When the Anaheim Ducks signed free agents Ryan Strome, John Klingberg and Frank Vatrano in the offseason, they proved to the fanbase that the front office was committed to improving. Since their opening-night victory at home over the Seattle Kraken, the product on the ice for the Ducks has not been up to snuff and fans are already calling for Dallas Eakins’ head on a silver platter.
The Ducks have the third-most available cap space in the NHL ($15.6 million), making them an ideal trade candidate for a team looking to offload some expensive talent. Although the deadline is still 125 days away, it’s always fun to kick the can around. Here are three early blockbuster trade targets for the Anaheim Ducks who could help bolster the back end.
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
ANA receives: Erik Karlsson (50% salary retained by SJ), Brandon Cowe
SJ receives: Brayden Tracey, 2023 second-round pick (via BOS), 2024 first-round pick
It was apparent the San Jose Sharks were entering another rebuild when they traded away Brent Burns to the Carolina Hurricanes over the summer. As more trade rumours begin to swirl, it’s becoming clear that getting Erik Karlsson and his hefty contract out the door is the next move.
Anaheim is a good fit for the six-time All-Star defenseman who has spent the last four seasons trying to recapture his glory days in Ottawa to no avail. While Karlsson is not the player he was when he signed his eight-year, $92 million contract back in 2019, his skills in leadership and versatility make him the kind of player every growing team needs.
It’s no doubt the Sharks will be looking to maximize the return on Karlsson as they paid a hefty price to get him. The supply of 2023 first-round draft picks will be short this year, as the draft is shaping up to be one the best in league history.
The Sharks will have to settle for investments even further in the future, no matter where they ship Karlsson. Landing a top prospect in Brayden Tracey may be all they are able to snag, though it should suffice for the time being. Brandon Cowe comes back the other way to ensure the Sharks stay under 50 contracts. This deal frees up space for the Sharks and gives Anaheim a perennial 40-point scorer on defense for the next four seasons.
Mattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators
ANA receives: Mattias Ekholm, 2023 third-round pick (conditional)
NSH receives: John Klingberg
This would be a great return for Ducks general manager, Pat Verbeek on his short-term investment in Klingberg. Whispers of an imminent trade surrounded Mattias Ekholm during last year’s deadline as the Preds blueliner continues to cede minutes to teammate Roman Josi. Players want to play, and make no mistake, Ekholm is a number one left-shooting defenseman on most NHL teams.
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Still in his prime, at just 32 years of age, Ekholm is a tough-as-nails, stay-at-home player, who would bring a combination of grit and skills desperately lacking from the Ducks’ back end. He is also under contract under 2026 at the very cap-friendly price tag of $6.5 million per season.
Klingberg would slide right into the Predators’ lineup as a top pairing on the right side, which fills a hole for them as well. The conditional third-rounder in this deal becomes a second-round pick if Klingberg decides to extend his stay in Nashville.
Alec Martinez, Vegas Golden Knights
VGK receives: Adam Henrique (25% salary retained by ANA), Lukas Dostal
ANA receives: Alec Martinez, 2023 fifth-round pick
In this scenario, the Ducks come to the table with some big money. They re-sign Klingberg with term and bring in Alec Martinez, completely reshaping the way their blue line is structured.
As a left-handed shot, Martinez commands a little bit more on the open market — there just aren’t very many of them available. However, this deal makes sense because it once again fills the needs of both teams.
It’s unlikely Henrique will be brought back by the Ducks once his contract expires at the end of next season, so why not squeeze every drop of value out of him by picking him just before he is ripe. Lukas Dostal gets shipped over as well, improving the ankle-deep pool of goaltending prospects in the Golden Knights’ system.
In Martinez, the Ducks get a top-pairing defenseman who can play physical and stand in long enough for Jamie Drysdale to properly get his feet wet before he slithers away into retirement (Martinez will be 36 when his contract expires at the end of the 2023-24 season). In all, there are still many more options available on defense for the Ducks. Only time will tell which avenues they will choose to explore.
Freelance sports journalist. Contributor for the Anaheim Ducks team at The Hockey Writers.