Anaheim Ducks Face Crucial Juncture In Franchise History

Anaheim Ducks’ general manager Bob Murray inked center Ryan Kesler to a gargantuan six-year, $41.25 million deal on Wednesday morning. Kesler, 30, will be a member of the Ducks until age 36, a significant long-term commitment by both sides. The Ducks’ second-line center will make an annual average of $6.875 million with a full no-movement clause in the first five years of the deal, per Darren Dreger of TSN.

If there’s anything to be taken away from this mammoth contract, it’s that Ducks’ management is firmly in a win-now mentality, and that Kesler is an integral instrument to that end. And why wouldn’t they be? Coming oh-so close to the Stanley Cup Final last season with a game seven loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Ducks have every reason to believe that they can reach that point again.

Anaheim’s young defensive core is the envy of the NHL, with Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Simon Despres, and Sami Vatanen all 24 years of age or younger. Lindholm, Despres, and Vatanen are all on extremely cap-friendly deals, yet those will terminate next summer as all three will enter restricted free agency. Along with those guys, Anaheim has a solid group of young forwards such as Jakob Silfverberg, Jiri Sekac, Rickard Rakell, and Carl Hagelin to insulate their high-priced stars. Clearly, this team is built to win now, but it can also be good for years to come, given that the core stays together.

This brings us to the grim reality of the salary cap era: keeping good young teams together for extended periods of time is an extremely complicated and difficult process. That’s why the Chicago Blackhawks should be regarded as a dynasty: keeping their stars together all while remaining dominant is outstanding given their annual cap crunch.

Ducks Face Cap Crunch

The Ducks are in for a bite of that crunch. Their entire nucleus of young talent will enter restricted free agency next summer. It’s not out of the question that Murray can keep all of these guys together. Each potential RFA is already a significant NHL contributor though, so keeping everyone in town won’t come cheap.

Murray has shown that he has the chops to be a top-flight general manager in this league, but his biggest challenge is staring him right in the face. All of a sudden, 2015-16 becomes a critical season in Anaheim Ducks’ franchise history. With veterans that are entering the latter part of their primes and young guns that might not be together much longer, the Ducks have no choice but to be in win-now mode. Kesler’s contract is the first domino signalling that approach, which should make for one hell of an entertaining season in Anaheim.