Anaheim Ducks: Buying Into A Championship

Jack Eichel #15 of the Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Jack Eichel #15 of the Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

With all the rumors flying around this time of year, for Anaheim Ducks fans craving some sort of positive news, it’s hard to refrain from injecting their team into potential trade scenarios. In some respects, this follows on from some bigger names in the NHL media cycle who have all seemingly suggested that Bob Murray is kicking the ties on each of these rumored players.

Whether that is due to everyone seeing a General Manager and his coach hanging onto their NHL careers by a thread and needing a big positive tick in their ledgers after a recent run of ‘crosses’, or whether there are actual legs to these rumors, is anyone guess at this stage in the game.

It doesn’t take much in the way of internet searching to see there numerous “for and against” articles for each of the names. Yet, in the Anaheim Ducks perspective, even the “for” articles all seem to finish on the fact that acquiring one of these potentially available names won’t be enough to push them from the basement into the playoffs, and certainly not into Cup contention.

Ironically, given one of the names being bandied around is the Buffalo Sabres Jack Eichel, the Sabres themselves have shown us that a half-hearted rebuild will not be enough to pull a team into relevance.

Assuming the Ducks did desire to acquire Eichel, then that rebuild would certainly be stunted from their perspective. However, what if the Ducks didn’t stop there? What if they attempted to buy their way into championship contention? We see it in other team sports, why not hockey?

Given that seems much more interesting than debating the pros and cons of whichever name is thrown up in rumors this week, I thought this would be a fun exercise in futility. I’m self-aware enough to realize that this is never going to come to pass. I’m also very aware that almost no one from any team mentioned is likely to enjoy the majority of the trades that will be mentioned.

Nonetheless, each trade is a puzzle piece that could be put together into a whole, that just might create a team capable of contending for a Stanely Cup finals position. Assuming the Ducks hire a relevant coaching staff between now and next season, that is.

Seattle and the Expansion Draft

There’s a lot that can be said about the Anaheim Ducks’ history with the Expansion Draft. Last time around the Ducks traded Shea Theodore to the Vegas Golden Knights for “expansion draft consideration.”

That is to say, in return for selecting Clayton Stoner and allowing the Ducks to keep together a defensive corp of Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson, the Ducks traded away then-prospect Theodore. At the time it was likely considered a strong move by the franchise, as they were seemingly in contention for a Stanely Cup berth.

There is perhaps a little irony in my proposal then, as I would be suggesting that the Ducks approach the Seattle Kraken team and ask them to select Adam Henrique in the draft process. By no means as poor a player as Stoner was, Henrique is owed significant money for the next few years. The Ducks will need that cap space open for them to make the moves required to buy their way into championship contention.

In order for them to make that move, they will be required to give up some young talent. I would suggest that they approach the table with Brayden Tracey in hand. A former 1st round draft pick with a one-time towering reputation, Tracey has hit a wall in his development with the Ducks.

That isn’t to say he won’t put it all together, however, at present, he appears to be surplus to needs. If the Ducks can use him to open up cap space and move forward with that, they certainly should consider it.

Given that Henrique is still a somewhat useful hockey player, and in my opinion probably likely to bounce back somewhat next season, the Ducks can probably ask for a little bit more than “expansion draft considerations” in return for the Tracey trade. It wouldn’t likely be a lot, but I don’t think it’s out of the question to ask for a 4th round pick in return.

Thus the Trade sits as Adam Henrique (expansion draft selected) + Brayden Tracey in exchange for the Seattle Kraken’s 2021 4th round pick.

Goodbye Mr. Gibson, Farwell

Now that expansion is taken care of, the Anaheim Ducks can start getting down to business. Their first port of call is shifting John Gibson to the Colorado Avalanche. Quite frankly it’s a massive move for the franchise as they shift away from their one-time all-world netminder.

On one side of the coin, Carey Price has shown the world, once again, that solid netminding can paper over a lot of flaws. That’s not to say that Montreal was poor this postseason, but that when the Canadiens have been outplayed, Price was there to cover for them. The Avalanche recognize this, and while Phillip Grubauer has been solid for them over the distance, he doesn’t have the pedigree that Gibson has.

