Even before delving deep into who the Anaheim Ducks should and shouldn’t protect, one glaring flaw is that the Ducks do not at present have a netminder that they can, or rather should expose to the Seattle team. Although there are some paths open to them depending on what the Ducks may wish to do.
Firstly, John Gibson is almost the messiah of netminders and those who watched his robbery against the Arizona Coyotes the other night might be hard-pressed to argue that he cannot walk on water and turn water into wine, himself. It seems very unlikely that Gibson would be exposed. His back up, Ryan Miller, on the other hand, is not signed through that time period and thus at present would not be eligible for the expansion draft.
Given Miller’s age, it seems likely that he would not wish to sign a contract for that long of a term given that he and his family could be moved if he did so. If he is still going and still wants to play for the Anaheim Ducks, then the Ducks merely have to wait until after the expansion draft and sign Miller to another contract as an unrestricted free agent (UFA). Taken together, it seems likely that the Ducks current NHL netminders will not be part of the expansion draft plans.
Anthony Stolarz or Trading Young Assets
Thus, we filter down to the AHL and junior levels. Anthony Stolarz, presently the San Diego Gulls netminder in the AHL, is set to be a UFA just prior to the expansion draft. He will be 28 at that point in time and could potentially be extended if the Ducks wanted to keep him around. It would be extremely unlikely that he would be the selection, thus, the Ducks should be very clear that they wanted him to continue on as the Gulls netminder and 3rd string NHL call up. This is a plausible outcome and may very well be the path of least resistance for the Ducks. The Gulls keep an under-30-year-old netminder they would be familiar with, and the Ducks satisfy the expansion draft requirements.
After Stolarz, however, the Ducks run dry in a sense. Olle Eriksson-Ek and Lukas Dostal, both of whom have had tremendous careers to date, are potentially the future of the Anaheim crease. Both players will be still under contract, and due for an extension as RFA’s at the end of the 2021-2022 season, however, they are not eligible to be taken in the expansion draft.
As much as the Ducks would love to keep both of this duo about the club, and would be loath to give them up when they don’t have to, the Seattle franchise would equally like to get their hands on one of them. If the Ducks offer one up, they are an almost certainty to be taken. Particularly Dostal, who has had an absolutely phenomenal season this year, and looks to only get better.
However, exposing one of these players may also open up some options for the Ducks. There is a small chance that the Ducks may be able to wring some concessions out of the new franchise. Perhaps, in exchange for exposing one of the young netminders, the Seattle club can take on a contract the Ducks no longer desire, and/or leave other players who may be exposed well enough alone.
Similar to Shae Theodore being traded to the Golden Knights, so that they would take Clayton Stoner and leave some of their prime aged defencemen alone. It is at least something the Ducks could consider, especially if it looks like Gibson is going to continue to be the man in the Ducks net for the foreseeable future. The outlook, of course, changes if injuries occur, but at present, and without that caveat, Gibson deserves to hold the franchise tag and be here at least until the end of his current contract. If not longer, hockey gods be willing.
Sign and then Expose
The other option for the Ducks is to sign another netminder for the only purpose of exposing them to the expansion draft. Doing so should require the Ducks to balance that fine line of wanting to have a player to expose, but also recognizing that they are unlikely to be selected and thus needing to keep them on the team as a backup or 3rd string netminder.
Who is on offer over the next few years will dictate this, as will Ryan Miller’s desires. If Miller wants to keep going, then all of the above remain options. If, or given his age, when, Miller retires, then plans will change and the Ducks will need to acquire a backup. This player will be the one exposed to the draft. Who it maybe is wide open for debate.
However, for the sake of the article, we’ll assume that the Ducks protect Gibson and give up Stolarz.
Protect: John Gibson
Expose: Anthony Stolarz