The drama never stops in Anaheim.
The Ducks, who have rebounded from a disastrous start and re-emerged as a Stanley Cup contender, aren’t focused exclusively on a long playoff run this spring.
From a front office perspective, the summer will require as much focus.
If not more.
On Thursday, GM Bob Murray told reporters that, despite trying to sign some of his key restricted free agents in December, nothing’s panned out — leading him to predict it’ll be an “interesting summer” in Anaheim, per the L.A. Times.
Murray, of course, is alluding to what may eventually be dubbed The Big Four: Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Rickard Rakell and Frederik Andersen.
All of them are set to become RFAs.
And all are in line for significant raises.
The biggest priority, it’s assumed, will be Lindholm, the former sixth overall pick that’s become a linchpin of the Anaheim defense. Despite only turning 21 in January, he’s already played over 200 games at the NHL level and is currently averaging a career-high 22 minutes per night, while scoring a career-best eight goals.
Lindholm’s in the last of his entry-level deal. The Ducks could try to bridge him, or buy up some UFA years with a longer-term contract.
But he’s not the only defenseman in need of a new deal.
Vatanen, 24, is in the final year of his second pro contract — a two-year, $2.525 million pact with a $1.26M average annual cap hit. It’s one of the best value contracts in the league, as Vatanen currently leads all Ducks d-men in scoring with 31 points, putting him top-30 among NHL blueliners.
He’s a nice player, but might not be long for the Ducks. The club has the likes of Cam Fowler, Kevin Bieksa and Simon Despres locked in through 2018, and promising prospect Shea Theodore on the horizon.
So that’s the defense. Murray also has questions up front.
Specifically, what he’s prepared to pay Rakell? Another terrific value guy, the 22-year-old is third on the team in points (33) and second in goals (15) while making less than $900,000 annually. A former first-round pick, Rakell has seen his TOI take a huge leap this year — to 16:03 per night — and is wowing people with his skill set, specifically head coach Bruce Boudreau.
“Sometimes he puts on a clinic with the moves,” Boudreau said recently, per the O.C. Register.
Finally, there’s Andersen.
Of the four RFAs, his future is probably the easiest to predict. While he’s shown remarkably well and capable of carrying the No. 1 gig, John Gibson is Anaheim’s goalie of the future — and really, goalie of the present, as evident by his spot at the 2016 All-Star Game in Nashville.
This could be Andersen’s last year in a Ducks uniform. And if it is, it’ll be really interesting to see how Murray orchestrates the exit.
Related: Andersen: ‘Fair question’ to ask if Ducks will trade him