During the Olympic break the NHL rosters were frozen, preventing player movements but not trade discussions. Despite being first in the Western Conference and first in the league, the Anaheim Ducks are desperate for a boost in their defense.
The rumors circulated involving Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers. That possibility is off the table after his new contract was signed. This would not have been a good move for the Ducks. Girardi would have been far too expensive and likely would not have stayed in Anaheim. On the flip side of this maneuver, the Rangers were reportedly interested in Sami Vatanen as part of the return. That’s not really a player Anaheim is willing to move, in my estimation.Vatanen went down hard in a game last night which now decreases his value, and even more likely his ability to be traded, to a certain extent as well as increases the need for additional defensemen. The Ducks recently signed veteran defenseman, Steve Eminger after he was dropped from his one year KHL contract before the end of the season. Eminger was passed over by every team in the NHL last year after the Rangers decided not to resign him to a contract.
Now the questions get deep. What moves, if any, do the Ducks have in the next couple days?
Some may have thought the St. Louis Blues would be willing to move some defensemen in exchange for a goalie. Not to a conference rival. Not to a fellow Stanley Cup contender. The Ryan Miller trade was proof the Ducks were moving too slow for this anyway. In all honesty you can rule out any Western Conference teams for the exact same reason. This shifts the focus to the Eastern Conference.
Now let’s back up a step and look at what the Ducks have to offer in trade talks. Goal tenders. Plain and simple, there’s a log jam in line for the Ducks net and it’s got to get thinned out if any of the the players are to be successful. So who do you move? Who needs goal tending? The Edmonton Oilers did need it, but they fixed their problems early with the multi-part trade with the L.A.Kings and the Nashville Predators. St. Louis, as I just mentioned, changed up their goaltending and in the east The Predators and Buffalo Sabres made adjustments as well. That leaves only one team who needs a goalie AND is stacked at defense.
Marc-Andre Fleury is not a post season goal tender. Jeff Zatkoff has ZERO post season experience. Tomas Vokoun has horrendous health issues and he is currently on the injured reserve list though he is skating with the team again. Deryk Engelland, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik will all be Unrestricted Free Agents at year’s end and none have signed extensions to this point. Yes, Paul Martin is out for the season after having surgery on his hand. Yes, Kris Letang is out after suffering a stroke just before the Olympic break. The Penguins are winning without the latter two. The other advantage the Penguins have is the close relationship they have with their AHL team, the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins. Minor league players are coached with the same system as the NHL club, making the transition between leagues much easier; for example, Olli Maatta. With 25 points in his first 59 career NHL games at 19 years old, his transition has been seamless. Maatta won’t be part of a trade, that’s just an example with a well known player.
With that being said, there are a few players who could step up to the NHL level if a trade warranted the move. Most notable of names on the AHL roster is Philip Samuelsson, son of veteran defenseman Ulf Samuelsson. His stats are solid and he’s got some Boston College time under his belt. Although he’s been bounced around a bit, Brendan Mikkelsson could also make the step to the NHL in the near future.
Brooks Orpik does have a No Trade Clause, so he can list eight teams to which he refuses to be traded. He’s been with the Penguins’ organization since draft day 2000 and he bears the “A” of an alternate captain. At 33 years old and in his last year of a 3.75mil per year contract, Orpik is going to be looking for both term and a raise. This could be an important part of clearing space to bring in a new player. While averaging between 10 and 15 points per season, Orpik also spends some time in the box.
Matt Niskanen was acquired from the Dallas Stars during the 2010-11 season. After four seasons with the club, this 27-year-old defenseman will also be looking for a raise from his 2.3mil per year contract and likely a five-year deal. He can be counted on to chip in anywhere from 15-20 points per year and he stays out of the penalty box pretty well.
Deryk Engelland is a fighter. Plain and simple he’s going to fight and he’s going to win his fights. He’s not going to score you many points, but he will keep his teammates safe. Engelland is 31 years old and making under $600 thousand dollars per year. That is a manageable cap hit no matter what team you are.
The rumors surrounding the Penguins indicate they are inquiring about Ryan Kessler of the Vancouver Canucks. Pittsburgh could be looking for trade pieces to get this deal done. It’s hard to imagine not wanting to prevent having to move pieces they already have in place. This could work in the Ducks’ favor. The Ducks have a few pieces they could dangle; both goal tenders and prospect forwards. If you follow Bob McKenzie of TSN on twitter you may have read his recent tweets regarding Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack; there could be a storm brewing there which requires a new goal tender being sent for Ryan Kesler. The Canucks are shopping Kesler after he reportedly asked for a trade, despite his No Trade Clause. You’ll notice that Alexander Edler was mentioned in that piece too. Another defenseman up for grabs ties these three teams together.
The biggest name that has to be moved from the Ducks’ roster is Jonas Hiller. Yes, he is the hot glove right now. Yes, he has played very well thus far in the season. Yes, the word was put out that he would not be leaving. Now, let’s be rational. Hiller is 32 years old and at the end of a four-year deal which paid him 4.5 million per year. The raise and the term are going to be astronomical for the Ducks to resign and don’t forget how streaky he is. Now ask yourself why there hasn’t been a contract extension yet.
Another piece to the goal tending puzzle is Igor Bobkov. He was Frederik Andersen‘s back up in Norfolk last year. He’s in Utah this year because John Gibson moved in from the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). That’s not a slight to Bobkov or his skills; Gibson is just that good. You will see Gibson in the 2018 Olympics for Team USA and in two years he will be the face of the Ducks at the NHL level. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Team USA 2014 Olympic Orientation roster. Look closely at the right column which shows where the players are currently listed and tell me how many players aren’t listed in the NHL. The most likely candidate for Gibson’s back up is Brad Thiessen, who came from none other than the Penguins! This makes Viktor Fasth, Andersen, and Bobkov expendable. Freddy is a great goal tender but he will never stay as a back-up to Gibson, and visa versa for Gibson to Andersen. Fasth and Andersen will most likely stay until next year. Fasth’s contract will end and he will be trade deadline bait if he doesn’t get moved during the off-season. There could be picks tossed in at any point but those are always unpredictable so I’m sticking to just known players for the time being. The Ducks also have a couple of extra forwards in Norfolk who end up being scratched, Charles Sarault is one.
It’s entirely possible that you see none of this happen. It’s entirely possible that you see something different happen. But remember this, because over time you will see the progression occur. Stay tuned; the deadline is coming.