Do the Anaheim Ducks have a right-handed defenceman problem? Or perhaps put more aptly, is the lack of right-hand shooting defencemen a problem coming into the new season?
The question above is certainly one which is circulating amongst the fandom. Today, more than ever, the hand which a player shoots from has gained notoriety amongst fans. Having a player on his correct wing will open up the ice, easing the manner in which a player may assess passing options. For a defensive player, which is most likely to pick up points via assists, or even to spring the offense from out of the defensive zone, this can have a great impact. Alongside the fans, it would appear that the Anaheim Ducks GM, Bob Murray, also considers the Ducks blue line a little thin.
In a move that may have been to rectify shipping out the young right-shooting, smooth-skating, and prolific scorer, Brandon Montour, Bob Murray recently attempted to pry Justin Faulk away from the Carolina Hurricanes. Fan favorite, Ondrej Kase, and at least one additional piece was the rumored price to acquire Faulk. For all intents and purposes, it sounds very much like that was a trade Murray was willing to make, suggesting that he truly does believe that the lack of a further top-4 right-handed shooter is a glaring hole in the Ducks roster.
Fortunately, for Ondrej Kase fans, that trade was bogged down by a combination of Anaheim being on Faulk’s 15-team no-trade list and not being able to negotiate a lucrative enough contract extension to change his mind. Perhaps one day, and with hindsight, we the fans, will look back on this missed trade and perceive it as a blessing.
Given the contracts given out to defencemen Kevin Bieksa, Clayton Stoner, Sheldon Souray, and Bryan Allen in the past, and added to the extensions received by Ryan Kesler, Patrick Eaves, Adam Henrique, and more recently Jakob Silfverberg, perhaps Murray cannot be trusted to hand out sizeable multi-year extensions.
Certainly, Murray has handcuffed himself with financial woes. Not being able to build a genuinely strong team around two prime-aged, top-ten, players in the game, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, for over a decade is but a small glitch in an otherwise outstanding career for Bob Murray, dating back to his Chicago days. However, I digress.
With Faulk resisting the Anaheim Ducks advances to woo him, there are but four right-handed defencemen among the 48 contracts the Ducks are currently holding. Josh Manson, who is set to become Hampus Lindholm‘s, top-pairing partner once again. Korbin Holzer, the reigning 7th defenceman from last season. Chris Wideman, the former NHL player turned AHL veteran. The fourth is newcomer, and former St Louis Blues prospect, Jani Hakanpaa. At the time of Hakanpaa’s signing, the majority of Ducks fans were ecstatic with the acquisition of the large-bodied right-handed Finnish player. However, after less than a period into the first pre-season game, the tables had turned.
Let me be frank. Hakanpaa is not the answer to any question the Ducks may have in the near future. A 25-year-old player with no NHL or KHL experience is always going to be a long shot to secure a spot on opening night of the NHL season. This goes double for a player who has had limited experience on North American ice, although it should be noted that he has 20 points, and 86 PIM, in 132 AHL games back when he was with the Blues organization. However, it may not quite be time to throw the baby out with the bathwater either. It was only one preseason game after all. Certainly the player will shake some rust off and improve. Improve enough to hold an NHL roster position is certainly a debatable question, however, there is time to determine that yet.
So, where does that leave us? There are two simple ways to go about it, and it depends very much upon how the team is perceived. On one hand, the Ducks are a good young team that was only held back by Randy Carlyle chaining weights to their skates last year. Injuries weren’t really a factor, and the young up and coming ducklings are all generational talents in the making. They should be back to playoff hockey this season, and then back into contention next season.
On the other hand, after a lengthy period of playoff hockey, the Anaheim Ducks are in line for a rebuild. Having been involved with the postseason for so long, but drafting relatively safely, they have an abundance of NHL ready prospects coming into the team, but few genuine game-breakers. They’re entering into a time where they need to groom the next generation to take over from the aging Ryan Getzlaf and the now-departed Corey Perry.