How The Anaheim Ducks Are Fighting To Avoid Salary Cap Hell

Anaheim Ducks’ general manager Bob Murray has been a busy man this off-season. One game shy of the Stanley Cup Final, the Ducks had an extremely successful season. However, both the short and long-term implications of that success are keeping the Ducks in the news seemingly every week.

The most notable transaction so far has been the shipping off of the much-maligned James Wisniewski in return for a solid backup goaltender in Anton Khudobin. While losing Wisniewski hurts the Ducks’ defensive depth, it’s hard to imagine that there was a harmonious work environment in place after he was scratched for the entirety of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Also on the cutting board was Emerson Etem, who fetched Carl Hagelin in return, a solid top-nine winger. Etem was never able to prove his worth as a member of the Ducks. His game never seemed to develop outside of his existing offensive strengths, and the coaching staff never seemed to trust him enough to give him consistent ice time. Playing in his native southern California might have hurt him as well. Sometimes a player has to be placed in an uncomfortable  situation to grow and maximize his potential, and judging by his time in Anaheim, maybe Etem just felt too comfortable living so close to home.

Kyle Palmieri was also sent packing on the same day as Wisniewski and Etem to the New Jersey Devils. A prototypical “tweener” between the second and third lines, Palmieri possesses a solid offensive game, just not enough to be a surefire top-six guy. He’ll get that opportunity in New Jersey.

Avoiding Salary Cap Hell

On the surface, these trades might seem a little odd. Wisniewski, Etem, and Palmieri are all guys that can be solid contributors at the NHL level. However, take a quick look at the Ducks’ cap sheet, and the picture becomes much clearer. Murray has to re-sign both Carl Hagelin and Jakob Silfverberg this summer, which shouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish.

Take a look at next summer’s free agents though, and all hell breaks loose. The list of both restricted and unrestricted free agents for the summer of 2016 includes: Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, Simon Despres, Frederik Andersen, John Gibson, Jiri Sekac, Rickard Rakell, and Ryan Kesler. So…Murray has his work cut out for him.

The young nucleus of the team will all be up for new contracts next summer, and Murray simply has to be smart with his money until then. That’s why although re-signing Bieksa through 2018-19 might not sound great, at least it gives him one less thing to worry about while bringing a little veteran stability to the blue line. And at 1.75 million dollars for one year, Shawn Horcoff is a cheap, low-risk addition that doesn’t take away from next summer’s financial stability.

Anaheim is in a difficult situation: while Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are in their primes, management can’t commit much outside of one-year rentals going into the 2015-16 season knowing how much money they’ll need to spend next summer.

Murray can’t even make a dent into that task quite yet either, as there exists a clause that limits how many players a team can extend at once. This doesn’t mean the Ducks will be quiet once the season starts though, as their bevy of young RFA’s could make them a prime player at the table once the trade deadline rolls around. Murray has deftly navigated through the hoops of the cap so far, but the next 12 months will be very, very interesting for the Ducks.