Amongst the forward group, however, the competition is much for fierce for those elusive protection spots. Although it is very likely the lay of the land will change in the seasons leading into the expansion draft, as the current team leaders age and slow down, and the youth movement of today picks up steam. There are no NMC’s to worry about (Ryan Getzlaf‘s current deal will expire prior to the draft), and very few players who deserve an absolute, no questions asked expansion slot.
Getzlaf himself occupies one of these slots. Whether he maintains his form or not, the natives will grow restless and riot at the gates of Honda Center should Bob Murray extend his contract only to let him go to an expansion team. We’ve all had our doubts about at least one of Murray’s decisions, it is the NHL and it just wouldn’t be right if the General Manager didn’t make at least one mind-bogglingly poor decision. This decision, however, is an easy one. If Getzlaf is on the Anaheim Ducks at the time the draft list needs to be submitted, he will be protected.
Rickard Rakell is not quite the automatically protected player Getzlaf is, however, as the sole under-30, 50 point producer on the roster, his place is assured. Rakell will be 28 at the time of the draft, and very much exiting his prime, however, he is still young enough to matter to rebuilding and/or contending team. The Ducks will want to keep him around.
Not Everyone Can be Protected
From here, however, list management becomes more difficult. Of the more experienced players who may be expected to command a protection spot, Ondrej Kase, Daniel Sprong, Nick Ritchie, Jakob Silfverberg, and Adam Henriqueare all available. A further wrinkle in the weave is the Anaheim Ducks’ recent first-round draft picks Max Jones, Isac Lundestrom, Sam Steel, and former 5th round selection, Troy Terry, are available. Assuming the Anaheim Ducks only protect three defencemen, along with Getzlaf and Rakell, there are only five more protection spots available for the forwards.
At present, based on production, Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique would be sewing up protection slots. However, life isn’t always that easy. In two years’ time, both players will be over 30 years of age and far closer to slowing down than ramping up. The Anaheim Ducks will have to make the call whether they believe these two players will continue to be productive leading into the back halves of there contracts.
However, what about future production? With two seasons to go before the expansion draft, we will almost certainly find out whether the current youth movement is going to be worth its salt. Will Steel live up the potential he showed in flashes during his junior career? Will Terry develop into the player the hype train had him pegged to be? Will Lundestrom grow into a top 6 player, or is he destined for a third-line role as was projected at the NHL draft? These are naturally things that we will find out as time goes on. Decisions don’t necessarily have to be made on all of them at this point in time.
However, not all players are likely to be in the Ducks future. Ondrej Kase has already been dangled this season (the Justin Faulk trade), and is struggling mightily to score in Dallas Eakins free-range offensive “system.” It could be that the Ducks move on from him before the draft comes around. Nevertheless, should he remain on the roster, it will be tough to let him simply be claimed. As a fan favorite, and with the ability he showed in his spin-o-rama assist against the Arizona Coyotes, he is one of the few present forwards who are worth the price of admission. It would be a coin flip to know what Murray would do, however, I believe that Kase gets a protection spot.
Nick Ritchie has also fallen away from the improvement and growth he’s shown in the two seasons prior to this one. Given his role this season, it appears the Anaheim Ducks see him as an enforcer and a grinder rather than the power forward scorer that he was once thought to be. It was only recently, that the coach made some rather scathing comments about him, even though he had just played in his first game back and had scored in that game.
While it will be disappointing to let a former top 10 pick go, bottom-six grinders are not the players that teams should be using a valuable protection spot to protect. It would almost certainly be in the Ducks’ best interest to move Ritchie prior to the draft, however, he will be 26 years old at the time of the draft, and he may be used as bait to hide some of the other forwards on the list. That is, of course, if he can pick up his play.
As bottom-six enforcers aren’t worthy of protection spots, neither are AHL players. Unfortunately, Daniel Sprong’s career has seemingly stalled under the current coaching regime. Largely being regulated to the AHL, Sprong has seen his scoring output decline by 37.5% (points per game) and his goal-scoring decline by 56.7% (goals per game) when he has been given NHL time. With Coach Eakins likely to remain at the helm of the Anaheim Ducks team, at least until sometime through next season, it seems unlikely that Sprong will be given a significant role going forward.
