Nothing gets a hockey fan more riled up than contracts. Whether a player is over-paid, under-valued, or has a cap hit that’s ‘just right”, it’s guaranteed that a fan will have something to say about it, particularly if the general manager (GM) is, shall we say…less liked than others.
The Anaheim Ducks’ surprising success was built off the backs of some standout players, some of whom might be looking for a heftier payday once their contracts expire. For these five Ducks, their performances in the 2021-22 season thus far are evidence that they’re worth more than their current contracts.
Could I watch Trevor Zegras’ lacrosse goal maneuver on loop? Yes. Is that the only reason he’s been a steal on his entry-level contract? No, but it does help.
There’s an argument to be made that Zegras is valued at exactly where he should be; the potential is there and the ceiling is high for what he’ll achieve in the NHL, but no one wants to over-sell the kids. But riddle me this – yes, Zegras has been huge on the ice for the Ducks this season, but his locker room presence is just as valuable. Chemistry is essential for sustaining both short-term and long-term success for NHL teams, and building trust and loyalty on and off the ice begins with the faces in the locker room. Zegras is loud and bright and it’s clear he brings a sense of levity and joy to the Ducks. That, more than anything else, is the most valuable part of his game.
It doesn’t hurt that as a two-way forward, Zegras’ ability to both get under the skin of his opponent while also playing a unique brand of physical-yet-dexterous play makes him a generational talent for the team. He’s mobile and excellent in the transition game, and is capable of both creating, and taking high-quality shots under pressure. The Ducks are getting a lot of bang for their buck with Zegras, whose $925,000 contract expires next season. (from ‘Ducks’ Trevor Zegras stands out in matchup of top rookie of the year candidates,’ OC Register, 01/10/2022) In 37 games for the Ducks this season, Zegras has totaled ten goals and 19 assists for 29 points.
Is it cheating to put both Jamie Drysdale and Zegras in the same list? Probably. But if Ducks fans aren’t excited about their future core being built around these two players, then what else is there to look forward to?
The key for Drysdale is his potential. While defensemen in the NHL typically take longer to develop than forwards, Drysdale has been progressing at an expeditious rate. He has a sense of unshakeable maturity on the ice that’s indispensable in rookies, and his ability to bounce back in the next shift after he makes a mistake on the ice is essential.
The best players for a team are the ones with the right mentality to win, and the quiet confidence to perform night after night, even through losing streaks or point droughts. Drysdale’s proven himself capable of matching the intensity of NHL game-play at only 19 years old, and he’s shown that he has the frame of mind for it too.
His future upsides are in addition to Drysdale’s current on-ice adaptability, skating, and play-making ability in high-pressure situations. Like Zegras, the Ducks will have to shell out for their young talent once their contracts expire, and at $925,000 until 2022-23, Drysdale is looking mighty affordable right now.
In 43 games, Drysdale has three goals and 15 assists for a total of 18 points.
It’s no secret that Ryan Getzlaf’s career is winding down (although I hesitate to call anyone 36 “old”), but with an injection of young, excitable talent, Getzlaf’s had a second-wind for the Ducks this season.
Getzlaf has already solidified his place in franchise history. He is currently the organization’s all-time leader in games played and assists, along with holding the record for most assists in a single season (66) in 2009. He can always be counted upon to produce, but since the 2017-18 season, his numbers have dropped (although they are, comparatively, still very good). He can be counted upon to win faceoffs, block shots, and direct the power play. In just this season, Getzlaf is leading the Ducks in even-strength assists, with 17.
Getzlaf represents the ‘old guard’, the one who remembers how it felt to win the Stanley Cup in 2007, and what it has taken the franchise to climb their way back into Cup-relevancy again in the West. His guidance and veteran presence is more valuable than ever with players like Zegras and Drysdale who are clearly being positioned by the franchise to take over the mantle once Getzlaf hangs up his skates.
A one-year deal worth $3 million isn’t cheap by any standard, but Getzlaf’s pedigree and resume necessitated that the Ducks would bring him back for well over the league minimum for a single season. The question, of course, then becomes; does he sign for a second season at the end of the 2021-22 season when his contract expires?
