Because of how much they’ve exceeded expectations this season, the Anaheim Ducks find themselves in a precarious situation for their veteran players on expiring contracts, most notably the trio of Rickard Rakell, Josh Manson, and Hampus Lindholm.
The Ducks are currently tied for second in the Pacific Division, but the teams below them all have plenty of games in hand. The Los Angeles Kings, who are tied for second alongside the Ducks, are surging amidst a four-game winning streak and the San Jose Sharks—though they’ve lost their last two games—aren’t far behind.
Both the fifth-placed Calgary Flames and sixth-placed Edmonton Oilers are struggling mightily as of late, but it can’t be questioned how strong both of their offenses are, and they could flip the switch at any moment.
Lindholm No. 1 Priority?
Lindholm is without question the Ducks’ most important defenseman when it comes to shutting down the opposition. He eats a large chunk of minutes and has been relied on repeatedly to shut down the other team’s top offensive talents. He’s likely to get a big, long-term deal this offseason, whether that’s with the Ducks or another team.
Though the Ducks may be hesitant to hand Lindholm a high annual-average value (AAV) deal, they don’t have a player currently in their system who is capable of replacing him—a left-handed defenseman who can eat big and important minutes—right away.
Simon Benoit is still relatively raw and inexperienced at the NHL level. At the same time, Josh Mahura is injured and hasn’t yet shown the level of ability needed to be an everyday NHL defenseman either. Jacob Larsson and Brendan Guhle aren’t the answer, and Olen Zellweger and Tyson Hinds are still relatively raw and aren’t close to reaching the NHL level.
Anaheim will have a difficult decision to make when deciding whether they will retain Lindholm. Their willingness to kick the tires on a potential deal for the Arizona Coyotes’ Jacob Chychrun represents an alternative option. He’s four years younger than Lindholm and on a much cheaper deal ($4.5 million AAV) than Lindholm will be. However, whether his acquisition cost would be less than or equal to Lindholm’s next contract is up for debate.
Keep or Sell Rakell?
Offense drives the league. Whether you agree or disagree with that sentiment, you have to score goals to win games. Though Rakell is far from the 30-goal scorer of several seasons ago, he still represents a dangerous offensive option whenever he’s on the ice, and his combination play with Trevor Zegras has benefited both of them.
In recent games, the pair have played alongside Max Comtois, and the trio has provided an offensive spark. Given how team-friendly Rakell’s current deal is, it would take a whole lot for the Ducks to ship him out, especially with their current spot in the standings.
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When it comes to retaining Rakell beyond this season, the Ducks do have options in their system to replace him, although those options are still a bit raw. Brayden Tracey and Jacob Perreault made their NHL debuts at the beginning of the month but still likely need a little more time in the minors before transitioning to the NHL on a full-time basis.
What to Do with Manson?
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Manson has been a diamond in the rough for the Ducks. The defenseman debuted during the 2014-15 season and quickly established himself as a reliable player on the blue line for the Ducks. A career year during the 2017-18 season had fans convinced that Manson could offer more offensively, but he hasn’t come close to the 37 points he accumulated since then.
Manson plays a hard, physical game and can always be relied on to dish out a hit or two. But it’s clear some of that physicality has taken a toll on the 30-year old’s body. After missing a majority of last season due to injuries, it’s clear that Manson has lost a bit of foot speed and, as a result, is more prone to taking penalties or getting caught out after an ill-advised pinch.
There’s no question that his veteran leadership and experience are still valuable inside the locker room, but it’s uncertain whether those qualities are worth keeping beyond this season. Manson also has a modified no-trade clause, which means he can create a list of 12 teams that he can not (or does not want to) be traded to.
Other Pending UFAs
As of now, captain Ryan Getzlaf will be an unrestricted free agent once again this summer, but his contract holds a full no-movement clause. Getzlaf might be eyeing a move to a playoff contender in other circumstances. But with the Ducks currently vying for one of their own right now, Getzlaf is most likely staying put.
Also currently set to hit the open market this summer are Nic Deslauriers and Sam Carrick. Both constant fixtures on the Ducks’ fourth line, the pair bring brawn and tenacity to the team. The acquisition of Deslauriers from the Montreal Canadiens during the summer of 2019 raised several eyebrows at the time. Still, the Québécois has maintained a spot in the lineup ever since he first donned the webbed-foot “D.”
Carrick has been in the Ducks’ organization since 2017, but this season was the first that he’s been able to get consistent playing time with the Ducks. He’s proven himself to be a versatile player, moving up and down the lineup, and he’s never been afraid to drop the gloves in defense of a teammate or to get the team going.
Forwards Buddy Robinson and Vinni Lettieri will also be unrestricted free agents this offseason but figure to be retained as depth.
The Ducks find themselves in the midst of a continuing rut, having lost three games in a row and five out of seven games since the turn of the new year. Though they currently hold a playoff spot, they’re also only just about past the season’s midway point.
Much can change, especially once the trade deadline has come and gone and teams have bolstered their rosters ahead of the stretch run of the regular season. What the Ducks decide to do at the deadline will undoubtedly impact where they are at the end of the season.