Amid a wave of changes in the NHL, Bob Murray is no longer Anaheim Ducks general manager. If reports are true, it’s already a victory to remove a possibly toxic presence. Interestingly, though, this could also benefit the team on the ice — eventually. The silver lining to all things Murray-related is that maybe the Ducks can finally truly embrace a rebuild.
Here’s how the Ducks should go about a full-fledged rebuild, from the obvious to bolder ideas like a John Gibson trade.
Ducks shouldn’t let permanent GM search slow rebuild efforts
With Murray out, Jeff Solomon serves as interim GM. In their statement, Ducks ownership promised an “extensive” search for a permanent GM, with a deadline of no later than next summer.
There was no word for or against Solomon having a shot as permanent GM. The Ducks also didn’t mention a rebuild, or lack thereof.
So here’s where the advice starts. Whether Solomon is (ahem) a lame-duck GM or not, ownership should empower him to accelerate the rebuild.
As it became increasingly clear (at least to everyone outside the organization) that the Ducks’ contending window closed, they’ve made conflicting gestures to and from a rebuild.
- Every now and then, they’d do something smart. Selling high in an Ondrej Kase trade may be the best example.
- That said, they’d also resist pulling off the Band-Aid. Instead of moving Jakob Silfverberg like they did with Kase, they gave the 31-year-old a contract that runs through 2023-24. Maybe it’s understandable to keep Cam Fowler around, but signing Kevin Shattenkirk in 2020 was a real head-scratcher.
- On the bright side, the Ducks have generally drafted well, with Trevor Zegras being an especially strong value at ninth overall in 2019. You can see a path forward, especially with the emergence of someone like Troy Terry.
- That said, it’s not always clear if the Ducks are doing their rebuild right when it comes to development paths. For all the praise the Ducks receive with defensemen, there are some disturbing signs with Jamie Drysdale.
I kinda think the Ducks should be a little more wary of Ristolainen-ing Jamie Drysdale… kid has been completely thrown to the wolves right from the get-go on an awful team – and they're already upping his ice-time. #FlyTogether pic.twitter.com/HiHEXkIwpg
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) October 27, 2021
While that may be cause for caution, it’s not fuel for panic. Drysdale’s merely 19.
[More on Troy Terry’s surprising scoring season]
Really, though, the point is that the Ducks should give themselves more shots at premium prospects such as Drysdale and Zegras.
Under Murray, the Ducks balked when trading the likes of Silfverberg and Josh Manson. While it stings to realize they might have missed some chances to sell high, there are plenty of opportunities.
So Ducks ownership should give Solomon every opportunity to weaponize cap space, hoard draft picks, and put that rebuild into high gear. Even if it means making a franchise-changing trade.
The big question: trade John Gibson?
The question of trading (or keeping) John Gibson is part of a larger debate about a Ducks rebuild. That said, it’s a situation that’s thorny, fascinating, and important enough to earn its own section.
Ask different people about Gibson, and you’ll receive a wide array of answers.
When Gibson quietly ranked among the NHL’s best from 2015-16 and 2018-19, there were still people who saw “certain parts of his game” they “didn’t trust.”
Then, in 2019-20 and 2020-21, Gibson’s numbers tumbled — but it was hard to separate his play from the lousy Ducks team in front of him. So far, in 2021-22, Gibson’s been splendid, but he’s sputtered after strong starts before.
Perhaps the truth about Gibson is somewhere in the middle. Either way, the Ducks should consider this in their rebuild: whether Gibson is elite or not, he’s most likely to serve the team best in a well-timed, sell-high trade.
Gibson’s 28, with a $6.4 million cap hit that runs through 2026-27. If you (understandably) believe Gibson is elite, then that’s a heck of a bargain.
Yet, with every failed season, you risk conventional wisdom souring on Gibson. And, by the time the Ducks are truly ready to contend, Gibson may really start to decline. (Or all of that losing might shake his confidence.)
Now, it’s true that we rarely see prominent goalies traded in-season. Especially someone with serious term, and a significant (though probably team-friendly) $6.4M cap hit.
But what if the Ducks were aggressive and creative in pushing their rebuild?
Ducks should weaponize cap space, get creative in rebuild
If you look at the Ducks’ salary structure, you’ll notice quite a few significant expiring contracts. Some highlights:
- Rickard Rakell, 28, $3.8 million cap hit.
- Hampus Lindholm, 27, $5.205 million AAV
- Josh Manson, 30, $4.1 million AAV
- Perhaps even Ryan Getzlaf? The 36-year-old has a no-movement clause, but maybe he’d accept a trade to a contender?
Entrenched and arguably stubborn, it’s plausible that Murray would want to extend the likes of Rakell and Lindholm. Bringing back Getzlaf at $3 million was extravagant enough.
Ideally, Solomon will view those above players (and Gibson) as value chips at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline and beyond (if he remains). Plenty of contenders would clamor for a cheap forward like Rakell, and affordable, experienced defensemen.
Solomon should already be sniffing around for teams hoping to unload contracts. What would the possibly cap-strapped Golden Knights cough up to get rid of some money, especially if the Ducks retain salary to send someone like Rakell back? The Ducks could charge a premium to take on problem contracts with term.
The possibilities are nearly limitless if the Ducks rebuild is barely limited.
None of this means a Ducks rebuild will be easy, but overall, Murray’s departure could be a blessing in disguise. And not just for people who wanted to work in a harmonious NHL front office.
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.