2021 Anaheim Ducks Offseason Primer

anaheim ducks offseason

As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. 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. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the Anaheim Ducks offseason. 

Anaheim Ducks Offseason Primer

Pending Free Agents

On paper and in reality, the 2020-21 Anaheim Ducks were nowhere near good enough for contention. The only welcome aspect of their 43-point season was that they weren’t the Buffalo Sabres. The Ducks are facing a transformative offseason that sees the face of their franchise for the past decade, Ryan Getzlaf, on an expiring deal. In addition, they will be adding the 2021 third-overall pick to their rebuilding core. Joining Getzlaf in unrestricted free agency are David Backes, Ryan Miller, Andy Welinski, Carter Rowney, Vinni Lettieri, Andrew Poturalski, Chase De Leo, Andrew Agozzino, Sam Carrick, and Trevor Carrick. Miller has already announced his retirement and Backes is expected to follow suit.

Meanwhile, the Ducks also have pending restricted free agents: Maxime Comtois, Danton Heinen, Isac Lundeström, Max Jones, Sam Steel, Alexander Volkov, and Josh Mahura. Maxime Comtois is the highlight of this group and is exempt from the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft.

Salary Cap Outlook

The Ducks enter this offseason with considerable cap space and few notable free agents. Using CapFriendly, the Ducks project to have $22.6 million in cap space against a cap hit of $58.9 million. Maxime Comtois is looking like a major part of the Ducks’ future, but even he won’t command big RFA money. If allocated properly, Anaheim’s financial flexibility could allow them to surround their young core with good free agents.

Major Likely Departures

Danton Heinen

Heinen had a surprising and very good rookie season with the 2017-18 Boston Bruins, scoring 47 points in 77 games. However, it appears Heinen caught lightning in a bottle as he has been on a downward trajectory since. Evolving Hockey’s Contract Projection Tool projects Heinen’s qualifying RFA deal as a two-year deal worth $2.4 million a year. Heinen only scored 14 points in 43 games and he doesn’t provide anything in terms of play driving. He was very good defensively on Boston but has been inept on Anaheim. Anaheim would be smart to walk away and spend the money elsewhere.

Ryan Miller

If you’re late, Ryan Miller already sang his swan song and walked into the sunset. Though his time with the Ducks was anything but illustrious, Miller capped off a tremendous career with: a Hobey Baker Trophy, an Olympic Silver Medal, an Olympic MVP, and a Vezina. In 2019, Miller also became the winningest American NHL goaltender of all time. Up until this year, Miller was a very good backup to John Gibson in recent years. His departure highlights an important need for the Ducks as they need a quality backup for Gibson.

David Backes

Backes has referred to his own potential retirement as “more of a probability” than a possibility. Further, Backes’ sentimental final game in St. Louis this year seemed to be the perfect encapsulating finish for the former Blues Captain. Backes never lived up to his hefty $30 million contract with the Bruins five years ago. He joined the Ducks in 2020 in a contract dump trade by Boston. Although his offence evaporated in recent years, he was able to remain productive defensively. The Ducks can easily replace what Backes did bring defensively. They will welcome the flexibility of his $4.5 million no longer against the cap.

Major Likely Re-Signings

Maxime Comtois

Comtois led the Ducks in scoring with 16 goals and 17 assists in 55 games. Over a full season, that’s good enough for 49 points in 82 games. Comtois’ offensive metrics looked solid as he led the Ducks in expected goals for per 60 while being one of their better Corsi for per 60 players. Comtois’ main flaw in his game so far is his poor defensive play, but he’s only 22 and has plenty of time to round out his game. This was Comtois’ first full season, so a bridge deal would make sense for both the Ducks and Comtois. Evolving Hockey estimates Comtois receiving a bridge deal of two years at $2.8 million a year. This would leave Anaheim’s remaining cap space at $19.8 million.

