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John Klingberg is Betting on Himself. Will it Pay Off?

After signing a one-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks, John Klingberg is hoping to earn much more next summer. But will he be able to?
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"We were looking for long-term. That's no secret"

John Klingberg admitted the obvious on Monday while speaking to reporters for the first time as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. 

The 29-year-old had entered the offseason in mid-July as arguably the best defender available, a bonafide top-four blueliner with elite offensive ability at his position who also find himself smack-dab in the middle of his prime. 

Free agents of Klingberg's caliber typically command monster deals on the open market, defensive deficiencies be damned. 

Yet as Day 1 of free agent frenzy came to a close, which featured a record-breaking salary sum handed to available players, Klingberg remained unsigned. Day two ended the same way. As did day three. And day four. Suddenly, nearly a month had passed and Klingberg was still a man without an employer, forced to watch as players far below his talent level secured the multi-year pacts he was looking for.

What happened? Klingberg will only hint at an answer, but it's easy to read between the lines. 

"The market is what it is right now," he explained of his camp's approach. 

"We had to switch up the tactics a little bit and at the end of the day, I realized it's going to be a shorter term deal here moving into the future. There were a few teams where it came down to where I think the number was fair and where the other teams were at, as well."

"Start off with one year and see where things will move on from there. That's kind of the thought process I was going through."

Klingberg didn't just switch up his tactics as cap space dwindled across the league. He changed the person carrying them out, firing his longtime agent Peter Wallen, who had represented Klingberg since he broke into the NHL and also negotiated the seven-year deal he signed with the Stars back in 2015, before latching on with megafirm Newport Sports Management. 

Clearly, Klingberg's camp misjudged the market by a wide margin this summer -- a misstep that even dated back to the middle of the regular season when Klingberg reportedly turned down a multi-year offer from the Stars on the assumption that greener pastures awaited him. 

They didn't. And now he's set to endure the same process all over again next summer. 

That doesn't mean Klingberg can't make the most of his time as a Duck, though. This is still a terrific hockey player we're talking about, a defenseman who can quarterback a power play with the best of them, transition the puck out of his own zone, and inject offense into any blueline he joins.

Not to mention, Klingberg is motivated. Very motivated. A one-year deal represents a gamble on the player's part in any case, but even more so when it comes to Klingberg, who spoke on Monday like a player dead-set on proving those who overlooked him wrong. 

There's a good chance he does that. 

Klingberg is now arguably the best defender on the Ducks' roster at the moment and will almost certainly be treated to a workload that either matches or exceeds his career average of roughly 22 minutes per night. 

With the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk, Cam Fowler, and young phenom Jamie Drysdale all able to play the right side to varying degrees of efficiency, the Ducks have the ability to craft Klingberg's usage in a way that maximizes his talents, feeding him a steady helping of offensive zone starts along with a role as the primary puck-mover on the top power-play unit. 

Offensively, that should give Klingberg the means to rack up numbers that make him catnip in the eyes of the rival GMs as he re-enters the market next summer. 

But money was never an issue, really. Klingberg was always going to rake in the dough from an AAV standpoint, and, despite misjudging the market this year, still ended up becoming the highest-paid blueliner in the Ducks organization. 

What Klingberg really wants, in his own words, is term. And the question now becomes whether a 60-point season or something in that range, will put him in line to finally get it. 

Honestly, probably not. 

For as effective as Klingberg is on the offensive side of the puck, his defensive deficiencies simply cannot be ignored. In fact, Klingberg rates as one of the worst defenders at his position in his own zone, finishing in the bottom-two percentile in even-strength defense last season according to data from TopDown Hockey. His underlying numbers are still positive, at least, with Klingberg posting expected-goal and scoring chance shares of 50.73 percent and 51.99 percent at five-on-five, respectively. But for a player with his workload and offensive production, those results really should be much higher. 

What those totals do, actually, is sum Klingberg up to a tee: A player whose offensive prowess is potent enough to compensate for his defensive lapses -- albeit just barely. 

And then there's the matter of age, which is perhaps the most damning factor working against Klingberg's case for a long-term deal. 

Klingberg will be 31 by the time he's slated to hit the open market in July of 2023, placing him on the wrong end of the average NHL aging curve. It's not impossible for a defender to carve out a late-career resurgence, sure. We've seen them before. But those instances are more exceptions as opposed to the rule. 

If no team was willing to hand Klingberg a seven-year deal this summer, what makes him think they'll do so when he's another year older? 

"I mean, it's probably part of the plan but I'm not going to look too far ahead," said Klingberg on his desire to sign long-term when his current deal expires. 

"Obviously, I want to get a long term at the end of the day. Right now, I'm signing one year with Anaheim and we're going to have to take it from there. I can't focus on what's going to be there in one year. I'm going to need to have a good season and the team is going to need to have a good season as well. I think if the team is successful, I'm going to be successful."

That dedication to the present will serve Klingberg well as he embarks upon the most important season of his career. But the risk remains. And even in the event of a personal-best performance, there's no guarantee that what Klingberg is searching for will be waiting for him on the other side. 

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