This past season, the Ducks had one of the leagues’ most exciting offenses, led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They had good, and sometimes great goaltending from Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen, and John Gibson. But their defensive corps were a huge weakness, one that was ultimately exploited in the playoffs by the Dallas Stars and the Los Angeles Kings.
This offseason, the Ducks had two primary goals: acquiring a #2 Center to play behind Ryan Getzlaf, and shoring up the defensive unit. The first need was addressed with the addition of Ryan Kesler from Vancouver. Unfortunately, the Ducks did little to improve their defense this offseason.
Who: Stephane Robidas, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner
Anaheim didn’t improve their defense this offseason, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t make changes.
First, the Ducks sent depth defenseman Luca Sbisa to Vancouver as part of the Ryan Kesler package.
Sbisa was a relatively unpopular player among fans, who showed flashes of solid play in his four years in Anaheim, but was unable to play to his full potential.
He struggled to crack the lineup this year. Sbisa played only 30 games this season, spending the majority of his time in the press box.
Moving Sbisa was the right thing. His salary ($2.175 million/year) was a lot to pay a player to ride the bench, and it helped bring us a greater piece in Ryan Kesler.
More importantly, many fans believed this meant that the Ducks were clearing room to accommodate a top defenseman via free agency or a trade.
They would be disappointed. On the first day of free agency (July 1st), the Ducks signed depth defenseman Clayton Stoner to a 4-year $13 million deal, carrying a cap hit of $3.25 million/year. Many gawked at his contract, which makes Stoner the fourth highest paid active defender on the team, behind only Bryan Allen, Francois Beauchemin, and Cam Fowler.
While Stoner provides size and toughness to the Ducks blue line, he’s far from a top defenseman in this league. He played miniscule minutes in Minnesota this past season against weak competition, and still only managed a CF% of 47.5%. It is likely that Stoner will take Sbisa’s spot as the Ducks 7th/8th defenseman. (Read More: Where Does Clayton Stoner Fit in the Ducks Defense?)
On the same day, defenseman Stephane Robidas was picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Robidas was acquired by Anaheim at the trade deadline last season, and quickly proved to be a reliable second-pairing option.
Unfortunately, he played only 12 games before re-injuring his leg in Game 3 against his former team, the Dallas Stars.
Some hoped that perhaps Robidas would rejoin the Ducks at the start of the season.
Robidas was dealt to the Ducks because he wanted to win a Stanley Cup. Given the improvements to the Ducks’ center depth, there was a chance that he would stay to be part of a potential Stanley Cup team.
The Ducks may have been wary of Robidas’ health issues, and rightfully so. The 37-year old Canadian fractured his right leg twice last season, casting a shadow of doubt on his ability to stay healthy. Still, I’m a firm believer that Robidas would have made a great addition to the team, if given a one, or even a two year contract.
Unfortunately, Robidas was not interested in a short term contract. He ultimately signed a three year, $9 million deal with Toronto. Good for Robi, but I’m glad it’s the Leafs taking that risk, and not the Ducks.
Why We Need Something Different:
Even with these moves, the Ducks’ back end is very similar to last season’s group. The projected starting six is the same group which played the majority of the series against the Kings.
The Ducks still need a top defenseman if they are going to be effective in the postseason. Almost every Stanley Cup team since the lockout have had at least one Norris-caliber defensman.
The ’12 and ’14 Kings had Doughty; the ’10 and ’13 Hawks had Keith and Seabrook; the ’11 Bruins had Chara. The ’08 Red Wings had Lidstrom, and the ’07 Ducks had Pronger and Niedermeyer.
Pronger turned out to be the key to bringing a Cup to Anaheim in 2007. But do the Ducks have a Pronger or a Niedermeyer caliber player on their roster now?
Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Sami Vatanen have the potential to be very good defensemen, but they are still young and growing. For years to come, they should prove to be a solid core. (Read More: Can Hampus Lindholm Avoid a Sophomore Slump?)
Until then, they need help if the Ducks want to win a Stanley Cup during Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry’s prime.
What could we have done differently?
Instead of spending $3.25 million/year on a depth defender, the Ducks could have used the money in free agency for some of the more desirable pieces. Players like Christian Ehrhoff, Anton Stralman, and Matt Niskanen were three top-pairing players available.
Unfortunately, GM Bob Murray didn’t even seem interested in these top free agents. He didn’t even attempt to contact Christian Ehrhoff, according to the Eric Stephens, the Ducks beat writer for the OC Register.
Ducks don’t appear to be in on Christian Ehrhoff after BUF buyout. Ehrhoff’s agent said they haven’t spoken with him.
— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) June 30, 2014
Ultimately, Ehrhoff signed with the Penguins for only $750,000/year more than Clayton Stoner.
There’s still time to upgrade the defense. The Ducks could still add a solid blue-liner through a trade before the season begins on October 8th.
Teams pressed up against the cap might be persuaded to let go of a few of their non-essential pieces.
The Chicago Blackhawks may be shopping Johnny Oduya. Additionally, rumors occasionally surface that the Boston Bruins would be willing to trade Johnny Boychuk. If one of the Johnny’s indeed become available, we can hope that the Ducks would be interested.
Alternatively, the Ducks could wait as the season progresses to see if any top defenders become available before the trade deadline.
If nothing happens, maybe everything will be okay after all. If Francois Beauchemin can regain some of his health, he could make all the difference in the world.
Likewise, if Fowler, Lindholm and Vatanen develop faster than expected into elite NHL defenders, the Ducks may not need veteran help.
Only time will tell if the Ducks’ blue line woes will extend into the 2014-15 season.
While we can hope for our young core to improve and for Beauchemin to get healthy, it seems like a lot of question marks for a team hoping to become legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup.
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