Ryan Getzlaf

It seems more likely than not that if Getzlaf continues his career, it will be with the only franchise he has known. A further indication of his dedication to Anaheim, Getzlaf and his family just purchased a new five million dollar home in Orange County, California. Every player has the desire to win the Stanley Cup, but Getzlaf doesn’t have that hanging over his head the way a winless great like Joe Thornton does. Getzlaf of course won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007.

His point production has plummeted from the star he was, but Getzlaf’s advanced metrics show he can still be a solid contributor. Getzlaf still provides a good two-way game that can be utilized in a third-line or fourth-line center role. Getzlaf was third for Ducks forwards in both CF/60 and CA/60. Intangibles can often be overrated, but in Getzlaf’s case where he is still a useful player; they should not be overlooked. Getzlaf would provide another season of important mentorship to Trevor Zegras who many project as being the heir-apparent top-line center to Getzlaf.

Evolving Hockey projects Getzlaf’s next contract at a one-year $2.2 million deal. That would be an entirely fair value for both Getzlaf and the Ducks and would leave them with $17.6 million.

Isac Lundeström

A 2018 23rd overall first-round pick, Lundeström carved out a full-time center role for himself with Ducks this year. Lundeström has brought next to nothing offensively so far in his short career with only 15 points in 71 NHL games. However, Lundeström was one of Anaheim’s better defensive players and could provide defensive value in a fourth-line role. He’s only 21 so the hope may be that he discovers more offensive touch, despite his pre-draft stats not indicating such offensive potential exists. Evolving Hockey predicts a two-year contract at $1.1 million a year, leaving $16.5 million in cap space.

Remaining RFAs

Though none have proven much at this stage in their early twenties, Anaheim may retain all of Max Jones, Sam Steel, Josh Mahura, and Alexander Volkov. If all are retained, Evolving Hockey has these four’s combined cap hit coming out to approximately $5.3 million. Their individual salaries are minimal, but a combined $5.3 million is a considerable amount to pay for four low-impact players. The Ducks may be wiser to choose a quality-free agent over a quantity of RFAs. However, teams are typically more likely than not to tender their low-cost RFAs contracts. For the sake of this projection, we’ll say Anaheim signs all four and has $11.2 million remaining for free agency, though it’s certainly reasonable that one of these players could get plucked by the Seattle Kraken.

Potential Free Agent Additions

The Ducks won’t have a ton of cap space at their disposal nor look like they will be true contenders next season. Yet, the Ducks can still sign UFAs to smart deals and perhaps accelerate their rebuild.

John Gibson is a quality starter, but he needs a quality backup for spot starts. Chris Driedger is looking like the hottest UFA goalie, but Anaheim isn’t necessarily a destination team right now. Perhaps Anaheim could look at Petr Mrazek who had an even better season than Driedger and was a top ten goalie in terms of goals saved above expected. Mrazek fell in favour of rookie Alex Nedeljkovic and may not be retained by Carolina. Mrazek is due for a raise, perhaps around Elvis Merzlikins’ four million a year and would provide Anaheim with a strong tandem. This would leave Anaheim approximately $7.2 million in cap space.

Centers are always at a premium in the NHL. Unfortunately for Anaheim, they don’t have many internal or external options for the second line. Assuming Zegras is their top center and Getzlaf is their third-line center, a hole remains open on the second line. Adam Henrique was waived last season due to his poor production and clearly isn’t the answer despite his contract. He could also easily be claimed by Seattle if left unprotected. The Ducks could look to an older veteran like David Krejci who they don’t need to tie up a ton of term or money to. Evolving Hockey projects Krejci’s next deal at two years for 4.7 million. After their disappointing defeat to the Islanders, Boston could be looking to move on from Krejci in favour of a more youth-driven direction. Signing Krejci would leave Anaheim with $2.5 million in cap space, pending a Seattle expansion draft.

Free agency poses some interesting options that could make Anaheim more competitive next year, but they still won’t be a Stanley Cup contender. Thus, they don’t need to spend fully to the cap. General manager Bob Murray’s goal this offseason will be to continue to build on the young core and surround them with a culture conducive to future success.

Advanced Stats and Cap Stats: Evolving Hockey, Cap Friendly, and Money Puck

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