Could Ducks Still Trade for Defenseman?

The Anaheim Ducks have had a glaring lack of depth on defense since before the season started. After failing to sign Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency and failing to complete a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes for Justin Faulk, the problem only worsened. Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm went down with injuries, exposing an already shallow defensive corps. General manager Bob Murray’s trade for Erik Gudbranson didn’t help much in the face of those injuries, and even with Manson set to return any day now, the Ducks could still use more defensive depth and help from the point on their power play. With that in mind, there are a couple potential players Murray could target in a trade to help his defense. One makes a lot of sense; the other is way out of the box, but hear me out.

Murray Likes to Make Trades Early

Murray has been relatively consistent when it comes to the timing of his trades. In a 2018 article, The Athletic’s Craig Custance noted that when he mapped out Murray’s previous five seasons (ending in 2018) he made 20 percent of his trades during the NHL season’s first three months. (from ‘Revealing GM tendencies: Which NHL GMs trade the most? When do they like to deal?’ The Athletic – 12/17/18)

Murray has already made one trade so far this season, acquiring Gudbranson from the Penguins for minor leaguer Andreas Martinson and a seventh-round pick, but that didn’t solve the problem.

Would Murray be willing to try again to shore up his defense in the next few weeks? It’s doubtful he will pull the trigger on a trade for a stone-cold scorer, but if Murray thinks his roster can compete for a playoff spot with another upgrade to their defense and a boost to their power play, he might be motivated to make another move.

Anaheim Ducks interim head coach and general manager Bob Murray
Ducks general manager Bob Murray doesn’t hesitate to make early-season trades. He’s already made one, would he make another? (Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports)

Murray would have to act soon if he wants to improve the Ducks’ roster while they still are within striking distance of the playoffs because the Ducks are fading fast. The unknown is how confident Murray is with his current roster and if he’s willing to give up assets in a rebuild.

The Sabres Have What the Ducks Need

Near the start of the season, I thought the Ducks would be well-suited trying to trade Nick Ritchie for Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. At the time, Ristolainen had voiced his unhappiness in Buffalo and Ritchie would’ve given the Sabres more offensive depth. Things have stabilized at least somewhat for Ristolainen, but the free-falling Sabres still have another defenseman the Ducks could target for a trade.

After coming to Buffalo from the Vegas Golden Knights, Colin Miller has spent time on the team’s bottom defense pair and even in the press box. His four points (all assists) so far this season have him on pace for one of the worst offensive campaigns of his career.

However, the 27-year-old has shown he is capable of significant offensive production from the blue line in the past. Just two seasons ago, Miller notched 41 points, including five goals and 12 assists on the power play.

He’s a right-shot defenseman with an absolute cannon from the point, which could help an Anaheim team desperately in need of a power-play threat from the blue line. Anything would be an improvement for Anaheim as Ducks defensemen have yet to score a power-play goal this season.

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Colin Miller
Sabres defenseman Colin Miller (seen here in his Golden Knights days) might be a quick fix for Anaheim’s power-play struggles. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports)

Miller’s contract is not prohibitively expensive, carrying a $3.875 million cap hit until 2021-22. Unfortunately, Miller is not known for his shutdown capabilities, but he’s not worse than Gudbranson, Korbinian Holzer, Josh Mahura or other Ducks defenders not named Lindholm, Manson, or Cam Fowler.

How Much for “Miller Time?”

NHL Radio host and NHL network reporter Jonathan Davis appeared on the “Flying V Anaheim Ducks podcast” Saturday and explained just how badly the Ducks need a goal-scoring threat from the blue line on their power play.

“They don’t have a power-play goal from any defenseman this year,” Davis said. “That’s why they went hard after Kevin Shattenkirk and tried to get Justin Faulk as well. This has been an issue going back to last year. Justin Faulk had more power-play goals last season than the Ducks blue line did combined.”

When I asked Davis about Miller, he said,

I think this is a time where you could potentially get him [Miller] on the cheap. I don’t know if Buffalo wants to do that right now, although they do have a surplus of defensemen. I don’t know why it hasn’t worked for Colin Miller in Buffalo. His numbers have fallen off ever since that first year and maybe for him, he could use a new home, but Buffalo knows that if they are trading him, they are probably getting 75 cents on the dollar right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if even the Vegas Golden Knights tried to see if they could get Colin Miller back as well but absolutely for Anaheim if they can find a way to make that deal, I think he would be an upgrade for them.

