With Sunday’s victory, the Ducks brought themselves within one win of tying up their second-round series against the Oilers. And while the victory was everything Anaheim GM Bob Murray could have hoped for as the series shifted to Edmonton, the play of Jakob Silfverberg highlighted what is set to become a very tricky situation for the Ducks to navigate.
In Game 3, Silfverberg was seemingly everywhere. Less than six minutes into the opening period, he had notched his fifth goal of the post-season to give the Ducks an early 2-0 lead, and after the Oilers fought valiantly to tie the game at three goals apiece, it was Silfverberg who helped deliver the daggers. After Anaheim had scored to go ahead 4-3, Silfverberg notched his second goal of the outing and mere minutes later registered the primary assist on Ryan Kesler’s goal that ensured there wasn’t going to be a second Edmonton comeback. The Ducks skated away with a 6-3 victory, cutting their series deficit in half.
Silfverberg was awarded for his effort. Post-game, he was named the game’s first star, and with good reason. His three points led all skaters and he had made a difference all over the ice. And as Silfverberg shot, scored, assisted and propelled Anaheim to victory, Murray watched from above, surely realizing that an already difficult decision heading into the expansion draft isn’t getting easier as the post-season progresses.
As we’re all aware by now, the expansion draft rules are set to make life difficult for some teams. Each of the league’s 30 GMs will have two options as the Vegas Golden Knights’ selection process begins. The first would allow a team to protect seven skaters, three defenseman and one goaltender. The alternative is the option to protect eight skaters of any position and one goaltender. But there’s a wrinkle. Any player with a no-movement clause must be protected, and it’s because of that rule that Murray has to do some thinking.
Unlike some other clubs, Anaheim has a decent situation with no-movement clauses up front. Forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry all carry the clauses, but none of the three would have been left exposed anyway. On the back end, though, Kevin Bieksa’s no-movement clause could be causing some problems. It’s not a knock against Bieksa, who still has his part to play for the Ducks, but the veteran rearguard could be considered expendable on a blueline that has emerged as one of the deepest in the NHL. Bieksa, 35, still has one season and $4 million remaining on his deal, which is a hefty sum to pay a defender who was a solid fourth or fifth on the depth chart during the regular season. In fact, he only narrowly averaged more ice time than Josh Manson, who was playing in just his second full season.
The issue with Bieksa’s no-movement clause isn’t only that he’s expendable at this point, though. The real problem is that with him carrying the clause, the Ducks stand to lose a talented player — forward or defenseman — for what could be nothing in the expansion draft. Truth be told, other than the Wild, there may not be a team who stands to lose a more talented player than the Ducks. Even then, Minnesota might not be on the same level.
Given the four no-movement clauses, Anaheim automatically has to protect their four veteran players. But there’s also another lock for protection up front in Rickard Rakell. The 23-year-old broke out as a lethal scorer this season, potting 33 goals in the regular season and adding another three goals through seven playoff games. He’ll be locked up, without a doubt. From there, it only makes sense for Anaheim to take the eight-skaters protection approach with the way the roster is currently constructed because Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler are the three top players on the Ducks’ blueline.
But that brings us all the way back to Silfverberg. Right now, the 26-year-old is terrorizing post-season opponents with six goals and eight points in seven games, he set a career-best in the regular season with 23 goals and 49 points and Silfverberg continues to look like a steady contributing top-six winger. Oh, and he’s signed to a great deal that pays him $3.75 million in each of the next two seasons. Good value contract, that. Considering everything Silfverberg brings, it’s no wonder he’s an enticing expansion draft option and a player who is all but certain to be scooped up if left unprotected. And that’s why the Ducks have to seriously consider cutting ties with a defender before the expansion draft hits.
No one in Anaheim is going to want to hear that, especially when the defensive strength is one of the greatest assets the Ducks have, but it almost surely has to happen if Anaheim doesn’t want to risk losing some firepower from the top half of the roster. But which defenseman goes?
Well, you can definitely count out Bieksa, because he’s unlikely to waive his no-movement clause, nor is there going to be many worthwhile suitors for a 35-year-old rough-and-tumble blueliner. Hampus Lindholm, 23, can be ruled out, as well. He’s skating the second-most minutes of any defender and was just locked up to a new long-term deal. Sami Vatanen, 25, is in the first year of a four-year, $19.5 million deal and it doesn’t seem he’ll be going anywhere, either. That leaves Cam Fowler.
Fowler has long been discussed as a trade option in Anaheim, but that talk quieted significantly in the regular season as the 25-year-old turned in a top-notch season. He led all Ducks defenders in ice time, averaging 24:50 per game, and led in goals and points with 11 and 39, respectively. But the difference between Lindholm, Vatanen and Fowler is the contracts. Fowler has one year remaining before he can become an unrestricted free agent and he’s on his way to signing a big-money deal if he keeps this up, and anything much higher than his current $4 million cap hit could make the Ducks’ cap situation extraordinarily difficult long term. Plus, given the season Fowler just had, his trade value has likely never been higher. Trading him could fetch the Ducks quite the return.
It’s not as if trading Fowler hamstrings the Ducks, either. Brandon Montour is averaging the third-highest ice time of any Ducks rearguard in the post-season and doing quite the job, while Shea Theodore has two goals and seven points in seven games on the back end. Neither are available for selection in the expansion draft, so Anaheim doesn’t have to worry about losing them to Vegas. And with a D-corps of Lindholm, Vatanen, Bieksa, Montour and Theodore, the Ducks would still have strength in their defense while opening up the potential to go the seven-three-one protection route.
Protecting players in such a manner would allow for Silfverberg to saved, as well as, say, Andrew Cogliano and someone such as Nicolas Kerdiles or Nick Sorensen, both of whom are under-24, had good seasons in the AHL and were second-round selections only a few years back.
It’s not a perfect system, of course, and the Ducks would still stand to lose an important player. Manson, the aforementioned rearguard who was skating solid second-pairing minutes, would have to remain unprotected if Anaheim blocked off additional forwards after shipping out a rearguard. It would still leave Murray the chance to either swing a deal to move out Manson, however, or the potential to simply deal with losing the defender and hope Montour, Theodore and another defender, such as highly touted prospect Jacob Larsson, fill the hole left by Manson’s selection in expansion.
The truth is no matter what happens in the days leading up to the expansion draft, the Ducks are in a tough spot, but their options seem to be losing Silfverberg for nothing or getting something in return for one or two of the highly skilled defenders that man the Anaheim blueline. Murray will have to decide which scenario he likes more, but Silfverberg’s production at this time of year certainly isn’t making the choice any easier.
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