It’s disappointing for fans to see one of their favorites shunted away, however, due to this, we know that he will not be in the organizations’ future plans. It would, of course, be best if the Ducks could trade him away and recoup an asset for him. However, if he is on the Ducks roster at the time of the expansion draft, he will absolutely be left exposed for Seattle to take.
Decisions about the Ducklings
Thus, with Ritchie and Sprong likely to be left aside, a decision only has to be made on the current group of four youngsters. Troy Terry has been hyped beyond compare by fans to such an extent that one wondered if he was to be the next Alexander Ovechkin. While the wheels have fallen off that particular hype train, he is still likely to be kept as he is very clearly a favorite of the current coaching group. Few other players have gotten as much top-line time-on-ice as Terry while producing so little. At some stage, his offense will either catch up to the ice time, or he’ll be shuffled to another line. Either way, it seems likely that he’ll be kept.
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Max Jones is my personal favorite of the younger players. Fast and strong, he’s like a bull that needs uncaging. Yet, his production has not performed up to what the Anaheim Ducks may have hoped back when they drafted him. Most often used in an energy role on the lower lines, Jones doesn’t appear to be in the Ducks’ top-six plans for the future. Like Ritchie above, a third liner is not worth spending a valuable protection slot upon. Thus as of today, Jones is on the outside looking in. I, personally, have faith that Jones will begin to produce and earn his protection slot, however, until that day he will be considered as exposed to the Seattle machine.
Like Jones and Ritchie, Lundestrom appears to be more or less a third-line player on the Ducks. This is in line with his draft predictions, and he’s shown very little to indicate he has the ability to become a top-six scorer. He is Swedish, however, and that always seems to factor into Bob Murrays thinking, for better or for worse. Still, that will have to be measured against the productivity of other players such as Henrique and Silfverberg.
In the end, I believe that if Lundestrom does not increase his scoring output that he will be a necessary expense for the Ducks to keep hold of Silfverberg. Whether that call is the correct one or not, is up for debate, yet for today, I think this decision leads to Silfverberg being protected, and Lundestrom being exposed as a result of that.
Sam Steel will absolutely command a protection slot. As one of the few Ducks prospects that looks like he may be capable of playing in a top-six role, if only for brief periods of time, he is an invaluable resource they will not want to get rid of. With the Ducks letting Lundestrom go, the Ducks will also want to ensure they have center depth for when Getzlaf eventually hangs up his skates. Trevor Zegras is one, and Benoit-Olivier Groulx may potentially be another. Although Groulx appears to be third-line pivot more than a top-six scoring option, which is yet another reason to let Lundestrom go.
With Steel wrapped up, there remains one spot open. The Ducks at their heart are a budget team and almost require playoff revenue to continue running high salary teams out on the ice. Henrique may not be the high scorer they truly need, however, he is at present a lock for 40 points, which is far more than what other players look like giving. He is also a fan favorite, for one reason or another, thus the Ducks protect him in the draft and roll the dice hoping beyond hope that he will continue to perform for the remainder of his contract.
Protect: Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, Ondrej Kase, Troy Terry, Jakob Silfverberg, Sam Steel, Adam Henrique
Expose: Nick Ritchie, Daniel Sprong, Isac Lundestrom, Max Jones
Trying to Make the Expansion Draft as Painless as Possible
All in all, there are a few moves that the Anaheim Ducks could and probably should make. The path of least resistance is to trade away the players they think are good players but who are not in the Ducks plans going forward after the draft. Nick Ritchie is one that comes to mind, so too is Daniel Sprong. However, if the Ducks are truly unsure they could always dangle one of their prized young netminders for the Seattle team. It would seem reasonable that the Ducks cannot keep all of the netminders, as there simply isn’t enough room for Gibson, Dostal, and Ericksson-Ek to coexist.
Given the usual precarious nature of trading goaltenders and the minimal return for trading them, it may be that the Ducks’ most lucrative return with the players they already have. Thus, while I think it is unlikely, the Ducks best move may be to trade Ericksson-Ek or Dostal to the Seattle team for a back of the draft, draft selection, and have them pick up one of the other veteran players on the roster that they don’t see in their future plans.
It may hurt, however, there are very few paths available in which the Anaheim Ducks walk away unwounded. Of course, this is all two years away, and perhaps forward planning is not required. Winging it is the Anaheim Ducks way, after all.
Those who wish to play around with potential rosters for the new expansion team may visit capfriendly.com and use the tool they’ve provided. Keeping in mind that rosters will certainly change between now and then.