The Anaheim Ducks’ long-term outlook provides plenty of cause for concern, but worries morph into optimism when you consider the team’s bounty of young defensemen.
Consider that, for all of the teams who were lampooned as former players thrived in Vegas, the Ducks didn’t really absorb a lot of mockery as Shea Theodore looked great with the Golden Knights. If you’re being fair, it’s kind of tough to beat up on a franchise so well-stocked with defensemen.
(Granted, you can nitpick exposing Theodore instead of a lesser option, but the point generally remains.)
Anaheim’s defensemen aren’t just young and promising, either. Many of them are also signed on the dotted line for the near future, a trend that continues as the Ducks avoided salary arbitration with Brandon Montour. GM Bob Murray signed Montour to a two-year “bridge deal.” The team didn’t provide financial details, but the Athletic’s Eric Stephens reports that the cap hit is $3.388 million.
With help from always-handy Cap Friendly, take a look at the contract terms and ages for Ducks defensemen signed for at least two seasons:
• Cam Fowler, 26, $6.5M through 2025-26
• Hampus Lindholm, 24, $5.21M through 2021-22
• Josh Manson, 26, $4.1M through 2021-22
• Montour, 24, $3.388M through 2019-20
Now, the individual contracts vary in quality (personally, Fowler’s risk factor is a little scary, while Lindholm stands as a phenomenal bargain), but the point remains that the Ducks are loaded with reasonable investments in defensemen who are reaching their primes or already there.
With Montour, it’s easy to anticipate bigger and better things.
After appearing in just 27 games as a rookie in 2016-17, Montour broke through with nine goals and 32 points in 80 contests last season. The former second-rounder (55th overall in 2014) averaged 20:28 TOI per night and enjoyed respectable possession stats during that breakthrough 2017-18 campaign.
If Montour sees even more opportunities going forward, his next contract could be awfully pricey. That’s especially true if he makes significant all-around strides. As is, he can be an effective point producer while flourishing as the sort of transition-driver teams crave in the modern NHL.
When you add Montour to Fowler, Lindholm, and Manson, you see a defensive group that’s the envy of most of the league. It’s difficult to think of many more complete D corps beyond the truly brilliant, such as the Nashville Predators. Anaheim may also have some gems waiting in the pipeline, too.
That youthful, stacked group also stands in contrast to other elements of the Ducks’ roster.
On one hand, you have a potentially Vezina-caliber goalie in John Gibson. While injuries and a former crease battle with Frederik Andersen have limited the 25-year-old’s opportunities to prove he’s truly elite, he’s frequently looked that way when healthy.
Gibson’s contract is a good news/bad news situation, however. On the bright side, his $2.5M cap hit is a ludicrous bargain, particularly for a team with an internal budget like the Ducks. That said, his price could really inflate if he combines the quality of his work with the quantity of a workhorse goalie.
(If I were in Murray’s shoes, I’d dust off a barstool and try to sign Gibson to an extension earlier rather than later.)
Assuming Gibson signs to a fair-enough deal, the Ducks seem nicely equipped in their own zone. Things get a little wackier on the attack.
Both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are 33, and each player carries a cap hit exceeding $8M for three more seasons. Ryan Kesler might be described as “an even older” 33, making his $6.875M cap hit look frightening (considering that it runs through 2021-22, one more season than Getzlaf and Perry). Adam Henrique signed a risky extension, too, considering that he’s not exactly a spring chicken at 28.
Sure, there are some young forwards in the mix, with Rickard Rakell leading the pack. Anaheim also must strike new deals with 22-year-old forwards Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie.
Overall, though, it’s a strange dichotomy. Few teams have placed themselves in a better position when it comes to prime-age defensive depth, yet the Ducks also carry an aging core of forwards whose contracts could serve as monstrous anchors.
Then again, it’s better to excel in some areas than none, and the Ducks justify their goofy ‘D’ logo scheme by being masterful at identifying and retaining defense. Maybe to the point that they’ll stack up a few more key W’s.
More on the Ducks:
• They’re bringing back the Mighty Ducks look as their third jersey.
• Significant changes coming?
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.