By Thomas Harrington
The Ducks were unable to protect every player that they wanted to for the expansion draft. Anaheim could leave either Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson exposed, or at least one of Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell. Given Anaheim’s depth on defense, the choice was easy: protect the forwards and leave Manson and Vatanen available. However, Bob Murray did not want to lose either of these two defensemen for nothing. In order to keep both, Shea Theodore was sent to the Golden Knights so they would select Clayton Stoner, instead of Vatanen or Manson. While it’s difficult to lose a player of Theodore’s caliber, this deal is actually a good one for the Ducks.
Stoner has been a solid bottom pairing player for the Ducks, but that’s all he is, fifth or sixth defensemen, and he’s being paid like a top-four player. While he only has one year left on the books, he’ll make $3.25 million this season. With that salary off the books, Murray can use that money for a variety of things. With Stoner gone, that also frees up a roster spot in Anaheim, which will be used by one of Anaheim’s many young defensemen. With so many NHL defensemen on their roster, there simply wasn’t any room for Stoner. By getting Vegas to take him, the Ducks are losing a player that they don’t need right now.
Theodore has been one of Anaheim’s top defensive prospects for the past few years, and it’s unfortunate to lose him. He’s been one of my favorite prospects since he was drafted. He’s going to be a top four defenseman, if not a top pairing player someday. Theodore has an incredibly hard shot, is a fantastic skater, and reads the play well. He made his NHL debut two years ago, and scored three goals and eight points in 19 games and didn’t look out of place. However, his play this past season was a little more up and down. He played in 34 games and scored two goals and nine points, but seemed a little more overmatched on the ice. He’s going to be a great NHL player in the future, but his stumble this past season allowed a couple of other Anaheim prospects to catch up to him, and for one player, even surpass him, on Anaheim’s depth chart.
General Manager Bob Murray issued this statement:
Anaheim’s Blueline Still Has Plenty of Depth
Anaheim’s blueline is an incredibly skilled one, but Manson brings an element of toughness to the backend. He’s played a lot with Hampus Lindholm, and the two have arguably formed Anaheim’s best defensive pair over the last couple of seasons. If the two players can keep developing and forming even better chemistry, they could turn into one of the best defensive pairs in the NHL. Giving up Theodore hurts, but it allows Anaheim to keep a potentially dominant defensive pairing.
Vatanen had a rough season, and most think that he’ll be used in a trade, possibly as early as this weekend at or before the draft. If Vatanen is dealt, it will most likely be for a top six forward, something that will be a huge asset to Anaheim for this season, and hopefully, years to come. However, the Ducks could also decide to keep Vatanen. A top four of Vatanen, Lindholm, Manson, and Cam Fowler led the Ducks to the Western Conference Final this past season so Anaheim could opt to bring them all back. Regardless of what Anaheim decides to do with Vatanen, not letting Vegas take him for free makes sure that he will continue to be a huge asset for the team.
Theodore is going to be a big miss, but Anaheim has the depth on defense to absorb his loss. Right now, Lindholm is signed for five more seasons, and it sounds like Fowler will sign a long-term extension in July. Manson may be not far behind. If those three are signed long term, there are only three other open spots on defense in Anaheim. If Vatanen sticks around, that number goes down to two. Kevin Bieksa isn’t a great defenseman, but he seems pretty set in that sixth position, and Brandon Montour has shown that he also deserves to be in the NHL. With little to no room on Anaheim’s blueline, Theodore became partially expendable, in terms of NHL talent on the Ducks’ defense.
The Montour Revelation
Besides the depth of NHL talent, the Ducks also have a ton of depth on defense throughout their prospect system. Montour was a revelation for the Ducks in the playoffs and showed that he’s ready for primetime. Safe to say that he jumped over Theodore this past season. By dealing Theodore, it shows me how highly the Ducks rate Jacob Larsson. Larsson made his NHL debut this past season but spent most of the year in the SHL. He’ll be in North America this season, and he’s got a chance to spend most of the season in the NHL, though he’ll probably get some time in San Diego. He’s a lot like Theodore, but without the NHL experience. Besides Montour and Larsson, the Ducks have a number of other defensive prospects in their system. Andy Welinski and Keaton Thompson both had great years for the Gulls, Jaycob Megna made his NHL debut this season, Marcus Pettersson has been developing nicely in Sweden over the last couple of seasons, and Josh Mahura took huge strides in the WHL this past season after missing most of the previous season.
In exposing Manson and Vatanen, the Ducks were able to protect both Silfverberg and Rakell. In terms of offensive contributions, they were two of Anaheim’s best players this past season. Rakell recorded his first 30 goal season and led the team in goals. Silfverberg was part of one of the best checking lines in the league, scored over 20 goals, and was an absolute force during the playoffs, as he led the team with nine postseason goals, tying him for third in the league. Together, these two represent two huge pieces of Anaheim’s future at forward, and the Ducks simply don’t have the offensive depth to offset their loss the way they do with Theodore.
More Cap Space
Finally, by sending Stoner to Vegas, combined with the buyout of Simon Despres, the Ducks just saved themselves a ton of cap space heading into the season. They can use that money to re-sign Patrick Eaves, who had some great chemistry with Ryan Getzlaf before getting injured; that money could be used to bring in another free agent; if the Ducks do trade Vatanen, this will allow the team to bring in a higher priced forward, and not be limited to players who make about the same as Vatanen; or the Ducks could save that cap space to bring in an impact forward at or around the trade deadline. More likely, the Ducks use that cap space to do some combination of these four things. According to capfriendly.com, the Ducks have almost $10 million in cap space, a huge asset for them to utilize this summer and throughout next season.
The Ducks were in a tight spot, and they had to give up something, and Theodore just made the most sense. Given how strong next year’s draft is supposed to be, Anaheim likely didn’t want to give up their 2018 first round pick, and the Ducks don’t have the depth to lose one of their top forward prospects. The Ducks are still set on defense, and now have a ton of cap space to play with going into next season.
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June 21st 2017