In spite of fans’ best hopes and a rose color outlook at the start of the season, the Anaheim Ducks have returned to the bottom of the NHL standings. As of Saturday, they sit seven points out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. They are tied for dead last with the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. The Ducks are firmly back in the selling position now that we are approaching trade deadline season.
Unlike last season though, the Ducks don’t have many high-value assets ripe for a trade. Anyone could be traded — Wayne Gretzky was, twice — but the degree of difficulty increases the longer the player is under contract and the better they are. With that in mind, here are three players whose respective trades could net the Ducks some building blocks.
No Team Wants to Spend Years Rebuilding
Many use the Boston Bruins as an example of how a team can successfully retool or rebuild on the fly. (from ‘How Rangers messed up their rebuild long before their teardown,’ New York Post, 03/27/2019).
The Bruins missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16 — albeit by the skin of their teeth both years — after a streak of sustained success. Rather than fire-sale their Stanley Cup-winning core of players (they did trade some significant pieces around the draft to acquire more draft capital), they used the draft to improve their team and became Stanley Cup contenders again in 2017-18.
Comparing the Bruins and Ducks isn’t apples to apples, because the Bruins core contained players who had won a Stanley Cup and were still in their prime while Anaheim’s only holdover from 2006-07 is Ryan Getzlaf. Nevertheless, general manager Bob Murray has indicated that he hopes this is a retool, not a full-on rebuild.
This Won’t Be a Tank Job
Murray is right to aim for that goal. No team wants to spend half-a-decade rebuilding, but sometimes bad contracts make it inevitable. The Ducks have some pieces that might net a substantial return, but they are under contract for a while and are important for the team if they want to get back into the playoffs by next season.
If the Ducks traded Jakob Silfverberg, Adam Henrique, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson or Cam Fowler it would signal the start of a major tank job. These players are still in their primes and are precisely the type of veteran presences that can help show the next generation of Ducks how to be pros.
They contribute offensively, defensively and in the locker room, and they will be vital for Anaheim’s return to success. Although they could theoretically be traded, if you were Murray, why would you deal them? If you think I’m going to mention Getzlaf next, don’t worry, I wouldn’t dare.
The Ducks don’t have any players like the Devils had Taylor Hall this season or the Senators had Matt Duchene last season, who are extremely valuable to other teams and are better off being traded for assets rather than kept. They do, however, have role players and depth players the other teams might covet.
Elite 1C Has Earned Himself Some Trade Value
Derek Grant has become a fan favorite in his return to Anaheim and Ducks’ Twitter has dubbed him “Elite 1C” for his unexpected offensive contributions. Although Grant is currently out of the lineup, he’s proven to be a consistent contributor before and will be back by late January or early February. That’s just in time to prove himself again before the trade deadline rolls around.
The attributes that have endeared him to Ducks fans also would also make Grant an attractive depth target for a contending team. Anaheim has kept him in the NHL and given him regular playing time. With that, Grant has shown his versatility playing on the penalty kill and the power play. He’s demonstrated an ability to provide regular depth scoring on a less than potent offensive team.
Though it feels cruel to send Grant to his seventh NHL team in seven seasons after the success he’s found in Anaheim, he’d be a smart addition for a contending team with a need to add depth at a low price and a short commitment.
If another team rings Murray’s phone and inquiries about Grant, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for the Ducks to trade him. I’m guessing they would receive a mid-round draft pick or a mid-range prospect for the 29-year-old center.
Is It Finally Nick Ritchie’s Time to Leave?
At this point, it’s probably getting to be a tired act. I’ve been hypothetically trading Nick Ritchie since August, and now that he’s injured for the next six to 10 weeks with a sprained MCL, it’s probably unlikely. Before the injury, Ritchie’s play hadn’t inspired much confidence that he was finally turning the page to becoming the offensive threat everyone expected.
His trade value likely isn’t very high anymore, but he is relatively cheap in terms of contract cap hit and length. Ritchie is still only 24, and although he is what he is at this point, maybe a contending team would be willing to give up a future asset for Ritchie.
The Ryan Miller Backup Plan?
Ryan Miller might be one of the most valuable trade chip the Ducks have at this point, but there are a couple of factors that make it less likely he’ll be traded. His new one-year contract has the same modified no-trade clause his old contract had. Miller would submit a list of six teams to which he’d be willing to be dealt.
That makes it much harder to trade the 39-year-old goalie. He’s also spoken about his motivation to stay close to his young family, so playing in a new city would be difficult for him.
Nevertheless, he was included in trade rumors involving the San Jose Sharks last season, and the fact that he’s never advanced past the Conference Final might motivate him to take a final stab at a Stanley Cup with a contending team.
Miller has been a backup since he arrived in Anaheim in 2017-18, and he’s had good numbers until this season, where his goals-against average has dropped to 3.02, and his save percentage to .904. That is his career worst-save percentage and his second-worst goals-against average. However, if Miller is cooperative in trade talks and a contending team is looking for a decent insurance policy, maybe he would agree to be traded.
Last year’s rumors involving Miller had him going to San Jose for a third-round pick. Though his play has dropped, maybe the Ducks could still get a mid to late rounder for him.
Daniel Sprong is probably the most interesting name here. The Ducks called up Sprong and he made his debut Sunday after the team suffered more injury problems last week. Before that, he was buried in the American Hockey League.
He has a powerful shot and excellent skating ability but is still a defensive liability. If the Ducks choose to send him back down to the San Diego Gulls, Sprong would have to clear waivers, so this may be his last chance in Anaheim.
Perhaps Sprong will play well and demonstrate some trade value; if Anaheim does feel they need to move on from him, they can try to trade him rather than move him back down and risk losing him for nothing.
How much could you get for Sprong? Probably not much. Like I mentioned above, if a team like the Ducks, who struggle to score, didn’t feel he was valuable enough to keep on the roster until they faced major injury issues, why would a contending team.
Maybe Sprong is a candidate to go to a horrible team, like Detroit, for a final chance at NHL success.
Kiss Kase Goodbye?
I thought Ondrej Kase would be the X-factor for this season – he hasn’t been so far. The fact that he was included in the proposed trade to the Carolina Hurricanes for Justin Faulk means that GMBM probably doesn’t think so either. However, that also means that there are teams (like the Hurricanes) that covet Kase.
Kase’s skillset and willingness to play a physical game make him an attractive target for a team looking to deepen their stash of offensive weapons. The fact that he is under contract for this season and next may make him even more enticing for trade. If a team thinks Kase would break out offensively on a more talented offensive team, an organization might be willing to overpay the Ducks for him. Perhaps he could be had for a second or third-round pick.
While this might seem repetitive and reading the words “mid-round draft pick” is probably getting old, that’s where the Ducks are. The players that are most ripe for a trade are also not that dynamic; it’s part of the reason why the Ducks are where they are. It’s not like they have a Taylor Hall or a Matt Duchene type languishing on a lousy team that they can get a haul for, but who knows, maybe Murray has a surprise for us all in 2020.