One way or another it appears as if Corey Perry‘s time with the Anaheim Ducks is coming to a close over the next few weeks. Over the weekend the Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun and Eric Stephens both reported extensively on the team’s willingness to move on from their long-time star winger and former league MVP in an effort to get younger.
It should be pretty obvious as to why the Ducks are looking to move on and make a change. The franchise as currently constructed has hit its ceiling with its current core, while Perry carries a substantial salary cap hit (more than $8.6 million per season over the next two seasons) for what has been steadily declining production over the past three seasons.
LeBrun reported that if the Ducks fail to find a taker in a trade they would consider buying him out during the league’s buyout window later this month. According to the buyout calculator over at Capfriendly, a buyout of Perry’s remaining contract would leave the Ducks on the hook for a $2 million salary cap hit in 2019-20, 2021-22 and 2022-23, with a $6 million cap hit in 2020-21. That would be a pretty drastic step to take with a franchise icon, but the Ducks aren’t currently getting $8.6 million worth of production out of Perry and it seems unlikely that he is ever going to return to that level.
He was limited to just 31 games this past season where he scored six goals and four assists. That came after a 2017-18 season where he managed 17 goals and 49 total points in 71 games, which came after a 19-goal, 53 point season the year before. For three years now his production has been cratering across the board, whether it’s his traditional box score numbers (goals, assists, points) or his underlying numbers that look at his possession and shot numbers. It is not just that he’s lost some of his fastball when it comes to his shot and ability to beat goalies, but he is also not able to generate anywhere near as many shots as he did when he was a consistent 35-40 goal scorer and one of the league’s elite power forwards.
To get a sense for just how far — and how quickly — his game has fallen off, just consider that since the start of the 2016-17 season he has the following league-wide ranks among forwards that have played at least 100 games (rankings are out of 405 forwards):
Goals per game: 147th
Points per game: 122nd
Shots per game: 87th
Even-strength goals: 188th
Corsi Percentage: 273rd
Compare that to where he was in the three years prior to that:
Goals per game: 4th
Points per game: 16th
Shots per game: 28th
Even-strength goals: 1st (tied with Alex Ovechkin)
Corsi Percentage: 126th
That is significant.
So, yeah, it is understandable as to why the Ducks would be looking to move on.
The Ducks have a significant chunk of money tied up in an aging core (including Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler, whose career seems to be in serious jeopardy) that saw its run of six consecutive playoff appearances end this past season. Even though the franchise is just two years removed from a trip to the Western Conference Finals the team has rapidly declined over the past two seasons and looks to be several steps below the rest of the Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference. They looked overwhelmed in their 2017-18 Round 1 sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, and despite getting an All-Star worthy performance from starting goalie John Gibson this past season the team was never really even close to being competitive. The potential for major changes existed even before the start of the season, and given how badly things went once the season began it is clear the time has come to turn the page.
For as great as Perry has been for the team during career, he is at this moment a natural starting point for those changes given the total package he provides (age, contract, production).
The problem is the Ducks probably do not have many good options when it comes to moving on.
Keeping him is not really ideal because they would still paying superstar money for a player that, when healthy, is probably giving them second-line (at best) production. For a team that is looking to get younger and does not always spend to the salary cap that is a tough contract to justify, especially when it is likely that the production is only going to keep declining over the next two years.
Even with that being said, buying him out should be an absolute last resort because even though there are some cap savings that come with that, they are still going to be on the hook for a significant portion of money over the next four years while getting nothing in return for it. And it is not like Perry is a zero value player. Somebody else could use him as he can still play and produce a little bit. It just not at an $8.6 million dollar level. That salary cap number is probably double what he would get on the open market right now as a free agent.
That leaves the trade market, which probably will not be easy or result in a satisfying return for Ducks fans (or Perry’s current Ducks teammates).
Given the size of his salary the next two years and the decline he is experiencing it might have the look of an unmovable contract, but there is really no such thing in the NHL. Every contract can be moved, you just have to find the right team that is willing to work with you. If the Ducks do find a trade partner the framework of a deal is probably going to look like another trade involving a similarly aging player where they either have to retain a significant portion of salary, and/or take on another team’s bad contract in return.
It is the same situation the Edmonton Oilers find themselves in with Milan Lucic and the same situation the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in with Patrick Marleau. It is the same situation the Los Angeles Kings found themselves in with Marian Gaborik a couple of years ago and the Ottawa Senators with Dion Phaneuf (who were eventually swapped for one another, while the Kings will ultimately find themselves in the same situation now that they have Phaneuf).
The problem with that option is it still leaves them in a situation where they are probably overpaying a declining player under the cap, which then forces them to ask the question: Why even make the trade? In that case it would depend on what else they can get in return. Perry would still probably be better and more valuable than whatever player the Ducks take on in return, which should result in additional assets thrown their way (a younger player, a decent draft pick, etc.).
The other option in a trade: Retain a significant chunk of salary over the next two years. They are still paying something under the cap for a player that isn’t playing for them, but if the Ducks are willing to eat some of that money it should — should being the key word — result in a better return. Perry may not have much value to another team at $8.6 million per season, but he might have some value at, hypothetically speaking, $5 or 6 million. It is cheaper long-term than a buyout, and it gives them something tangible in return to add to the organization.
None of this is an ideal way for the Ducks to part ways with a player that helped the team win a Stanley Cup, won an MVP award, and is one of the franchise’s all-time greats. It is simply the reality of playing in a salary cap league and spending significant money on players well beyond their 30th birthdays.