30 IN 30 - ANAHEIM DUCKS (6th place)
If we took a poll today on the general hockey fans feelings towards Ryan Kesler, we would all but guarantee fans in Calgary, Edmonton, Nashville, and even Vancouver would resoundingly vote in favour 'disgust' or 'hate'. Nevertheless for a player with such a negative reputation, it's hard to discredit the fact he does what he's paid to do, and does it well. Few players in the league can match his ability as an agitating two way centre. Posting a 53.93% goals for differential and 62.4% zone adjusted Corsi, to go with his 57.3% face-off percenage and it's easy to see why Kesler is once again in Selke trophy consideration. With first line all-stars like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry also in place, the Ducks undoubtedly will remain among the Western Conference's elite for year's to come. However, their unprecedented success developing defencemen leaves them vulnerable for expansion. How they handle this period of roster uncertainty could well determine their chances at a Stanley Cup in the coming season and beyond.
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Getzlaf (*NMC)
- Perry (*NMC)
- Kesler (*NMC)
- Bieksa (*NMC)
- Getzlaf (*NMC)
- Perry (*NMC)
- Kesler (*NMC)
- Bieksa (*NMC)?
Kevin Bieksa is the one man standing in the way of the Anaheim Ducks and their ability to leave the unscathed. His 'no movement clause' impedes their ability to keep their entire group of young defensive talent. Even if the Ducks trade one of the Fowler, Lindholm, Manson, and Vatanan, they could still risk loosing another member of this group without an agreement by Bieksa to waive his NMC. The only feasible alternative results in either Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg joining their new Pacific division rival in Vegas. Considering both forwards are only just beginning to come into their own as offensive weapons, and the Ducks carry a prospect pipeline stocked in defenders (Montour, Theodore, Larsson) not forwards it would be a mistake for the Ducks to go with an 8-1 structure.
Duck, Duck, Goose - who's on the loose?
Anaheim will be left to rank their draft eligible defenders accordingly, and decide which one they can survive without.
Hampus Lindholm has been nothing but consistent for the Anaheim Ducks since joining the club. Posting a ridiculous 57.3% goals for percentage and 54.2% Corsi, the 23 year old defender statistically remains the most valuable to this team. Although his point totals will remain modest, solid two-way play allows him to both match up against the oppositions top forwards and push the play up the ice for his teammates to produce. Defensive partner, Josh Manson, has been the primary beneficiary of Lindholm's strong possession game. Although Manson is no slouch himself, a drop in goal differential when playing apart from the former 6th overall pick, displays a slight reliance on his impact. Anaheim's long term investment in Lindholm is justified, he's going nowhere.
In terms of offensive ability, Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen are the leaders of the pack. Vatanen noticeably had a down year in production for the first time in his career, an inconsistency with which Fowler had previously suffered. As a defence pair with generally negative impact on each other, the Ducks could indeed look to separate these two either within the lineup or through pre-draft trade. Despite the momentum of 2016-17 playing to his favour Cam Fowler is the more logical defender to deal if room has to be made. Not only is his value at his highest on the trade market after a career high in goals, it's also at its highest heading into the final season of his current deal, which isn't great news for the Ducks. Sure Bieksa's contract will be off the books by next offseason, but Fowler looks primed to extend at a cap hit north of $6.0M per year. Additionally Manson, Montour and Theodore will be signing bridge deals at a rate of $2.5-4.0M....each. At this point Vatanen's $4.875M average annual deal begins to look a lot more enticing for a team set to face very real cap crunch issues. Surprisingly, Simon Despres could become the important domino to fall in their rearguard cap dilemma. But as a left hand defender on a team already stocked up with lefty depth, a right hand shot in Vatanen, once again steadies the lineup. Therefore, if a pre-draft transaction must take place, we prefer the market return and future cap benefit in dealing Fowler over Vatanen.
Out of the four core defenders in Anaheim, Josh Manson unfortunately places at the bottom of our rankings. This in no way should discredit his game, but his ability as a dynamic two-way defender sits below his three impressive teammates. Although his possession numbers, goal differential, and zone adjusted rates appear strong, they traditionally suffer a small drop back to a 50% average when playing apart from Hampus Lindholm. Nonetheless, this rate is still an appealing statistical output from a defender on the grand scheme of league-wide averages. His physical play is a refreshing element to his defensive partners position based style, and under ideal circumstances would remain in this role. However, with a decision necessary, his protection will be wholly dependent on the team's ability to make a deal before the draft.
If the Ducks prefer to keep their group together and push for a Stanley Cup immediately, they could look to trade one of their defensive prospects on the fringe of a full time NHL gig. Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore require no further seasoning, they look ready to step into an pro line-up next season. Either player could offer the Golden Knights incentive to keep their hands off the teams top-four defencemen, however their subsequent bridge deals post ELC offer the Ducks a discount from the full rate of their current group. So the long term incentive for a traditionally budget team would appear to be the preferred choice.
If the powers of management were in our hand, we'd do whatever it takes to get within the 7-3-1 structure. Bieksa has to either waive his NMC or be bought-out. The Ducks could then negotiate a the trade of either Fowler (option 1) or Vatanen (option 1A) from a position of strength as opposed to desperation. This value obtained in return for either player would undoubtedly be much higher, with the additional ability to take on an expansion eligible forward through that exchange. The Ducks core forwards would remain intact and a combination of Montour and Theodore would fill the hole left by the departed Duck defender.
Hopefully the next few days provide some clarity on the Kevin Bieksa front in Anaheim.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS SELECT
Without a Bieksa waiver or pre-draft transaction in place, the Ducks will begrudgingly have to choose between Fowler and Vatanen. As much we prefer Vatanen in the lineup as a right-shot defender playing under a rather manageable cap hit, Fowler's asset value, as previously mentioned, remains higher. Throw in the unfortunate long term injury of Vatanen, which reports indicate could overlap into next season, and Fowler becomes more valuable in the Ducks quest for the Cup.
With Fowler then protected under these circumstances, Sami Vatanen becomes the runaway selection for the Golden Knights.
It's crazy to think the Ducks are still paying part of Patrick Maroon's salary while he rides shotgun to Connor McDavid in Edmonton. One of the few mistakes this franchise has made in recent years in terms of player evaluation. Nevertheless, the Ducks will hope they can light a fire under another struggling power forward in Nick Ritchie before a Maroon-esque change of scenery becomes necessary.
Next up: Minnesota Wild