When this season finally got underway, many hockey pundits were already looking forward to the off-season, giddy with the prospect of both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry hitting the open market with a chance to define unrestricted free agency under the newest CBA. Two months later, both have re-signed with the Ducks, who locked in $16.9 million in cap space on two players, the second highest such investment in the league, next to Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh.
The Ducks had to do it. Heck, they were happy to do it. It never made a lick of sense to trade either player right away and after a start that has put them back on the path to a Stanley Cup, they couldn’t have justified trading a star before seeing this season out. The return for Perry, while likely rich in futures, wouldn’t make up for the loss of one of the league’s best players. And in a market with many other entertainment options, a trade like that would have only further inspired fans to get out and enjoy the sun, especially after they just lost Justin Schultz for nothing.
Perry’s new $8.6 million cap hit leaves Anaheim with work to do in the coming months to stay within a budget that will keep them from being among the highest spenders in the league. However, they do have some wiggle room.
With $53.4 million invested into next year’s roster – which will play under a decreased $64.3 million salary cap – the Ducks could choose to let pending unrestricted free agents Toni Lydman and Saku Koivu depart, freeing up $6.8 million. An amnesty buyout or two could be used on Sheldon Souray ($3.7 million) and/or Bryan Allen ($3.5 million) to free up further space and make room to perhaps add prospect Hampus Lindholm to what would become a young, dynamic defense. This is to say nothing about the unpredictable future of Teemu Selanne, another UFA this summer. His cap hit for this season is $4.5 million.
The team will explore trading Jonas Hiller ($4.5 million) as well, but with the goalie market so thin and Viktor Fasth still unproven (see: Anders Lindback, Braden Holtby, Semyon Varlamov), that is a safety net worth clinging to. Hiller’s contract is up after next season, anyway, when the salary cap is expected to jump back up with rising revenues. Since there aren’t any other major contracts to be negotiated in the near future – Andrew Cogliano and Daniel Winnik are the biggest after 2014 – staying well under the cap shouldn’t be a major issue. Besides, as the years pass and the salary cap goes up, it will become more manageable to build a roster around two or three players.
Consider this: how many of these eight years will the Ducks be the high-end team they appear to be right now and how many will be spent transitioning to a new roster populated by players in the pipeline like Lindholm, Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell and John Gibson? The Ducks ranked No. 2 overall in THN’s Future Watch 2013 and a few of their prospects are either already on the roster or will be pushing hard for a spot in a year or two. As more of them make it, more cheap entry level contracts will be added to balance the books, but also more uncertainty about how it will all come together, regardless of the outlook today.
As they stand, the Ducks aren’t the deepest team, which is why the best option all along was to play to their strengths and invest in their high-end talent to carry the team forward. Now that Anaheim is winning and looking like one of the NHL’s best, the iron was hot to lock up their big boys. In professional sports, success is a form of currency.
But are they really a top team or are they not quite as they appear? Granted, the Ducks have a fair amount of star power, but it’s all up front with lingering concerns on defense and around consistency in the crease. While the Ducks are a playoff team and a tough squad to deal with, their .727 winning percentage when trailing after one period and .667 percentage when trailing after two screams of a second half decline. And considering they were a bottom-rung lottery team a year ago, you still have to question where they truly sit in the NHL hierarchy.
Anaheim won’t ever regret either deals to Getzlaf and Perry. They locked up for as long as they could a Hart Trophy-winner and a superior big-bodied center with a Team Canada pedigree. Cap ramifications be damned. Problems can be worked around by any GM worth his salt.
The question is, if the pair signed these deals with the idea they were locking themselves in to a year-in, year-out elite contender for eight years, will they regret it as the Ducks work around them and inevitably tap into their strong system to get younger?
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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