Now that hockey is back, most of our eyes are on Edmonton and Toronto, but the Anaheim Ducks have continued to make news in the offseason. That news includes signing another restricted free agent defenseman and trying to find a way to get back on the ice sooner, along with the other teams not involved in the NHL’s return to play.
Jacob Larsson Signs an Extension
The Ducks locked up their final restricted free agent (RFA) Thursday, signing Jacob Larsson to a 2-year $2.4 million contract extension. Larsson is the third significant Ducks RFA to sign this offseason, after Troy Terry and Sonny Milano.
Larsson has seemingly been winning a battle for head coach Dallas Eakins’ favor and consistent playing time on the Ducks’ blue line. He played 60 games in 2019-20, twice the amount fellow defenseman Brendan Guhle and 49 more games than Josh Mahura.
During last season, Guhle and Mahura were Larsson’s main competitors to fill out the bottom of the Ducks’ defensive corps. Heading into 2020-21, Larsson has perhaps the best opportunity among all of them to cement himself as a full-time NHLer. The battle for the Ducks’ final defensive spot is surprisingly crowded though not that deep in terms of talent.
Assuming Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Cam Fowler, Erik Gudbranson and Christian Djoos occupy five spots, that leaves Jani Hakanpaa, Kodie Curran, Mahura, Guhle and Larsson as favorites to snag the sixth defensive spot. That is assuming Michael Del Zotto and Matt Irwin do not re-sign with the Ducks and AHLers like Simon Benoit, Hunter Drew and Joel Persson don’t open eyes.
It’s Larsson’s job to lose, but he will have a lot of competition.
Bob Murray Proposes Extended Training Camp
The Ducks and the other six teams that did not qualify for the NHL’s return to play have proposed an extended training camp heading into the 2020-21 season. After what could be nearly eight months off the ice, the seven idle teams hope to add two weeks of training camp before the proposed Nov. 17 start of training camp league-wide.
According to the Orange County Register’s Elliot Teaford, Ducks general manager Bob Murray headed the effort for the extended training camp. Murray submitted the proposal to the NHL, which is currently under consideration.
Murray told the media he used the experience he gained after the 2004-05 lockout.
“That experience is valuable right now because you know certain types of players are going to struggle going forward unless you do something,” Murray said in June. “There’s opportunity for younger players, but the veterans have to understand. That proof was in the pudding back in’ 05-06, because we didn’t quite know everybody, but some guys struggled big time.”(from ‘Ducks, Kings, other idled teams ask NHL to extend fall training camps’ The Orange County Register, 8/5/2020).
Last season, the Ducks hosted a rookie tournament at Great Park Ice in Irvine, Calif. that also featured young players from the Arizona Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks organizations.
It seems unlikely that teams will host rookie tournaments before the 2020-21 season, so the extended training camps will be that much more valuable.
Dostal to Start Season in Finland
Lukas Dostal is the Ducks’ best goalie prospect and one of their more valuable prospects overall. Contrary to what Ducks assistant general manager Martin Madden appeared to say last month, it seems Dostal will continue to play in Finland, instead of playing with the San Diego Gulls – at least for the time being.
It’s only speculation, but that might have to do with the COVID-19 situation in Europe.
Finland, specifically, has some of the lowest infection numbers to date among European countries. Though that can change in a matter of days, maybe the Ducks are thinking Dostal can get more ice time by playing in Liiga, which is supposed to start Oct. 1. Meanwhile, the Ducks will not return to the ice until possibly mid-November, the Gulls may not return until after that.
What’s Next For the Ducks?
As the Ducks offseason continues, they will need to address their remaining free agents. Namely, will they re-sign Michael Del Zotto and Matt Irwin and will Ryan Miller retire.
The answer for both is probably no. After parts of two seasons with the Ducks, it would benefit them to give Larsson, Mahura or Guhle a consistent roster spot, rather than saving one for an older journeyman.
The Ducks also have to solidify their draft board. Now that the order is set and the draft is tentatively just two months away, they should have a final idea of who they are going to select with their first pick.