In return for this big piece, the Ducks should ask the Avalanche for the young defenceman, Bowen Byram, as the centerpiece of any returning trade. At 20 years old, he has years left in his hockey career, and could conceivably be a top-4 defenceman for the Anaheim Ducks for the next decade or more.

As the Avalanche are likely to be in some financial troubles this season, the Ducks should also opt to nab Valeri Nichushkin from them as well. Though “only” $2.5 million dollars, his combined salary with that of Grubauer’s very closely matches the $6.4 million per year that John Gibson is owed.

Given the Ducks are giving up an all-world netminder, the 26-year-old defensive forward, could be a big get for them should he play a bottom-6 role. Strengthening their “team defense” is likely to be the best way forward for the Ducks should they make this trade, and both, Byram and Nichushkin help them do that. More than anything, this trade also opens up cap space for the Ducks to acquire some legitimate scoring threats, amongst their forward group.

In the end, the trade sits as John Gibson for Bowen Byram and Valeri Nichushkin

Picking the Eyes Out of a Cap Troubled Team

Tampa Bay is a team that is in cap trouble next season. While it has become a seasonal tradition for players to get hurt and miraculously get healthy just in time for Game One, despite the outcome of this year’s playoffs, Tampa is a team that will be making some changes when the offseason comes around.

These changes offer a chance for the Ducks to pry their way upwards in talent. It isn’t as though the Lightning are stacked with bad contracts, it’s more that they have so many good players, that some are bound to get squeezed out. In this instance, Tyler Johnson has already been flagged as a potential victim of the cap squeeze.

The Anaheim Ducks, for one, would be more than happy to acquire Johnson and his $5 million dollar contract with the cap space they’ve opened up with the above trades. However, no one takes on a player that was once put on waivers, for nothing at all. In this case, the Ducks should try to swap prospects and work their way up the talent pool.

Specifically, for taking on Johnson’s contract, the Ducks would like to swap Hunter Drew for Callam Foote. Foote played 35 games for the Lightning this season, and while he certainly wasn’t a standout, it wasn’t a bad debut season by any stretch of the imagination. Nonetheless, he’s a far stronger prospect than Drew, who has fallen away somewhat since his draft season.

It’s an incremental move upwards, but sometimes those moves can help out down the track. As it stands, the trade looks like Hunter Drew for Tyler Johnson and Callam Foote.

Time to Pick Up a Star

Now that the Anaheim Ducks have some assets to play with, it’s time to go big game hunting. The biggest name on the market is Jack Eichel. Recently, I suggested that a package based around Lukas Dostal and the Ducks’ 3rd overall draft pick might get it done. I was shot down. So this time, we’re going bigger. The 3rd overall pick, Trevor Zegras, and a prospect. The prospect? The recently acquired Callam Foote.

Overall, the trade gives Buffalo three young pieces, all of whom are talented. The draft pick is easily the best asset they’ll get in the draft, and add to the ones they already have and will collect once they trade away some of their defensive corp. Zegras is one of the best young players in hockey with an incredibly bright future. Foote, allows them to shore up what will be a weaker defensive unit once they trade away some of the players from their current blue line.

All in all, it’s very likely the best option they’ll have, which then means they make the trade to the Ducks, or they take lesser value. Chances are that they make the trade, and the Anaheim Ducks acquire their star forward.

Pushing the Ducks’ luck a little, I would ask that Buffalo retain $1 million of Eichel’s salary for the remaining years on his deal. Naturally, any salary retainment comes at a cost and in this instance, given the retention is minimal, though, for some term, I would have the Anaheim Ducks add their 2nd round pick in this season. I’m sure it could be added to with another later pick or a prospect, however, I think this should be enough to get the deal over the line given how early the Ducks 2nd round selection is.

Thus the Eichel trade stands as 2021 1st round pick (3rd overall) + 2021 2nd round pick + Trevor Zegras + Callam Foote for the coveted Jack Eichel ($1 million retained per season)

Finding Their Star a Playmate

Once the big name of Eichel is on board, it’s time to look at finding him some friends. Rumors abound that the 23-year-old Matthew Tkachuk wants out of Calgary, and it just might be that the Anaheim Ducks can save him from their former coaching supervisor (or whatever he was called while he was here).

