As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look toward the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The fourth and final segment of Offseason Primers sticks to the Western Conference, featuring the Pacific Division. Today, the Anaheim Ducks will go under the microscope.
Anaheim Ducks Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
The offseason started many months ago for the Ducks when the NHL confirmed they would not be participating in the Return to Play plan. Their next important event for them is October 9th: the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. However, that hasn’t stopped general manager Bob Murray from getting a head start, as he’s signed various contract extensions so far, trimming down this pending free agent list.
Veterans that the Ducks still haven’t re-signed are Ryan Miller, Michael Del Zotto, Matt Irwin, Blake Pietila, Kyle Criscuolo, Chris Mueller, Chris Wideman, and Kevin Boyle. All those unrestricted free agents are joined by Andrew Poturalski and Justin Kloos, who are Group Six UFAs. Patrick Eaves‘ contract is also coming off the books.
Salary Cap Outlook
Due to a variety of bloated contracts, the Ducks aren’t in a great salary spot for a team looking to rebuild. The Ducks boast only $2.92 million in salary-cap space this offseason, according to the team’s CapFriendly page. However, considering the work the Ducks have already done this offseason to re-sign talent, that number is more acceptable.
Likely Major Departures
Michael Del Zotto
While Del Zotto had a career renaissance of sorts this year in Orange County, the Ducks have no business at this stage investing into ageing talent. After Del Zotto’s career appeared to be going off the rails in 2018-19, appearing with three different teams, his play turned around this year in Anaheim. 15 points in only 49 games showed that the 30-year-old defender can still produce offensively at the NHL level. While it’s a far cry from the promise he showed when he was a young blueliner with the New York Rangers, Del Zotto is definitely still an NHL player.
The Ducks also have a plethora of young defensemen that will need more playing time next year, namely Brendan Guhle and Jacob Larsson, among others. Del Zotto will look towards the open market, where he can still factor in as a bottom-pairing or even second-pairing defenceman on some NHL teams.
Likely Major Re-Signings
The 17-year-old NHL veteran has now entered his 40s, and looks to live out the twilight of his career in sunny Southern California. Despite his age, the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner has been a stellar backup to the Ducks’ John Gibson the past three seasons. A solid 29-19-12 record along with a .916 save percentage suggests some stellar play on Miller’s end, despite a defensively subpar team (at times) in front of him.
While it’s no guarantee that Miller will return for one last NHL season, if he does, it will be with Anaheim. The team is likely uncomfortable rolling with Anthony Stolarz as a backup and would like to have a dependable figure in the locker room. Miller certainly won’t be asking for a raise in his 18th season, but the Ducks should be able to sign him for a reasonable price. Expect a one-year deal for Miller in the neighbourhood of $1.25 million. It would leave the Ducks with just $1.67 million in cap headroom.
Potential Free Agent Additions
The Ducks, who finished 27th in the league this year, certainly won’t be gunning for a Stanley Cup next season. The team continues to rebuild smartly, waiting for talent like Trevor Zegras and Sam Steel to fully emerge. For that reason, compounded by their limited cap space, the Ducks won’t be major players in free agency this offseason.
You can expect the Ducks to make two-way signings meant to bolster their AHL depth, but other than that, look for Bob Murray to stand his ground for the majority of the offseason.