How should Ducks handle Lindholm contract, NHL trade deadline?

How should Ducks handle Lindholm contract, NHL trade deadline?
Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You can say that the “Little Ball of Hate” has a lot on his plate. While it’s fantastic that the Ducks appear years ahead of where most of us expected in their rebuild, that accelerated growth actually makes things more complicated for new GM Pat Verbeek.

Most immediately, Pat Verbeek faces near-future 2022 NHL Trade Deadline and free-agent questions, including what to do with Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Rickard Rakell.

Of course, in running a team, decisions are interlocked. Painting over a hole in the wall can be a quick fix, but what happens down the line when your foundation is challenged?

Let’s begin with comments Verbeek made after being hired as Ducks GM, then dive into short and longer-term concerns. We might even suggest some mad science for that “Little Ball of Hate.”

Verbeek doesn’t necessarily totally pull the plug on a Ducks rebuild

Heading into Tuesday, the Ducks playoff projections range from a coin flip to 30% odds of making it. At just about every facet of the game, Anaheim’s much-improved, sometimes drastically so. But they’re still in the bottom-10 in expected goals percentage, the bottom half in high-danger chance share, volume stats, and other similar stats.

A sweaty, desperate team might feel compelled to throw that blind pass into double coverage. Yet, as new Ducks GM, Pat Verbeek can take a lucid look at this team and aim for a checkdown pass instead.

Upon being hired as Ducks GM, Verbeek acknowledged the team’s good fortune, but also hinted that the rebuild isn’t necessarily 100-percent complete.

“Certainly you don’t have to come in there and look to take a long time,” Verbeek said of the Ducks rebuild, via the AP. There’s good players in the NHL (roster), and there’s also good players in the minors. There’s also players that have been drafted. So there’s lots coming to support the growth of this team. That’s truly what I’m excited about … . (A typical rebuild) takes five years. I’m hoping to shorten that, but that’s kind of the reality of how long it really takes you to be a consistent, serious contender.”

Ducks approach to NHL trade deadline, Lindholm and other expiring contracts

When it comes to Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Rickard Rakell, the Ducks face three choices with each player: a trade around the NHL deadline, signing them to a new contract, or having them play out the season and then walking in free agency.

With all due respect to Manson (30 years old) and Rakell (28), Lindholm looms as easily the biggest of those three questions for Verbeek and the Ducks.

For years, the 28-year-old hovered around as a stealth Norris Trophy candidate. Yet, in recent years, he’s mainly brought value only in the defensive end, and it’s fair to wonder how valuable he’s truly even been lately.

At the Athletic (sub required), Linhdolm’s market value was tabbed at a mere $3.7 million, lower than his reasonable $5.25M cap hit. Even in 2020, J Fresh’s model priced Lindholm at a modest $4.48M.

[Where Ducks rest in latest PHT Power Rankings]

None of this is to trash Lindholm, who could still conceivably be of significant value to the Ducks, especially in the medium term. Instead, the point is that there are red flags waving wildly around the idea of a long-term contract.

Before joining the Stars front office, Steve Greeley broke down a range of possibilities for a future Lindholm contract, potentially with the Ducks. Ultimately, Greeley projected an eight-year, $50 million ($6.25M AAV) contract for Lindholm.

In some ways, it could be worse. But it’s frightening that, by some models, Lindholm might not even be worth $6.25M per year now, let alone as he declines physically. Personally, I can’t help but wonder if the Ducks may regret a long-term deal with Lindholm in a similar way to the Sharks with Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Vlasic went from deeply underrated, to defense-only, to a borderline NHL player.

No, the Ducks signing Lindholm to a contract extension wouldn’t necessarily be a doomsday scenario. Especially if they can’t relax some of the risks by hashing out a shorter term deal. (See: the Predators with Mattias Ekholm, even though that is far from being a slam-dunk, either.)

Zegras, Drysdale, Terry need new contracts soon

It’s easy to look at the Ducks’ offseason, stare at almost $42M in projected salary cap space, and wonder why Verbeek & Co. wouldn’t load up.

Yet, if Verbeek was paying attention during his time with the Lightning, he’ll realize that “sweetheart” contracts don’t last forever.

Now, it’s not clear how much Troy Terry, Trevor Zegras, and Jamie Drysdale will cost on their next contracts. But I’ll venture a guess that all three of them will make more than $3.5M per piece, which is basically the combined cost of that trio in AAV through 2022-23.

What if, after skyrocketing this season, the Ducks stumble a bit next season? It’s perfectly possible, and if that happens, they might really regret spending big on Lindholm (and possibly others).

By no means does it make it easy to part ways with Lindholm, but sometimes tough decisions pay off — and other teams pay for sticking with aging players too long.

The best of both worlds for Ducks at NHL trade deadline?

During the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, one of the boldest and most unexpected moves dropped basically at the last minute. In a clever move, the Red Wings got younger and received a first and second rounder by trading Antony Mantha to the Capitals for Jakub Vrana.

While unexpected health issues keep that sentence from ending with an exclamation point, it still made quite the statement. The Red Wings were willing to get creative to accelerate their rebuild. Other teams should take note.

Verbeek was part of that Red Wings front office. Maybe Verbeek might try to pull off similarly creative trades as Ducks GM?

Here’s one odd-but-perhaps-brilliant swap to shoot for:

  1. Bite the bullet and trade Lindholm, Manson, and Rakell.
  2. Use some of those assets to complete a trade for Jakub Chychrun.

Truly, it’s been a whirlwind two seasons for Chychrun. Last season, Chychrun fired a billion pucks and looked like a fringe Norris consideration. This season, his stock plummeted.

Split the difference, though, and you may be interested to see how close Lindholm and Chychrun compare based on this multi-season RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey:

How should Ducks handle Lindholm contract, NHL trade deadline? Chychrun
via Evolving Hockey

At 23, there’s already a decent chance Chychrun will outperform 28-year-old Lindholm.

Beyond that, Chychrun’s contract is a gem. He carries a mere $4.6M cap hit through 2024-25.

[The Ducks could also just trade parts but try to compete, like the Sharks in 2013, or the Blues trading Kevin Shattenkirk]

Chances are, if the Coyotes are truly serious about trading Chychrun, there will be bidders. Theoretically, the Ducks could really load up in trades for one or more of Lindholm, Manson, and Rakell. That could help them get over the finish line, and maybe reduce some of the sticker shock of, say, giving up a coveted prospect.

Add 23-year-old Chychrun to a core that already includes Zegras (20, as you may have heard), Terry (24), Max Comtois (23), Mason McTavish (19), and others? Now you’re cooking.

Even if the Ducks took a more well-traveled path at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, targeting someone like Chychrun could make a lot of sense. While the Ducks are ahead of schedule in their rebuild, John Gibson turns 29 in July, so maximizing his elite window is another big part of the GM gig for Verbeek.

Ultimately, it should be exciting to see how Verbeek and the Ducks approach his first NHL trade deadline (and looming free agency) as GM. Granted, none of it will be as entertaining as watching Trevor Zegras, but who’s really going to clear that bar while wearing a suit and tie?

<—- Just gave Zegras another idea.

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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