Pandemic Punts: Anaheim Ducks should embrace rebuild in 2020-21

Pandemic Punts: Anaheim Ducks should not fight rebuild in 2020-21 Bob Murray as GM coach
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Introducing: Pandemic Punts

Tanking isn’t a pretty thing to do, but in a normal NHL season, several teams should at least consider it.

Yet, in a 2020-21 NHL season that figures to be even more unpredictable than usual — it remains to be seen if the season even happens — just about every front office should at least have that conversation. “What if we punt on the 2020-21 NHL season altogether?”

Of course, some punting opportunities will be more obvious (Red Wings/Senators) than others (Lightning/Golden Knights).

However strong the attraction might be for each team to tank, “Pandemic Punts” could be a worthwhile thought experiment for all 31 NHL teams. Pondering why the Lightning and other teams may not punt under any circumstances could be a way to forecast future problems or opportunities.

Starting in alphabetical order, PHT’s Pandemic Punts begins with … the Anaheim Ducks’ 2020-21 season. Luckily, they’re a pretty good first run for “Pandemic Punts.”

State of the Anaheim Ducks heading into 2020-21 NHL season

Rebuild denial is a real thing in sports. In the case of the Ducks, it still feels like the team has one webbed foot in, and one foot out.

For every move to build for the future (trading Ondrej Kase to land a first-round pick from Boston), there are moves to maintain a fleeting grasp on contention. In a vacuum, signing Kevin Shattenkirk to a solid bargain contract would be smart … for a team that’s on the cusp. The Ducks seem closer to the cellar than the playoff bubble in 2020-21, though, so that otherwise smart signing instead smells of desperation. (Or at least rebuild-denial.)

Perhaps some of that denial comes from the Ducks not being that far removed from their glory days. After all, they’ve only missed the playoffs for the past two season. (Granted, you can zoom in and pick that apart, as it’s been a while since they even won a playoff game, as the Sharks summarily swept the Ducks in 2017-18.)

But life comes at you fast, and sometimes that means you need to quickly rebuild. Unfortunately, it seems like Ducks GM Bob Murray did not receive that TPS report.

Try this exercise: realistically, how likely are the Ducks to contend in 2020-21? If so, how?

Most probably answered “John Gibson doing everything.” Indeed, before 2019-20, John Gibson ranked as the best thing going for the Ducks. Yet … even in 2018-19, we saw the limits of leaning on Gibson. In the grand scheme of things, all of Gibson’s saves really only helped the Ducks to save face.

Call it punting or tanking, but the Ducks need to embrace a rebuild now, not later. Just ask their fans.

Punting before the season even starts?

While the Ducks don’t boast the vast cap space of truly committed cellar dwellers (punters?), it’s possible they could still help cap-challenged teams while helping themselves.

Via Cap Friendly, the Ducks are currently close to the 2020-21 salary cap ceiling, but it wouldn’t be surprising if David Backes‘ $4.5M lands on LTIR. From there, the Ducks could open up a little more wiggle room.

If that happened, then the Ducks could consider calling up teams that need a breather. For the short-term pains of taking on a problem contract, the Ducks might land some valuable future pieces of the puzzle.

Embracing a rebuild would allow the Ducks to make that step earlier. But, most likely, it seems like the Ducks will need to pick up the pieces after they get kicked in the teeth …

Getzlaf: the most obvious trade chip if Ducks rebuild

Pandemic Punts: Anaheim Ducks should embrace rebuild in 2020-21 Getzlaf
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

For quite some time, it’s been curious that the Ducks haven’t tried to trade Ryan Getzlaf.

Yes, he’s a face of the franchise, and their captain. Of course it would hurt to see him go. And there’s no denying that you’d need some buy-in, being that Getzlaf boasts a no-movement clause.

In the grand scheme of things, the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline could open up some avenues.

To start, 35-year-old Ryan Getzlaf would probably ponder a trade, much like Joe Thornton warmed up to the idea during his contract year with the Sharks.

While Getzlaf’s value isn’t peaking, he’s also entering low-risk territory. Theoretically, the Ducks could retain some of his salary in a trade. Also, while Getzlaf’s cap hit is $8.25M, his base salary is just $3M.

A big, veteran who can still produce? One who brings that sort of nastiness teams crave in the playoffs? Getzlaf checks a lot of boxes, and his cheap real-world cost could really appeal to teams who want to contend but not overspend.

Frankly, if Getzlaf signs off on a trade, it would be a major failure if the Ducks don’t pull the trigger.

Ducks punting conundrums: Trade young (but not that young) players?

As clear as trading Getzlaf feels, the most pivotal questions revolve around tougher judgment calls.

Over the years, we’ve seen the Ducks go a number of ways with similar conundrums.

Back in February 2019, it already seemed questionable to extend a player like Jakob Silfverberg. But, with Ondrej Kase, the Ducks showed at least some willingness to move a prime-age player. They might need to do so again.

  • Rickard Rakell is a nice player, especially at a cheap $3.8M cap hit. That bargain only runs through 2021-22, however, and Rakell is 27. By the time the Ducks are competitive again, Rakell’s likely to be older and more expensive.
  • For years, Hampus Lindholm ranked as one of the most underrated defensemen in the league. Even after taking a troubling step back recently, he’s still a 26-year-old gem at just $5.205M per year. But the Rakell example lingers again: that contract runs out after two seasons.
  • Josh Manson ranks as another player with just two years left on his deal ($4.1M AAV). He’s a little older at 29, but right-handed defensemen are in high demand.

Ideally, the Ducks would convince someone to shake loose some real assets for scary contracts in Silfverberg (30, $5.825M through 2023-24) and Adam Henrique (also 30, also with a deal [$5.25M] through 2023-24). Realistically, teams would be more interested in the sort of trades that would sting.

(Truly, it’s tough to avoid wincing when picturing the Ducks coughing up someone like Lindholm.)

Ducks should get ready for a future fight, rather than going down swinging meekly

No, the Ducks don’t have to trade away every Rakell/Lindholm-type player to rebuild. Still, it seems like their window to compete might not match up very well with the peak years for those players.

Taking your best shots in the future sometimes means retreating today. In the Ducks’ case, it also might mean selling off some of your best ammo.

Overall, the Ducks would be wise to punt — early, and often. Rather than going for it on Fourth and Long, the Ducks must commit fully to a rebuild.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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