Although the NHL is kicking around ideas for how they can continue the 2019-20 season, so far it’s still on hold, and so is the start of free agency for now. It feels premature to speculate on who the Anaheim Ducks should target in free agency, considering we don’t know when it will happen, but there is one player worth noting because he spent most of this season with the Ducks.
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Derek Grant had a career-best season mostly with the Ducks and then with the Philadelphia Flyers after the deadline trade. Grant became a fan favorite, and according to thepucknetwork.com, general Bob Murray expressed interest in bringing him back at the Ducks hockey hot stove, but should they?
Bringing Grant Back to the Pond
In the weeks before the trade deadline, I outlined the reasons for keeping Grant, and I stand by them, but I also understand why the Ducks made the trade.
Though his advanced statistics weren’t good, there was evidence that he could sustain his production for another season or two. His sky-high shooting percentage was not the highest he’d achieved in his career, but his production has continued to trend up, and he’s done so under two different coaches in Anaheim.
Though Grant’s age is a concern — he just turned 30, and in today’s NHL, that’s the start of the downslope of many careers — if he’s got a good agent, he’s not going to seek an unrealistic contract. In other words, if his agent is sane, he wouldn’t insist on more than a two-year deal.
Within that two-season window, Grant could produce similar numbers. If he’s reunited with Nicolas Deslauriers and Carter Rowney, he’d be in a familiar city with very familiar teammates. The conditions would be optimal to replicate his success.
2020-21 Ducks Roster Considerations
Now that the season is on hold and many things are in question, including next season’s salary cap, there is a financial reason why the Ducks might want to avoid re-signing Grant. They aren’t in any salary cap trouble now and have over $5.5 million in contracts coming off the books when this season ends or is canceled.
However, they DO have three restricted free agents that need to be signed in Sonny Milano, Christian Djoos and Jacob Larsson. On top of that, they might need to offer Ryan Miller another contract if he decides not to retire, and they want to keep him.
The club has to consider that Patrick Eaves’ $3.15 million contract, which they used for long-term injury relief, is coming off the books after this season.
Troy Terry, Sam Steel, Max Jones and Danton Heinen will need new contracts after 2020-21. It would be smart for the Ducks to keep an eye on the future even if Ryan Kesler’s LTIR lasts until after the 2021-22 season.
NHL Salary Cap Drama Ahead
The suspension and potential cancellation of the NHL season mean no ticket sales. Even if the league returns, the odds that fans will be in stadiums is minuscule. That massive loss of revenue will influence the cap.
Before COVID-19, the league announced that the 2020-2021 salary cap would be somewhere between $84 million and $88.2 million, which is up from $81.5 million this season. Now, it’s unlikely that the cap will rise next season. We don’t know what will happen, but deputy commissioner Bill Daley told ESPN that he didn’t think the salary cap would be significantly lower than it was this season.
“Significantly” is the keyword, but even there isn’t a sharp decrease, keeping the cap limit the same, or raising it by less than pre-coronavirus projections will still mean tight spending for most NHL teams including the Ducks.
With three restricted free agents and the uncertainty of whether coronavirus will return over the next few years, it would be wise for the Ducks not to overspend, especially when they are not near the Stanley Cup Playoff bubble yet.
Meanwhile, players who are facing the same uncertainty will likely try to earn as much as possible,
What That Means for Re-Signing Grant
If Grant wants a significant raise or longer than two seasons on his new contract, Murray should say no thanks. His former linemates Deslauriers and Rowney will make $1 million and $1.13 million next season, respectively. Grant is probably looking at between $1.5-$2 million per season. If the contract term is shorter, perhaps a year, maybe the Ducks could offer closer to $2 million, or they might agree to multiple years and offer closer to the bottom end. If he wants more, that’s too much.
The Ducks and Grant have made an excellent combination. His two previous stints in Anaheim he proved that he is a capable, full-time NHL player who endeared himself to the fan base. The Ducks could use a player of his popularity and bottom-six scoring punch if he still comes cheap. However, given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and now the salary cap if Grant’s demands are high, the Ducks should move on.
All contract info courtesy of capfriendly.com
Anthony Ciardelli grew up in Vermont and New Hampshire but now lives in Los Angeles. Though he was raised a Bruins fan, he quickly came to enjoy the hockey culture in Southern California and the rivalry between the Kings and Ducks. He covered USC Athletics while pursuing his journalism masters there. He also enjoys doing play-by-play for USC Trojan Hockey.