf, who will turn 34 soon, is no longer the elite number one center that he was 8 years ago, but he is still a valuable leader and would be a fantastic 2c who can play in any situation, win faceoffs, generate plays. He also has a high degree of experience in the postseason, including winning a Stanley Cup.
After this season, he has 2 years left on his deal at $8.25 million per season. While his cap hit is rather high, moving him isn’t impossible. Ottawa once moved Jason Spezza’s $7 million cap hit at a time when the cap ceiling was lower than it was today. Plus, there are teams that have some cap flexibility and are in the playoff hunt, like Carolina, Colorado, the New York Islanders, and Columbus. Assuming he waives his No Movement Clause, I could see a deal like that coming to fruition.
Getzlaf would also likely net a large return, including at least a first round pick and a prospect or young player. Moving him would also increase Anaheim’s odds at landing Jack Hughes with the number one overall pick, especially since most of the teams at the bottom (Chicago, LA, STL) are still trying to win games. Hughes, a gifted playmaker, would be a perfect complement to their collection of winger prospects if they could get him. Even if the Ducks do not get Hughes, it is always helpful to draft top end players and a top 5 pick could do wonders for the franchise.
In the hypothetical Getzlaf trade, Anaheim should also acquire a center who can fill a slot right now and allow the prospects to further develop for the rest of the year. Then, move Silfveberg and maybe Ryan Miller (who are UFAs) for picks and reevaluate the status of the team in the summer. At that point, the additional picks will let the Ducks draft a few more or trade up to take players they really want.
Starting next season, Anaheim could slowly bring up prospects as they become NHL ready and they could have a good team in 3-4 years, while Gibson, Lindholm, Montour, Rakell, Ritchie, and Kase are still in their prime.
The Strategic “Go for It” Option:
Behind door number 2, Anaheim could see how Devin Shore fits into the offense. In the midst of an 11 game winless streak, the team is already at rock bottom. If it doesn’t turn around again soon, they could fire Randy Carlyle, and look for help at the deadline. Fortunately, moving Cogliano freed up a bit of cap room, so they could acquire a UFA winger for their first rounder (which wouldn’t impact their prospect treasure chest). At that point, hope for the best. This is a team that was 19-11-5 earlier in the year and they would add a UFA scorer at the deadline and Perry in March. Sometimes, you just need that one guy. Remember the 2014 LA Kings?
Clearly, the Ducks still have talent and could probably make the Wild Card using this strategy. After all, in the playoffs, you never know. Goaltending is huge in the postseason and maybe Gibson can steal a series or two. It would keep that streak alive and maybe even make them an upset threat.
If things go wrong, they could start the rebuild in the summer.
The Worst Options: Stand Pat or Go All In
The worst thing that Anaheim can do is remain in this ambiguous state beyond this season. The championship window is not fully closed as of today, but it also probably won’t be there next season or for sure in two years. Getzlaf is not getting younger and some of the higher end prospects, like Lundestrom and Jones likely won’t fill the void for at least two years.
Anaheim should not waste the productivity and value that Getzlaf bring to the table. They need to get a return while his value is still relatively high, or give him one last shot at the Cup in Anaheim. However, I’m skeptical as to the latter option, since NHL history would tell you not to mortgage a bright future trying to restructure a team for a playoff push.
It is a tough spot to be in, but as we have all learned from the Detroit Red Wings, even the most dominant teams will eventually see their window come to an end. Fortunately for Anaheim, great drafting has mitigated the need for a lengthy rebuild and they could be ready to challenge in the West in only a few years if they decide to rebuild.