Greetings, and welcome to the latest NHL-team-by-team analysis as we steam toward the beginning of the upcoming regular season. In this new series of files, we’ll ask Three Burning Questions Before the 2022-23 Season, for every franchise in the league.
With that said, let’s get right to it and start alphabetically with the Anaheim Ducks:
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS FOR THE DUCKS IN 2022-23:
1. WIll the veteran infusion push Anaheim into the playoff race? Ducks GM Pat Verbeek had a productive off-season, adding a slew of veteran players – most notably, defensemen John Klingberg and Dmitry Kulikov, and forwards Frank Vatrano and Ryan Strome – and bolstering the overall depth of the team. Kulikov may be on his last legs as an NHL-caliber player, but defensive depth is important for any organization, and the other three veterans all have much to offer, even if, in Klingberg’s case, they’re signed to only a one-season contract. Verbeek’s spending has given them a solid top-six defense corps, and now it’s on the rest of the team to continue to grow.
Don’t get it twisted – Anaheim is still likely to go only as far as their young stars (Troy Terry, Trevor Zegras, Max Comtois, Mason McTavish, Jamie Drysdale) take them, but Verbeek’s foray into the trade and free agent markets has given the Ducks a stronger roster than they had last year. In the relatively weak Pacific Division, that’s likely enough to keep them in the playoff berth race until the end of the regular season.
2. What will the Ducks do with all that salary cap space? Despite Verbeek’s spending spree, Anaheim still has (per CapFriendly.com) more than $16.5 million in cap space. The good news for Ducks fans is that Verbeek is well aware he needn’t spend all of that money simply for the sake of spending it; rather, he can target certain teams that are in cap trouble and squeeze them for high draft picks and prospects during the upcoming season, and make smart additions for the long-term when it’s justified.
This will be Verbeek’s first full season as Ducks GM, but it appears he’s learned lots about working the management side from Wings counterpart Steve Yzerman. Verbeek is fully cognizant of the fact Anaheim isn’t going to be a frontrunner for the Stanley Cup this season, but so long as he continues to make headway with the money Ducks ownership is giving him to play with, Anaheim’s fans should be content with his hiring, and his choices as GM.
3. What is John Gibson’s future? Star goaltender Gibson had his name whispered in trade rumors this summer, and for good reason: the 29-year-old has suffered through the lean years in Anaheim, and with upper-tier goaltending at a premium these days, there well could be many teams prepared to try and bowl over Verbeek with an offer for Gibson’s services.
However, Anaheim’s reticence to retain part of Gibson’s $6.4 million annual salary, and the fact his contract runs for this coming season and four more years afterward, likely scared away teams and/or kept their trade package bids on the weaker side. Gibson also has had a pedestrian past three seasons – unable to get his Save Percentage above .904 in any of the three years, and unable to get his Goals-Against Average below the 3.00 mark in two of the past three seasons – and although some of that can be attributed to the terrible teams he played behind, Gibson also has to take the blame for those numbers.
Depending on the way the Ducks’ season eventually shakes out, there may be another spot on the trade block for Gibson before the league’s trade deadline. A trade would probably still require Verbeek to retain some of his salary, but Gibson himself may want to try his luck with a more playoff-worthy lineup than he’ll get in Anaheim this year. Many variables will ultimately decide Gibson’s future, but for now, he’s got the No. 1 goalie assignment, and his destiny is going to be in his own hands.