NHL 31 in 31 Season Review: Anaheim Ducks
When the NHL season starts, it is usually a safe bet to pencil the Ducks into the playoffs. The team has only missed the playoffs twice since the 2004-2005 lockout year. This season was no different as the team qualified yet again. Unfortunately, they were a no show against the Sharks and got swept in embarrassing fashion in the first round. If you have read previous team reviews, you know we feel that if a team is consistently good enough to make the playoffs but has not won the Stanley Cup then perhaps the team should shake up its core of players. We will explore some options for the Ducks later in the piece.
Despite the playoff shortcomings there were quite a few bright spots for the Ducks this season. Rickard Rakell stepped out from underneath players like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to be the most dynamic offensive player on the team. He scored 34 goals and had 35 assists. The team did not have great possession numbers, their team Corsi% was 48.57%. Rakell had an individual percentage of 49.8% which is near the top of their forward group. He was able to register so many goals because he had a knack for finding the puck in the high danger areas. He had nearly 2 shots on net from the slot per twenty minutes of ice time. He is a great skater, so his 2.71 open ice dekes per 20 means that he is using his speed and skill to get into high scoring areas. Rakell produced on the powerplay and is under contract until 2022 so he figures to be a key contributor moving forward.
Trading Sami Vatanen for Adam Henrique was one of the more interesting deals in recent memory. The trade happened well before deadline day, as Henrique was able to play in 57 games with the Ducks. The Ducks had to be happy with the production they got from Henrique. A look at his advanced statistics show that he is a fantastic defensive forward, but he was able to contribute offensively as well. As a member of the Ducks he scored 20 goals and had 16 assists, 8 of those 36 points came on the power play. Like we mentioned earlier his defense is where he truly excels, he is fantastic without the puck on his stick. He blocks 6.25 passes per 20 minutes, 2.27 of those passes blocked are in the defensive zone. What this means is he breaking up plays in all zones and is frequently around the puck which can help create quick offense for the Ducks. Henrique is a special type of forward, he can play in all situations and has the scoring touch to finish his chances. When looking at the talent the Ducks had on defense trading one of them for a player like Henrique looks like a solid move to me.
The last forward that we will focus on in the bright spots section is 22-year-old Ondrej Kase. Kase had a 53.5% Corsi rating, which is fantastic considering the team corsi and how young he is. He did outperform is expected goals for by a large margin so expecting him to score 20 goals again next year might be a touch high but the point that the Ducks were a better team with Kase on the ice cannot be argued. The team is expected to score .92 goals per 20 minutes with Kase on the ice and is only expected to allow .75 goals in that same amount of time. His skating and puck control are the most exciting aspects of his game, he is frequently able to exit the defensive zone with control of the puck and in some cases, he is controlling the puck all the way into the offensive zone. He uses his feet to make 20 possession driving plays per 20 minutes and has impressive possession time numbers when the Ducks are in the offensive zone. Kase is a pending RFA and it will be interesting to see what type of deal the Ducks choose to go with, I will explain my ideal strategy in the offseason plans section.
There are four players on defense that deserve mention in this section. Josh Manson, Cam Fowler, Brandon Montour and Hampus Lindholm all had solid seasons. Fowler is the veteran of the group, but Manson played the most minutes at 5v5 and had the best corsi rating of the group. Regardless, the four have skillsets that fit the modern style of play and they even complement each other well. Lindholm is the best pure defender of the group while Manson and Fowler provide great offensive touch. Montour is well rounded and excels in both zones. We will take a closer look at the contract situations soon, but the Ducks would be wise to keep the four players under team control for as long as possible.
Lastly, Ryan Miller deserves credit for how well he performed while John Gibson was injured. Miller had a .940 save percentage but his most impressive number is his .882 save percentage on shots from the slot. The Ducks had to be ecstatic about the quality of play they got from Miller this season.
The clear disappointment is the playoff no show, allowing 8 goals in San Jose in Game 3 is not a moment the franchise will want to remember. The health issues surrounding John Gibson heading into the playoffs surely played a role in the demise but let’s call a spade a spade here, the team was simply not ready to play against the Sharks.
