The Anaheim Ducks Interesting Decision Making Has Cost Them Cap Space

Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates to the puck under pressure from David Backes #21 of the Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates to the puck under pressure from David Backes #21 of the Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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Anaheim Ducks
Trevor Zegras reacts after being selected ninth overall by the Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Creating Value Through the Draft

Drawing back to the age range of the Ducks forward group in comparison to the 2019-2020 playoff teams, it could be considered that the relative youth of these teams may reflect the drafting of stars (e.g. Mikko Rantanen or Brayden Point). However, solid drafting may also present opportunities for young role players who can fit in around established and highly paid stars.

While it’s relatively clear that the Ducks haven’t drafted much in the way of star power over the past decade, its a little more difficult to determine whether they’ve created good value from the draft either. For instance, players such as Troy Terry were heavily hyped as scoring players, yet did not score to expectations.

By last season’s end, Terry had improved his defensive game remarkably, yet was dropped to make room for Sonny Milano on the top line. Thus the question should be asked as to whether Terry has value as a role player and will the Ducks use him as such?

Terry’s former teammate, Nick Ritchie, presented strongly across with- and without-statistics, where many teammates presented with stronger underlying numbers when he was a linemate. Ritchie certainly wasn’t what the Ducks hoped for with the #10 overall draft selection, however, he was a reasonable hockey player. He was traded for a more expensive role player in Danton Heinen.

That isn’t a knock on Heinen by any stretch, merely an indication that he isn’t a significantly greater player who would be worth double Ritchie’s salary. Moving forward, do the Ducks see Heinen as a 10-year player? If they do, then there are no concerns with the trade. If, however, they could see themselves moving on from Heinen, then the question should be asked whether he would garner more value in return that the former #10 overall selection with a lower price tag. The outcome is debatable at the best of times, and doubly so in this era with a flat cap.

Nonetheless, given the Anaheim Ducks cap constraints are making it difficult to create trade opportunities of significance and will inhibit them from acquiring marque free agents, it behooves the Ducks to create value from the draft.

Their primary focus should be on the acquisition and development of star power. While fans still remember the Getzlaf of yesteryear and adore what Henrique brings to the table, it’s arguable how long they may be able to keep up their current levels of production. Even with their current levels, the Ducks are one of the weakest teams in the league in terms of scoring prowess. Thus, the Ducks should start focusing on developing their own Rantanen’s and Points.

The process to draft that kind of player was potentially started last season, where the Ducks picked up Trevor Zegras and analytics darling Brayden Tracey. This year they will have the chance again to draft highly and again at the end of the 1st round. Their second-round selection allowed may afford them two bites at the cherry if a particular player slips down the rankings. Last season that player was Arthur Kaliyev and years previously it was Alex DeBrincat.

Which highlights some need for the Anaheim Ducks to acquire as many early draft selections as they can over the next few years. To this effect, previous trades such as the acquisition of David Backes contract make some sense. However, the acquisition of Heinen as opposed to a draft selection, in exchange for a valuable asset (Ritchie) becomes questionable.

With no disrespect intended towards Heinen, moving Ritchie for a draft selection would have slashed the Ducks payroll this coming season and helped them acquire another chance at a potential star player towards the end of the first round or even moving into the second. As a potentially unlikely example, would Montreal (who currently have ~$10 million in cap space) have traded the #47, #48, and #56 for Nick Ritchie and a 4th round selection? Would Detroit (who have ~$34 million in cap space) have looked at Ritchie for the #32 and #45 draft selections? We won’t ever know, however, Ritchie had value as a former #10 overall draft selection. Does Heinen have that same value?

Thus, the Anaheim Ducks need to begin leveraging their assets to build draft capital. Increasing their talent via the draft will work to decrease their salary cap expenditure, as well as decreasing the average age of their forward group, to be more in line with the current playoff team profile. There is also the chance of finding a genuine star and raising the team’s profile and standing.

There may not be a strong possibility of starting that process immediately, however, should the Ducks choose to walk down that path, they have some options to explore. Would Colorado (~$22 million in cap space) consider Josh Manson? Would the Winnipeg Jets (~$15.5 million in cap space)? Could the Calgary Flames (~$17 million in cap space) use an additional ~40-point scorer to round out their lines? Each scenario could be considered, and draft selections anywhere in the next three drafts could be taken in return.

Trading someone like Manson would only weaken the Anaheim Ducks, which would have the knock-on effect of the Ducks own draft picks having a greater likelihood of being earlier than later. The cap space would also allow the Ducks to take on a bad contract in exchange for another relatively high draft selection. One trade would lead to another. Thus draft capital would be created.