Asked little more than six years ago how Corey Perry’s tenure as an Anaheim Duck would come to an end, there would have likely been a few suggestions, one of the last of which would have been a buyout. But that’s exactly what happened Wednesday, as the Ducks announced the 34-year-old winger has been bought out with two years remaining on his deal.
At the time he put pen to paper on an eight-year, $69-million deal in March 2013, Perry was already an icon with the franchise, a cornerstone that had played a part in the 2007 Stanley Cup victory and proven himself to be a foundational player for the post-lockout Ducks. He was two seasons removed from winning the Hart Trophy, Rocket Richard Trophy and earning a first all-star bid. He was one season removed from his fourth consecutive 25-plus goal season and his third 30-goal campaign in four years. He was in the midst of what became a 15-goal, 36-point output in the lockout-shortened season. That’s a 28-goal, 68-point season across 82 games. And the season after Perry inked that deal, he earned his second career first-team all-star bid with a 43-goal, 82-point season.
Unfortunately for Perry – who ends his time in Anaheim as the franchise leader in games played, second in goals behind Teemu Selanne and third in points behind Selanne and Ryan Getzlaf – his decline since has been steep. After another two 30-goal seasons, he has scored a mere 42 goals and 112 points in his past 184 games. He has fallen from 19-plus minutes per night to 17-plus to just 14-plus last season. Injuries, age and a changing league have caught up to him.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my 44 years in the NHL,” Ducks GM Bob Murray said in a statement. “Corey gave everything to this franchise for 14 years, never giving an inch to his competitors. While his scoring touch is undeniable, his will to win became his greatest attribute.”
Difficult as it may have been, that Perry was bought out isn’t altogether surprising. Speculation about such a buyout has been abound since Anaheim’s season came to a close. The Ducks, of course, explored their options to offload the contract, but with few suitors – at least not many who’d be willing to take Perry without a sizeable sweetener – for a veteran with a cap hit of $8.625 million in each of the next two seasons, Anaheim pulled the trigger.
In doing so, the Ducks have done themselves a favor as far as this season’s cap outlook is concerned. Given his level of production, Perry’s contract was simply untenable for Anaheim. Now, they’ll have an additional $6 million to spend this summer, bringing their overall cap space into the $15-million range depending on where the spending limit is set. Early projections had the limit set at $83 million. Recent reports indicate it could be lower. Either way, the additional financial flexibility can benefit Anaheim, who have a desperate need for scoring, could use at least one depth addition on the blueline and don’t yet have a proven NHL backup under contract.
That’s not to say everything about the buyout is positive for the Ducks. It comes with a considerable spend in the next three seasons. Next season, in particular, the $6.625-million price tag for Perry’s buyout is going to hurt and further limit Anaheim’s spending room. The Ducks will also be saddled with back-to-back seasons with a $2-million cap hit in 2021-22 and 2022-23 before Perry’s buyout comes off the books. But Anaheim has to take the bad with the good. Even next season’s hefty cap hit is still $2 million less than Perry would have been paid to occupy a bottom-six spot.
Beyond the cap implications, though, Perry’s buyout signals a real, honest-to-goodness turning of the page in Anaheim, one which is overdue. The Ducks have been able to delay it as long as possible – and longer than some expected – but the writing on the wall went from fine print to big, bold, neon letters this past season. Anaheim looked out of place on many nights: slow and ineffective offensively, leaky defensively and held together by the outstanding goaltending of John Gibson more often than not.
By moving on from Perry, the Ducks can now go all-in on a youth movement with new bench boss Dallas Eakins at the helm. Troy Terry, Sam Steel and Max Jones seem virtual locks to move up to the NHL alongside their now-former AHL coach. It shouldn’t be too long, either, before the likes of Maxime Comtois, Isac Lundestrom and Brendan Guhle are lineup regulars. Add to it whoever the Ducks select with their pair of first-round picks, and Anaheim isn’t far off from having a quality group of youngsters to surround their older core. In the meantime, Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique will be leaned on up front, while Cam Fowler, John Manson and Hampus Lindholm will be tasked with taking the reins on the blueline. Does the roster, as currently constituted, paint a picture of a team primed to bounce back? Not quite, but growing pains are necessary, of which the decision to buy out Perry was one.
As for Perry, as one chapter closes in Anaheim, another one is undoubtedly set to begin elsewhere. Now a free agent, it’s likely he’ll have his share of suitors. Though his numbers have dropped off significantly, there’s going to be a market for what he brings and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect him to contribute about a dozen or so goals and 30-plus points in the right situation. Yes, he’s coming off of a season in which he skated fourth-line minutes and missed the majority of the campaign with a knee injury, but if Perry is willing to sign at a cut rate, he could be a quality bargain buy.
When the time comes, though, he’ll be back in Anaheim, and quite possibly with his No. 10 being raised to the rafters.
(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)
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