When the Anaheim Ducks traded Chris Wagner to the New York Islanders for Jason Chimera on Feb. 26, 2018, many Ducks fans were disappointed to see the forward go. The former fifth-round pick had worked his way to the top, having spent three seasons in the AHL with Norfolk before making it to the NHL.
He had even played top-6 minutes for the Ducks when Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler were both out due to injuries. Wagner’s time with the Ducks was halted by a short stint with the Colorado Avalanche after he was claimed off of waivers, but he was waived again a few months later which brought him back to Orange County.
Bringing in Experience
While Chimera––a grizzled veteran––brought experience, speed and grit to the Ducks, Islanders fans were remiss to see him leave and more than happy to see Wagner come in as essentially a younger replacement.
The Ducks wanted to win now, so it made sense to bring in a player with Chimera’s playoff experience—he had appeared in the playoffs eight times in his career before being traded to Anaheim—and ship out Wagner who had been in and out of the lineup that season.
What didn’t make sense, however, was bringing in forward Chris Kelly the day before, who was fresh off playing in the Winter Olympics for Team Canada. Kelly hadn’t played in the NHL since the 2016-17 season, which is why he was eligible to play for Team Canada.
Bringing in the former Boston Bruin was a puzzling move by general manager Bob Murray as the Ducks already had depth forwards in J.T. Brown, Antoine Vermette and Logan Shaw—even before trading Wagner.
Impact of the Trade
Neither team fared very well from this deal as Wagner was shifted to almost exclusively a defensive role on the fourth line, sporting a defensive zone start percentage (dZS%) of 71.9.
Because of his role with the Islanders, it was difficult for Wagner to get anything going offensively as his line spent most of their ice time chasing the puck. He managed one goal in 15 games and his Corsi for (CF%) percentage at even strength was an abysmal 38.8%.
Chimera wasn’t much better for the Ducks, sporting a 40.0 CF% even though his offensive zone start percentage (oZS%) was 57.9. He had two points in 16 regular-season games, averaging just under seven minutes of ice time per game.
Chimera’s playoff experience wasn’t a factor either as he appeared in only two games, averaging barely seven minutes of ice time with a CF% of 36.4, as Anaheim was swept by the San Jose Sharks in the first round.
Kelly put up two points in 12 games and didn’t appear in any playoff games for the Ducks, with his regular-season CF% hovering around 40%. He retired following the 2017-18 season and served as the Ottawa Senators’ development coach in 2018-19 before returning to Boston this season as a player development coordinator.
Fallout of the Trade
Wagner’s time in New York didn’t last long as he became an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2017-18 season and was not re-signed. He made his way back to his home state of Massachusetts, signing a two-year deal with the Boston Bruins.
The move was a perfect fit for Wagner, as he was playing for a championship contender who consistently had players that like to throw their body around.
Wagner still played a primarily defensive role but his CF% numbers were significantly better. Playing alongside a rotating cast of linemates on the fourth line, he set a career-high in points in 2018-19 and appeared in 12 playoff games as the Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup Final, where they fell to the St. Louis Blues.
Chimera also hit unrestricted free agency at the end of the 2017-18 season and has not played for a team since. It’s safe that to say that Chimera is unlikely to return to the NHL any time soon and all that’s left is an official retirement announcement.
In the summer of 2018, the Ducks signed a handful of depth forwards in Carter Rowney, Ben Street, Brian Gibbons and Anton Rödin. While Rödin eventually returned to Switzerland to play for HC Davos before the NHL season began, the remaining trio provided adequate depth.
Gibbons and Street have since moved on but this upcoming season, Rowney will be entering the final year of his deal. After setting a career-high in points (20) in 2018-19, Rowney would have set it again this season if the season hadn’t been suspended due to COVID-19. The former Pittsburgh Penguin is relentless on the forecheck and has been one of Anaheim’s most durable players over the past couple of seasons.
Derek Grant, who joined Anaheim in 2017, started the 2018-19 season with Pittsburgh but was re-acquired in January 2019 and continued the season he had with Anaheim the year before. Another seldom-known forward that the Ducks picked up in free agency, Grant became a fan favorite on social media as “Elite 1C” on his way to a career-high 24 points during the 2017-18 season. He was traded this season at the deadline to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Finally Finding a Solution?
The Ducks have been near the bottom half of the NHL standings since being swept by San Jose in 2017. While the bottom-6 is usually an easy way to integrate younger players into the lineup, Anaheim’s young crop hasn’t quite adjusted as quickly as some envisioned. That’s led to players like Grant and Rowney being signed to fill out the backend.
Grinder Nicolas Deslauriers was acquired last summer for a fourth-round pick to give the fourth line some more size and grit. He became a surprise performer for the Ducks and was rewarded with a two-year extension in February. He even had his first hat trick right before the season was suspended.
While it’s unknown if Wagner would have returned to Anaheim had he not been traded to New York, Anaheim has been searching for a player to fill his role since he left. He is versatile, able to play both down the middle and on the wing.
The Ducks have some of that versatility in Rowney and David Backes, who was acquired this season at the trade deadline, but it could be argued that Wagner would be a younger version of Rowney and a much cheaper option than Backes.
The Ducks are not as physical as they used to be, with none of their players reaching 200 hits in the past two seasons. Only Rowney has more than 150 hits this season.
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Having a player like Wagner—who was second on the team in hits (212) when he was traded—as part of a physical fourth line could have had more of an impact the past couple of seasons than bringing in players like Street, Kelly and Gibbons did. Physicality, especially in the playoffs, can be a deciding factor.
The Ducks have found some of that in Deslauriers, but keeping Wagner in the fold likely would have helped as well. Anaheim will be left to rue their mistakes once again as they continue to search for a replacement for yet another player that they previously had.