Naturally, young stars don’t grow on trees and, once again, the Ducks need to pony up and send some good assets towards the Calgary Flames. In order to buy their championship, they absolutely attempt to do that.

The Ducks open their bidding with their 2022 1st round draft pick. If the Ducks track like they did this season, then that pick will be a great one. However, if we’re looking to buy a chip, then the more moves the Ducks make, the more likely it is that this selection will be at least middle of the table next season, and potentially even later. Nonetheless, it’s a 1st round selection in a stronger draft than this season and the starting point for this trade.

Given the Flames are somewhat hungry for success, the Anaheim Ducks also opt to send them a couple of middle-aged (in hockey years) veterans. Specifically, Rickard Rakell and Hampus Lindholm. Given Mark Gordiano is getting older, Lindholm provides a very good replacement for him as he ages, keeping them in the playoff mix.

Rakell, as well, is a cheap middle-6 forward at this stage of his career. His salary-cap hit and his ability to produce provides the team with some flexibility moving forward. Alternatively, instead of keeping them for next season, both players provide further trade options should the Flames wish to go down that route.

The last piece of the trade is another necessary piece in order to acquire a star player. Rakell is outside his prime and while Lindholm is good, he’s becoming injured more often. Thus adding them to a projected mid-to-late 1st round draft pick won’t get it done. Thus the Ducks add Sam Colangelo to the mix. As one of the Ducks’ top offensive prospects outside of the NHL, he adds some gravitas to the trade and, I suspect, pushes it over the line.

Taken together, the trade acquires a young top-line scoring threat who plays an old school Ducks style of hockey. It does cost them a top-6 scorer, a top-4 defenceman, a 1st round draft pick and one of their stronger prospect. However, Tkachuk could easily be a Duck for the next decade should he sign a long term deal with them, sticking him alongside Eichel for the foreseeable future.

The trade wrapped up looks like Rickard Rakell + Hampus Lindholm + 2022 1st round pick + Sam Colangelo for Matthew Tkachuk

A Little More Cap Space

With those two big trades in the bag, an extension to be worked out with Tkachuk, and by all reports, one on the way for Josh Manson, the Ducks will probably want to acquire some more cap space.

Luckily, The Philadelphia Flyers have seemingly been missing a top-4 defenseman since Matt Niskanen retired. The Ducks might just be able to talk them into former Stanley Cup winner, Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk is a little on the older side, but he certainly wasn’t as bad as many fans would have liked to make out last season. Given he played in Dallas Eakins‘ “system” that’s quite heady praise.

In return, the Ducks merely acquire a 2nd round pick in the 2022 draft. This trade gives the Ducks that cap space they need and potentially opens up a roster spot for Josh Mahura to become more involved with the NHL team. At present, his offensive numbers are reasonably strong and he really deserves a chance to put the rest of his game together.

Thus the trade is Kevin Shattenkirk for a 2022 2nd round pick (Flyers).

Rounding Out the Forward Lines

If the Ducks are buying a chip, they need to go all the way with it, and right now they look to a team whose stars are consistently jumping ship. The Columbus Blue Jackets.

What would it take to pry the rights to Patrick Laine away from the Blue Jackets now that the Ducks’ biggest pieces are off the table? It’s a tough call, but I think they should throw everything they have the problem.

Jacob Perreault is their highest-profile prospect and he headlines the deal alongside the Ducks 2023 1st round pick. The Ducks also add their 2022 2nd round pick and the recently acquired Flyers 2022 2nd round pick to help push the deal along.

However, Laine is a star and that alone won’t do it. The Ducks don’t have a huge amount of value from what they’ve draft recently, however, Max Comtois scored very well last season and looks like he could be a potentially strong top-6 forward going forward. Troy Terry has an aura that has carried over from the Olympics and he went on a bit of a tear towards the middle of last season. There’s every chance he could continue to score at the level he showed late last season and if so his

Taken together, is it enough to get the deal done? I’m honestly not sure, given the picks are so far in advance. But if Laine wants to walk away, then a pick in a projected strong draft and a couple in next season’s fantastic draft could go a long way towards rebuilding the Blue Jackets. A young top-6 forward and one who looks like a decent middle-6 forward, should at least put the Ducks in consideration, should they approach the topic.

