When Derek Grant was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline, it left a hole in the middle of the Anaheim Ducks’ fourth line between Nicolas Deslauriers and Carter Rowney. Rowney is capable of playing center, as he has in the past, but he’s best utilized as a winger.
Enter David Backes, who had been acquired by the Ducks from the Boston Bruins just a few days earlier in a trade that saw Ondrej Kase head east.
The Ducks have recently committed to keeping Backes and his $6 million cap hit ($1.5 million of it is being retained by Boston) and they expect him to be a regular in the lineup during the 2020-21 season, which could be Backes’ last. However, this essentially ensures that no player is likely to make an appearance on the fourth line beside the trio of Deslauriers, Backes and Rowney, barring injury, of course.
What does that mean for someone like Kiefer Sherwood, who played in 55 games as a rookie in 2018-19 but only played in 10 games during the 2019-20 season? Sherwood is currently a restricted free agent and it has been quiet on all fronts between Sherwood and the Ducks, even though Anaheim has taken care of other RFAs like Jacob Larsson and Christian Djoos.
As it stands, the Ducks currently have enough NHL-caliber forwards to fill out an entire lineup without Sherwood. That’s without taking into account players like Maxime Comtois, Isac Lundeström and Trevor Zegras as well. Sherwood is no stranger to immense competition, having surprised many in 2018 by making the NHL roster out of training camp. The former Miami RedHawk posted 12 points during the 2018-19 season and his strong work ethic and relentlessness on the forecheck is reminiscent of the style of play that late-2000s Ducks teams employed.
While offense is by no means Sherwood’s forte, the winger did take a step back at the NHL level during the 2019-20 season, registering only one assist and zero goals during his short stint in Anaheim. While some of the blame can be attributed to the Ducks’ team-wide level of play deteriorating for a second consecutive season, it’s possible that Sherwood also regressed to the mean after performing above expectations during his rookie season.
Financial constraints due to COVID-19 are impacting sports teams around the world and the Ducks are no different. They currently have just under $500,000 in cap space, but that should rise to just over $7 million once Ryan Kesler is placed on LTIR.
The Ducks have already locked up their most important RFAs this offseason in Brendan Guhle, Troy Terry and Sonny Milano along with Larsson and Djoos. Once they have freed up more cap space, it’s possible that they’ll re-visit discussions with Sherwood and their other RFAs in Chase De Leo, Alex Dostie, Joel Persson and Deven Sideroff. They also still need to address their backup goalie situation with Ryan Miller currently an unrestricted free agent.
Experience Over Youth
The decision to involve Backes makes sense. No team likely wants to pick up his salary without some added incentive, something the Ducks probably don’t want to do given that Backes’s contract expires a year from now. They might as well play him as long as he’s healthy. Eight months off will have given the 36-year-old plenty of time to rest and recover.
It doesn’t hurt to have another veteran leader in the locker room, either, especially when general manager Bob Murray has cited a lack of leadership on the team (from ‘‘Enough’ – Ducks GM Bob Murray demands better from Dallas Eakins and players’, The Athletic, 06/03/20). A player who possesses as much experience as Backes is even more valuable.
While Backes is far from his Selke candidate days, the former Blues captain is still a force on faceoffs and chipped in three points in six games with the Ducks after being acquired.
When it comes down to it, deciding between playing Backes and Sherwood in a limited fourth-line role probably isn’t a hard decision for Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins. He knows what he’s going to get from Backes and while Sherwood is the younger (and quicker) option, a combination of Deslauriers, Backes and Rowney is likely to be what Ducks fans see on the fourth line during this upcoming season.