Ducks Send Montour off the Pond

Just a couple of days ago, I posited that the Anaheim Ducks might not make any more significant moves before the NHL Trade Deadline. Boy was I wrong! Big time! Ducks general manager Bob Murray made a big splash by sending defenseman Brandon Montour to the Buffalo Sabres in return for a conditional first-round draft pick and defense prospect Brendan Guhle.

The trade’s ultimate success rests on what the Ducks do with the draft pick they received and how Guhle develops. For now, it’s easier to evaluate what the Ducks gained and lost to form an opinion on the trade.

Ducks’ Struggling Offense Takes a Short-Term Hit

As just about everyone knows, it’s been a rough season on offense for the Ducks. They are still rank last in the league in goals scored, 29th in Corsi for percentage (CF%) and have the league’s 27th-ranked power play. Losing a puck-moving defenseman who led the team’s blueliners in scoring and power-play ice time is a big blow.

In trading Montour, Murray lost a player who can provide a spark for the offense by joining the rush and distributing the puck in the offensive zone.

Anaheim Ducks defenseman Brandon Montour
Brandon Montour, the Ducks’ highest-scoring defenseman is now a member of the Buffalo Sabres. (Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports)

In addition, the Ducks lost one of their power-play quarterbacks from an already-struggling power play. Montour’s point shot, playmaking ability and swift skating style should’ve been an asset for Anaheim’s power play. Unfortunately, he wasn’t helping very much. Montour only had three points on the power play, all secondary assists, this season.

However, one could argue that it wasn’t Montour’s fault that the power play wasn’t scoring. The team’s overall inability to generate shots, maintain puck possession and, most importantly, score goals on the power play doesn’t fall entirely on Montour.

Alternatively, playing on a team that scores a lot, especially on the power play, buoys the individual stats of all of the players on it. How does the saying go? “A rising tide lifts all boats.” If the Ducks were a boat, it would have so many holes; it would be at the bottom of the ocean. The only thing a rising tide would do is put more water between it and the surface. The point is that you can’t blame Montour’s ineffectiveness on the power play entirely on him.

Montour Hasn’t Reached His Peak

Considering he’s still only in his second full season in the NHL, Montour likely hasn’t reached his ceiling, yet. Defenseman can take longer to develop than forwards, and in spite of his poor power-play performance this season, he’s still on-pace to best his career high in points.

Montour’s contract, which he signed in July, is a steal for the type of production he’s already achieved. His offensive production is in the same ballpark as Aaron Ekblad, but Montour’s cap hit is over $4 million cheaper. Word is that Charlie McAvoy is seeking a similar contract to Ekblad and Montour has a healthier track record and has produced more.

Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
Though Montour isn’t as complete of a player as Aaron Ekblad, they have comparable offensive numbers. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Luckily for the Murray and the Ducks, the fewer goals they score, the more likely they are to sink in the NHL standings and increase their chances in the draft lottery.

What The Ducks Gained

The Ducks made out well in this trade. Fans who wanted the team to sell were hoping they would stock up on assets and that process has begun. In return for Montour, the Ducks received a conditional first-round draft pick and defense prospect Guhle.

The conditions of the first-round draft pick are slightly complicated. Buffalo received two first-round picks for trading Evander Kane to the San Jose Sharks and Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues in 2018. Buffalo traded one of those two picks to the Ducks, but Anaheim has some choice in which one they actually receive.

The Ducks will get the pick the Sharks sent to Buffalo unless the one Buffalo received from St. Louis ends up between No. 20 and No. 31 overall. Now, unless the Ducks use one of those picks in another trade, they will have two first-round picks at the draft. Barring some sort of disaster, the Ducks’ own pick will likely be in the lottery, in addition to the one they received for trading Montour.

Having two first-round picks might provide the Ducks some lottery insurance. If they don’t get a positive result in the lottery and end up with a later pick, Murray could trade up in the draft using those two picks.

Bob Murray
Now armed with two first-round picks, Bob Murray could trade up in the draft. (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Who would do that, you ask, considering the potential at the top of this draft? The Edmonton Oilers might. They already have $21 million tied up in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and have been criticized for lacking depth.

If the Oilers moved into the top three of the lottery, they would eventually have to worry about tying up a lot of cap space up in another single player. If they traded with the Ducks and procured two later first-round picks rather than one higher one, the Oilers could potentially spread their cap expenditure over two players rather than one.

A Montour for a Guhle

In Guhle, the Ducks received a player with a better potential all-around game than Montour if he pans out. Guhle is bigger, more physical and is responsible in the defensive zone. He is also a talented skater and has offensive skills and poise like Montour.

Brendan Guhle Sabres
Brendan Guhle is younger and cheaper than Montour, but has a lot of potential. (Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports)

Even though Montour had an affordable contract relative to his production, the Ducks don’t have to pay it anymore. That’s $3.38 million of relief from the salary cap that the Ducks badly needed, especially with Jakob Silfverberg allegedly due to earn more than $5 million over the next five years.

On top of that, the Murray no longer has to worry about the next contract Montour is likely to earn after next season. Guhle, on the other hand, has a cap hit of just under $700,000 over that same period. If Guhle continues to develop — he’s almost three years younger than Montour — the Ducks will surely be happy with this trade in the future.

In the immediate aftermath of this move, it feels like a good one for Anaheim. The Ducks accumulated assets, offloaded salary and helped the “tanking” effort simultaneously by decreasing their offensive potency. Yes, Montour is a talented offensive defenseman, but he was wasted on the Ducks in their current state.

All Stats from and