Throughout the season there were a few disappointments as well. Ryan Kesler was not able to start his season until after the Christmas break due to injury so that immediately qualifies as a disappointment. However, when he was on the ice he did not produce like a player who has a $6.9M dollar cap hit. He only produced 12 points and the opponents were expected to score more goals than the Ducks while Kesler was on the ice. He has a reputation of being a solid two-way player but when he is not producing points and the opponent is expected to score more than the Ducks while he is on the ice I am not sure where he provides value to a team.
The last part of this section will be a group of aging players who simply do not perform at a level that they once did. Kevin Bieksa, Jason Chimera, Antoine Vermette and even Andrew Cogliano did not perform like they did earlier in their careers. It is not a knock on those players, it is just the way things go for players as the age. Luckily, the Ducks management was smart about it and most of the players mentioned are going to be UFAs and they will be replaced by younger options. The Ducks will head into the offseason with about $13M in cap space
If you are a Ducks fan the time to stop reading might be now. The offseason is going to be tough on the Ducks and if one NHL team decided to use an offer sheet the team is going to have to make a very unfavorable move. Both Brandon Montour and Ondrej Kase are RFAs. This means they can sign an offer sheet from another team. However, teams are nervous to use the offer sheets because there is a fear that no other GM would want to work with a GM who takes advantage of a vulnerable team. If I were a team with cap space I would offer sheet both players and force the Ducks hand. Let’s say the Ducks want to keep both players, they have the cap space to do so, they would just need to make a corresponding move to clear cap space, so they are able to field a full roster. If Kase gets offered something like 3 years at $3M AAV and Montour gets offered 3 years at $3.75M AAV this would leave the Ducks with about $7M to sign somewhere between 5 and 7 players. The Ducks will want to keep both players which means they will have to make moves to clear cap space.
As teams smarten up it is becoming more and more difficult to clear cap space. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry each are still more than serviceable players, but I do not know many teams that would be lining up to trade young talent for 33-year-old forwards with $8.6M dollar cap hits. From a PR standpoint it would be a nightmare to move players like Getzlaf and Perry and we already went over why other teams would be unwilling to make the move. The next player on the list is Ryan Kesler and he is the player I think the Ducks will end up moving. However, the move will not be pretty. The Ducks will have to include assets like picks and prospects to entice a team to take on the aging Kesler and his large cap hit. The return will not be much, and it will leave a sour taste in the mouth of fans and management alike.
At forward the Ducks has 5 UFAs, Derek Grant, Antoinne Vermette, Chris Kelly, Jason Chimera and J.T Brown are all set to test the market and if I am the Ducks I let all five players walk. I focus on signing another RFA, Nick Ritchie. Ritchie is a player who should not break the bank and is a player the Ducks will likely want to keep in the fold. Kevin Bieksa should be let go on the defensive end and Andy Welinski is an RFA who should be signed back for no more than $1M.
Let’s say the Ducks can hold onto Kase, Ritchie, Montour and Welinski. This leaves 5 or 6 roster spots left to fill. They can promote players from the AHL but using the AHL to fill that many spots is highly unlikely, so the team will have to sign some free agents, but the players will be low contract players who will not be expected to play a key role in Anaheim.
In conclusion, the Ducks must move money off the books and the clear option to be moved is Kesler. If the Ducks were not a competitive team I would suggest trying to move a player like Cam Fowler for picks and prospects. However, this is not likely to happen because Fowler has a modified no trade clause and is able to submit a list of 4 teams he is willing to be moved to. Also, I would be surprised if the Ducks move a player who contributes as much as Fowler because, even with the cap concerns, they are a team who should compete for a playoff spot again next year.
There is no sense in delaying the inevitable, waiting on the cap to continue to rise is a risky game to play and moving Kesler now and taking the punch of losing assets to lock up Kase and Montour is the move I would make. This allows the team to remain competitive and attacks a problem before it blows up into something worse. Look for the Ducks to try to solve their cap issues without sacrificing too much which should allow the team to compete for the playoffs again in 2019.
Please be sure to check in again tomorrow as we take an in-depth look at the San Jose Sharks. If you enjoyed this review, please follow us on Twitter, @afpanalytics, and share it with your friends!
Stats have been pulled from NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.hockey. Salary info from Capfriendly.com
JUSTIN WHITE is an intern AFP Analytics. Justin is a graduate of St. John Fisher College where he earned his degree in Sport Management and Statistics. He has worked with the Rochester Americans and members of their coaching staff on various analytics and statistics based projects.