The Anaheim Ducks are facing some intricate salary cap gymnastics this summer. With a total of 12 free agents on the active roster, five of them restricted, general manager Bob Murray has his work cut out for him. The restricted free agents present the greatest challenge as they include Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Rickard Rakell, and Frederik Andersen, all of whom are due for significant pay increases.
Outside of Andersen’s uncertain future in Anaheim, the other three represent the true core of the franchise. Yes, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler are still around and are still key contributors, but there’s an impending expiration date to the quality of those contributions. Locking up the youth to long-term deals is imperative, and there’s really no disputing that.
Unfortunately, Murray has saddled himself with some rather unsavory contracts. If he’s truly all-in on the Ducks as a contending team both short-term and long-term, he’ll have to find a way to expel the following deals:
1. Kevin Bieksa
Trading for a defenseman who’s best days are clearly behind him is one thing. To re-sign him to a two-year deal worth $8 million with a no-movement clause, is absolutely indefensible. Bieksa’s $4 million cap hit is considerable for a team like the Ducks that refuses to spend to the cap. Not only does he eat up valuable cap space, but he’s also bad. He was the Ducks’ worst defenseman by a mile in the playoffs, allowing Nashville forwards easy access to the Anaheim zone, according to data compiled by Sportsnet. Thankfully for Murray, Bieksa’s reputation around the league still appears to be that of a gritty veteran defenseman, something that he absolutely needs to capitalize on.
2. Clayton Stoner
Poor Stoner. He saw his role greatly reduced in a season where he actually improved across the board. His possession rating, once his Achilles heel healed, markedly improved in 2015-16. He became much more patient with the puck, eschewing the chips off the glass that he’d become infamous for. However, his $3.25 million cap hit simply doesn’t match his limited contributions. Though clearly a third pairing defenseman at best, there should be interest for his services from teams looking to add depth on defense.
Murray’s Time To Step Up
Murray had no problem placing a heavy share of the blame on his players for their latest playoff failure. He briefly said that “everyone” needs to be better, but the questionable deals he’s stuck this franchise with haven’t been talked about nearly enough. Even a guy like Jakob Silfverberg, who’s a quality player in his own right, might be overpriced at $3.75 million. And as much as Andrew Cogliano is a fan favorite, do his third line contributions really warrant $3 million a year? That’s all before mentioning the full no-movement clause that was given to Kesler after only one season as a Duck.
None of the these deals are necessarily deathblows, but there’s clearly a trend here. Murray overpays for players whose skill set could be found at better rates. It all adds up, and now the Ducks face the real possibility of not being able to keep their young core together. If Murray truly meant that everyone needs to better, then he’ll find a way to rectify this messy cap situation by shedding Bieksa and Stoner’s contracts. Given how much smarter the league is becoming, don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.
Felix Sicard is the Anaheim Ducks’ Lead Writer for The Hockey Writers. Now in his third season of covering the team, he writes previews and recaps for all Ducks’ home games, as well as weekly analysis pieces.
In addition to covering the Ducks at THW, Felix co-hosts SB Nation’s Anaheim Calling: The Podcast, as well as hosting The Garage Hockey Podcast.
For consistent Ducks’ content, be sure to check out his Twitter @Felix_Sicard.