How should Ducks handle Lindholm contract, NHL trade deadline?

How should Ducks handle Lindholm contract, NHL trade deadline?
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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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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

    avalanche injuries
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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

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