By now, the Ducks off-season is taking shape, in typical Ducks off-season fashion.
After spending a whopping $0 on the first day of free-agency—and letting several important (and completely signable) UFAs walk—the Ducks brought on Mason Raymond, Jeff Schultz, Nate Guenin, and Jared Boll with deals on the “Bargain Bob” cheap.
The signings harken to a team in flux—perhaps more importantly, however, they speak of a team trying to compensate for a tight budget by filling out its roster with low risk, sometimes-maybe-possibly-high-reward players.
Increasingly, Anaheim’s internal cap is looking more and more the curse.
Increasingly, Anaheim’s internal cap is looking more and more the curse, hindering the team’s ability to obtain high-quality players (and so compete with the skill-based likes of the East). Even the acquisition of goaltender Jonathan Bernier to back-up John Gibson was overshadowed by the fact that the Ducks take on his $4.15 million salary cap hit (even if they are only paying him $2.15 million in actual cash).
And through all this talk of money, one question remains: what about the RFAs?
The only RFAs to be extended qualifying offers were Rickard Rakell, Hampus Lindholm, and Stefan Noesen. This is and is not a surprise—Rakell and Lindholm are clearly expected to play a large part in the Ducks’ future, and Stefan Noesen managed a 10 goal, 22 assist campaign that helped push San Diego towards the Calder Cup Playoffs. But in a similar move to letting McGinn and Perron walk, Brandon Pirri—an RFA who managed decent numbers in his brief stay with the Ducks, and certainly presents one of those sometimes-maybe-possibly-high-reward players—was not among the chosen trio; Frederik Andersen, that Great Dane, was traded for draft picks; and RFA Sami Vatanen became Forever-a-Duck Sami Vatanen (yay!) when he signed a four year, basically $20 million deal.
Currently, Anaheim has 10 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies signed for roughly $63 million, which pushes them dangerously close to their internal cap hit, leaves them dangerously understaffed, and also doesn’t take into consideration the hefty raises Rakell and Lindholm are likely to get.
(For comparison, last year the Ducks had 15 forwards, 8 defensemen, and 3 goalies signed for just $66 million.)
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Murray has put Anaheim’s back to the wall, giving larger-than-perhaps-necessary contracts to players who are on the declining end of their careers in terms of production, and adding no-movement clauses which are going to prove difficult to navigate when the expansion draft hits next summer. Kevin Bieksa, for example, is getting paid $4 million on the season—as much as Cam Fowler. And Clayton Stoner—who played just 50 games last season—is getting paid $3.25 million. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry—though huge parts of the Anaheim offense—are gobbling up almost $16 million in cap space between them through 2021.
Rakell and Lindholm are going to be looking at those big contracts. They’re going to be looking at Sami’s extension. They’re going to be looking at their output last season, which was consistent even as the team’s was not—
And they’re going to want a raise.
They’re going to deserve a raise.
Lindholm’s stats speak for himself—he’s played 78 games or more in all three of his seasons with Anaheim, finishing the first two with an impressive +29 and +25 rating respectively, and all three at, or near, 30 points. Raks blossomed in the 2015-16 season, earning his first 20 goal outing thanks to his ability to “stick handle in a phone booth” (case in point). But just how much of a raise are we talking about here?
Sami has not played a full season once in his career, but since starting in 2012-13 his point production has increased exponentially—from 2, to 21, to 37, to 38 in the 2015-16 season. If Vatanen provides the offense from the blue line, then Lindholm provides the defense (proven by his +/-) while still producing offensively and putting up roughly equivalent numbers. (He’s earned 30, 34, and 28 points in his three seasons with the Ducks.) It would not surprise this writer if Hampus is expecting a Sami-esque contract close to $5 million. He’s young, but he’s more than proven himself to be worthy.
Rakell is somewhat of a different matter—he had 0 points in 4 games played with Anaheim in the 2012-13 season, 4 points off 4 assists in the 2013-14 season, 9 goals and 22 assists in the 2014-15 season, and 20 goals and 23 assists in his latest 2015-16 campaign. He seems to have found his stride, but there remains the possibility (however slight) that his recent output could not lead to consistency. Based off his past performance, a bridge-type contract for Rakell seems more likely, but even this will probably fall somewhere around $3 to $4 million.
So now we do the math: 5+4 is 9, and 9 plus 63 is $72 million, which—though this number is under the hypothetical new $74 million cap determined by the league —is well over the usual budget handed down by the Ducks’ owners.
The thing is, the Ducks must re-sign Rakell and Lindholm, even if it takes until the December 1st deadline and some trading to do it. And at this point, with the way Murray has played the cards, a trade seems inevitable. We may have found a back-up goalie, but we’re still lacking a quality left-winger, and at least 7 players to fill out our roster.
What’s clear is that in the not-so-distant future, when Perry and Getzlaf’s numbers have been hung from the rafters, Rakell and Lindholm will still be on the ice.
The question is: whose?