The Ducks would still probably have to part with a player from their roster and possibly a prospect or a draft pick but their best trade asset just went down with a significant injury.

A Trade Chip Goes Down

A Radko Gudas hip check Friday sent Ritchie to injured reserve where he will remain for 6-to-10 weeks according to Elliot Teaford of the Orange County Register. (from ‘Ducks left wing Nick Ritchie out 6 to 10 weeks because of sprained knee’ The Orange County Register – 12/8/19). With that injury, his near-term trade value has tanked (if he had any in the first place).

Nick Ritchie Ducks
Nick Ritchie, Anaheim Ducks, Oct. 24, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Instead of Ritchie, the Sabres might want another established Ducks forward and Ondrej Kase’s name already appeared in the Faulk rumors, but Faulk likely would’ve commanded more than Miller would in a trade. The Ducks could also part with a prospect to pry him from Buffalo, which might not be the best idea in their current rebuilding state. Still, if Murray wants to help his defense, Miller might be the cheapest and most effective option.

Another Name in New Jersey

There has been speculation that the Ducks and New Jersey Devils’ Taylor Hall might be a good fit for each other if the Devils should decide to trade him. While we’re bandying about unlikely trade scenarios, there’s another scenario that has not been rumored or even mentioned, but considering the situation, it’s not impossible.

After joining the Devils this offseason in a trade from the Nashville Predators, P.K. Subban has struggled. He’s contributed two goals and three assists in 27 games for New Jersey and is also on pace for his worst offensive season since becoming a full-time NHLer.

P.K. Subban New Jersey Devils
P.K. Subban’s name hasn’t appeared in trade rumors yet, but how long will that last? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, the one-time Norris Trophy winner isn’t totally over the hill (he’s 30) and he’s two seasons removed from notching 59 points. Subban is also a right-shot defender with a cannon from the point who could help the Ducks power play. Though his season has been disappointing offensively, the potential for him to improve is still there.

For those advanced stat optimists, Subban’s 3.1 shooting percentage is the lowest it’s ever been and is almost half of his career mark of 6% while he’s still taking a comparable amount of shots from previous seasons. His Corsi for percentage of 49.31, while not great, is second among Devils defensemen despite playing the most at five-on-five. It isn’t terrible considering his team’s poor performance this season.

Subban Cheaper than Hall

With New Jersey potentially looking to rebuild their rebuild by shipping Hall out of town, why wouldn’t they consider moving Subban? One issue is Subban’s cap hit. At nearly $9 million per season for two more seasons after this one, few teams would be interested in a player that expensive considering the time left on his contract, his performance this season and how he’s trending.

But how much different is Hall’s situation than Subban’s? He’s getting older in a league where the prime of a player’s career is getting earlier and earlier and he’s had injury issues.

New Jersey Devils Taylor Hall
When everything is taken into account, Taylor Hall might be a longer and more expensive commitment than Subban (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Yes, Hall will be a free agent after this season, but when you think about it, he might be more of a commitment. Unless a team trades for him strictly as a rental, any organization that does secure him in a trade would be foolish not to try to re-sign him, making him a more expensive and longer commitment than Subban would be. Even if a team trades for Hall strictly as a rental, the price they would have to pay in trade capital would be astronomical.

If Murray is willing to think outside the box and inside his “prospect wallet,” would he be able to acquire Subban? Though the price his high and the Ducks do not have $9 million in cap space, they do have Patrick Eaves’ $3.15 million contract eligible for long-term injured reserve for the rest of this season and potentially Ryan Kesler’s $6.875 million contract ready for LTIR as well. Kesler’s contract also runs out when Subban’s does.

Would the Devils Help?

New Jersey has a bundle of cap space and will have more assuming the departure of Hall. Maybe — seeing that they won’t be competitive until Subban’s contract runs out — Devils general manager Ray Shero would be willing to trade him for more draft capital and retain some of his contract.

After his performance to start this season, maybe Subban could be acquired for a lower price than he has been in the past. No matter who the trade target, it’s unlikely the Ducks will make a significant trade before the new year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting trade targets both in and out of the box available to Murray that could significantly improve the Ducks’ defensive corps in a short amount of time.

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