Taken together the trade looks like 2023 1st round pick + 2022 2nd round pick (Ducks) + 2022 2nd round pick (Flyers) + Maxime Comtois + Troy Terry for Patrick Laine

Filling in the Roster

With those big moves taken care of, the Ducks need only to fill in the roster.

For those curious, after making all of these deals, the Ducks have ~23 million in cap space before signing the free agents (Laine, Getzlaf, Steel, Jones, Volkov, Lundestrom, and Heinen). They would need to make some room for Tkachuk’s new deal next season, but otherwise, they’re more or less clear to make some deals.

Brining back Ryan Getzlaf fills in the 3C slot and creates a pretty good “grind line” alongside the big bodies of Max Jones and Valeri Nichushkin. Getzlaf has long been underrated from a defensive standpoint and has been part of the Ducks penalty kill forever now.

Jones was one of the Ducks’ better defensive forwards in his first year and is capable of drawing penalties and putting the Ducks on the power play as he turns defense into offense. Nichushkin is a premier defensive forward in this league and his big body should go nicely alongside the others on this line. It’s a point of difference from the rest of the roster, but it’s a good option to have.

Bringing Danton Heinen back again seems to be a prudent move, as he’s a strong middle 6 forward, who won’t blow you away, but can produce and provide a solid presence up and down the lineup. Slotting him in with Tyler Johnson and Jakob Silfverberg seems as though it would be an effective middle-6 line. It would be likely that each of these players would be moved over the next two seasons, as they get closer to the end of their contracts.

However, in this make-believe scenario, given the Anaheim Ducks have cap space and they’re looking to buy their way into a championship they would be remiss to not bring up some of the bigger names on the free agency list. Namely Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.

Hall requires no additional conversation. He’s a forward who as soon as he left Buffalo showed us why he was so highly touted for so long. Would he consider a two-three year deal at $7 or $8 million? If so the Ducks could find a way to keep him under the cap by backloading the Laine and Tkachuk contracts. It would be tough, but certainly a possibility.

Kyle Palmieri is perhaps a more reasonable idea than Hall. Quietly coming off of his 5th 20 goal season, Palmieri would bring another shooter to the middle-6 group. While he won’t put up Xbox numbers, like Hall very well could, he would create a top-6 that was the envy of most teams in the league. It’s something to consider at the very least.

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The fourth line would be a bit of a mixed bag, with the Ducks having both young players they like (Sam Steel, Isac Lundestrom) on the roster, the “newcomer” Alexander Volkov who scored a bunch, and their old favorites in Derek Grant and Nicolas Deslauriers.

Nonetheless, it would appear that they could put together a pretty decent young line and let them play a little. With the Getzlaf line taking a lot of the tougher defensive assignments, it would be very likely that a younger line of Steel and Lundestrom would be allowed some space to do as they will against weaker competition.

Which leaves only the top line. A monstrous line of Matthew Tkachuk, Jack Eichel, and Patrick Laine. Yes, they absolutely could be broken up in order to spread the scoring a little (Eichel-Laine, Johnson-Tkachuk, or some combination), but there’s no doubt this is a lethal line that could easily drag the Ducks into contention.

The Anaheim Ducks New Roster

With all the trades made, and not counting free agents who aren’t already on the Ducks roster, next years team could look something like this:

"Matthew Tkachuk – Jack Eichel – Patrick LaineDanton Heinen – Tyler Johnson – Jakob SilfverbergValeri Nichuskin – Ryan Getzlaf – Max JonesAlexander Volkov – Sam Steel – Isac Lundestrom Bowen Byram – Simon BenoitJamie Drysdale – Haydn FleuryCam Fowler – Josh Manson Anthony StolarzLukas Dostal Extra Forwards: Derek Grant, Nicolas Deslauriers, Benoit-Oliver Groulx, Sonny MilanoExtra Defensemen: Josh Mahura, Jacob Larsson"

Given the blue line is relatively young, and the big pieces in the forward line have years left in them, all the Ducks would need to do is hope that Dostal comes on as expected. If he doesn’t, then changes can be made, but all in all, at least it would be a hell of a ride. Certainly better than some half-baked one-foot-in, one-foot-out, rebuild where they fritter away all their assets on nothing.

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