Trade deadline day represents a major opportunity for general manager Bob Murray to improve his club going into the playoff stretch. His Anaheim Ducks sit third in the Pacific Division, yet are only two points up on the resurgent Calgary Flames.
Murray would surely love to add a major piece in a Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog on deadline day, but the odds of those two moving seem to be getting slimmer thanks to a reportedly exorbitant asking price.
Even so, Murray can still improve his team today. Though Anaheim has hummed along at a nice point-getting pace all season long, they’ve been maddeningly inconsistent in the process. Here are three ways that Murray can sure that up on deadline day:
1. Scoring Winger
Anaheim’s biggest weakness all season long has been in its ability to generate offense outside of its top guns: Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Rickard Rakell, and Corey Perry.
— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) February 27, 2017
Perry has struggled to find the back of the net all season long, only exacerbating that issue. The left side has been of particular concern for the Ducks. Nick Ritchie, once thought of as the big scoring winger of the future for Anaheim just hasn’t panned out into that role.
Patrick Eaves was brought in to help relieve some of that tension, but he’s traditionally been known more as a play driver than a goal-scorer. Plenty of wingers will be available today, including the like of Evander Kane, Anthony Duclair, Radim Vrbata, and Drew Stafford, all of which could help Anaheim on both wings.
2. Backup Goaltender
Jonathan Bernier has been bad this season, continuing a three-year trend of mediocrity. Even with a steady diet of soft matchups, the 28-year old veteran has posted an ugly .901 save percentage through 18 starts. Given the tight nature of the current standings, Anaheim should be giving themselves every advantage to win games in which John Gibson isn’t starting.
Though it’s been reported that Ryan Miller is off the market, it remains to be seen whether Murray can still make a play for him. His .925 save percentage at even strength has been one of the NHL’s better marks, and would give Anaheim the confidence to give Gibson more rest down the stretch in order to keep him fresh down the stretch. Jhonas Enroth has looked good in his short San Diego stint, but his last run in the NHL was far from convincing.
3. Salary Dump
For any deal to work for Anaheim, including one for Miller, a significant chunk of salary would have to be going back the other way. Clayton Stoner and Simon Despres’ presence on the long-term injured reserve list is currently keeping the Ducks cap compliant, a situation that Murray would surely like to get himself out of.
Anaheim’s GM had to jump through a number of hoops just to get all of his restricted free agents back in tow last summer. Factor in the cash he spent on the likes of Antoine Vermette, Jared Boll, and Jonathan Bernier, and you find a club that has had essentially no cap space for a long while now. Only the aforementioned LTIR provision has been able to keep Anaheim afloat.
Stoner presents an intriguing option. Moving his $3.25 million cap hit in any deal would be an easy way to relieve some cap burden, especially since he’ll return from injury in the near future. The 32-year old veteran would add value for any club, as his possession metrics have seen a strong uptick in the last two seasons.
Whatever Murray decides to do on deadline day, it should be apparent to even the most partisan of observers that there would be little value in standing pat. The Ducks clearly have some needs that wouldn’t cost the farm to address, which could go a long way in both helping their playoff chances and their long-term financial flexibility.