In 35 games Getzlaf has two goals, 22 assists for a total of 24 points.
Before I break down why Milano is worth more than his current, $1,700,000 cap hit for the Ducks, it goes without saying; he deserved a higher contract the moment he tapped in Zegras’ lacrosse pass. And the hair; he might be worth a couple more bucks for the flow alone.
All jokes aside, Milano’s been revitalized this season. It could be because of Trevor Zegras forcing him to innovate on the fly, or feeling more confident in the newfound success the Ducks have had.
Milano’s had an interesting path to long-term success in the NHL, and he has yet to play an entire season without at least one appearance in the minors, although he has only played one game for the San Diego Gulls this year. Potential can be a tricky word to use when describing an almost 26-year-old who was taken in the first round (16th overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Milano’s been consistently over-valued and under-valued, but his true potential lies in his ability to play the role of support for players like Zegras.
Milano isn’t a flashy player, and he’s probably not going to be a twenty-goal scorer. But he has the third-highest point totals for the team thus far with 25, and that’s due to his ability to be in the right place at the right time for his teammates. For some players, success begins with finding their identity within their team’s system, and it’s clear that among the young talent, Milano’s found his place. And, at only $1,700,000 until the end of this season, the Ducks have gotten away with a cheaper contract. But now that Milano has found his stride, the Ducks might have to offer him a higher contract in order to keep him around.
In 35 games for the Ducks, Milano has nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points.
As if I wasn’t going to talk about the 2021-22 season’s unlikeliest of heroes. Troy Terry may not be the man you pictured being voted into the NHL All-Star weekend, but he definitely deserves the honor.
I’ll confess, I didn’t know much about Terry prior to this season. But with his fast start and continued success, ‘Troy Terry’ is a name people are keeping an eye on. Terry currently leads the Ducks in most of their offensive statistics; power-play goals (six), game-winning goals (five), points (36), shooting percentage (24.4 percent), and even-strength goals (16). He’s played ten games less this season than last, and he’s already tripled his goals, going from seven in 2020-21 to 22 thus far. He’s always found success when he was with the Gulls, but now that he’s firmly entrenched himself in the NHL, he’s finally found his place with the Ducks.
It’s been a cinderella story for Terry, who I can only describe as confident. Like Milano, he’s found his role on the team, and it’s looking more like a ‘main character’ than a side-story. When Terry got off to a hot start, there were questions on the longevity. Looking at the stats sheet, I don’t think we’ll have to worry.
The concern for Terry lies in contract negotiation. His current cap hit is at $1,450,000 until the 2022-23 season. A smart GM won’t overpay a player for one breakout season. If Terry wants to increase his paycheck, he’ll have to prove that this season wasn’t a fluke. But, looking at his on-ice performance and swagger, I have no doubt that he’ll be able to build upon this season’s accomplishments next year.
In 38 games, Terry has 22 goals and 14 assists for a total of 36 points.
Each of these players; Zegras, Drysdale, Getzlaf, Milano, and Terry fulfill an indispensable role on the team, and while each of them is on the Ducks for a discount, the downside is that it won’t last forever. The Ducks are famous for leveraging short-term contracts to their players, and while that can be a good thing during a rebuild, as the Ducks transition out of it, they’ll have to sign a slew of players all at once. And, with how effective each of these players has been thus far, all of them will be worth more than their current contracts when it comes time to negotiate their new terms.
Covers the Anaheim Ducks for The Hockey Writers. Host of This Is Hockey Culture, a Fear The Fin Podcast, and journalist for Fear The Fin. Created Off The Ice, the first and only hockey sports news media show and digital source that covers men’s and women’s professional hockey equally. Former board member and Media Relations Coordinator for The Sports Shot, a popular multimedia platform dedicated to highlighting women’s professional sports in North America, now Women’s Sports Alliance. Created FNews Magazine’s, (an award-winning multimedia arts and culture magazine), first sports section and first sports column, and hosted Out Of Bounds, an Fnews sports podcast.