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What We Learned: Anaheim Ducks have massive headaches ahead

As if hiring a coach who is demonstrably outmoded were not bad enough, the Anaheim Ducks' climb back up the mountain only gets steeper from here.

Sami Vatanen signed a four-year, $19.5 million contract over the weekend, which is good because he's the kind of defenseman you simply cannot allow to walk. Among all defensemen with at least 2,500 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5 over the last three seasons, his expected goals-for percentage ranks 14th in the entire NHL (almost 54.1 percent). When he's off the ice, that number drop by more than 2.2 percentage points for the Ducks.

He was also a huge presence on the Ducks' power play, and somewhat inexplicably took a pay cut in terms of his AAV.

This is an extremely good and likely quite underrated defenseman, though one can argue as to how underrated any defender making almost $5 million per year actually is. He's almost certainly one of the 30 or 40 best blue liners in the league on any given game day. Consequently, this was a nice bit of business for Bob Murray when it was badly needed; Vatanen's cap hit is only 43rd among defensemen.

The other big defender, both literally and figuratively, the Ducks have to sign now is Hampus Lindholm. The good news is there might not be too many UFA years to buy, which keeps the AAV on just about any contract relatively low. The bad news is that even then, Lindholm's value, which is still on the rise because he won't be 23 until late January, is so clearly high that you almost have to pay him Vatanen money.

Again, you don't mind paying a defenseman of this quality Vatanen money in a vacuum. That Lindholm's numbers over three seasons are in the same ballpark as Vatanen's though he's three years younger and they almost never play together, tells you a lot about what Lindholm does for you on the ice. Lindholm is in all honestly probably a fair sight better than Vatanen. It's like a zero-calorie version of having Chris Pronger and Rob Niedermayer on your team at the same time: At the end of the season, the number of minutes you don't have a very good defenseman on the ice at the same time is quite small.

You give either guy as many years as he'll take for just about any dollar amount under $6 million, worry about the other stuff later. And if Lindholm also comes in under $5 million or so, you count that as a big ol' W.

So what's the problem? Isn't this one of those “good problems to have” kind of things?

Yes and no. You love having two clear top-pairing defensemen who play on separate pairings. If Cam Fowler is your third-best defenseman you're in great shape on the ice. But on your balance sheet or, more specifically, Anaheim's balance sheet, you're getting into some dangerous territory.

The Ducks are a budget team. We know this to be true. In each of the last five seasons, they've ended the year in at least the bottom half, and more often the bottom third of the league in terms of cap commitments (according to NHL Numbers). On average over that time, they've spent to a little more than 91 percent of the available cap, though last year it was a little below that. Assuming that number holds true, and that the salary cap doesn't move much, you can start to see where the Ducks end up in a pretty significant pinch.

Already, they have more than $57.3 million committed to next year's cap, and only spent about $64.45 million last season. They have to re-sign Lindholm before anyone starts sniffing around with an offer sheet or anything else, and avoid anything resembling a Dougie Hamilton situation. Say his contract ends up in the same neighborhood as Vatanen's, and you're talking roughly $62 million in cap commitments for next year.

But the problem is the team only has eight forwards signed right now. At a total cost of more than $33.6 million. Even assuming they up the outlay to 2014-15 levels — their highest-spending year ever, at almost $66.5 million — that still doesn't give them a ton of room to work with. Especially because the guys they have to re-sign include David Perron, Brandon Pirri, and Rickard Rakell. Plus, the only goaltender signed for next season right now is John Gibson.

Tough to see how you make that work even if you are planning to spend all the way to the cap, which the Ducks basically never have. And right now, that's just to bring back the guys you already have, and really ought to like. Maybe you say, “Ah well, gotta let Perron walk then, and probably trade Freddy Andersen.” Fair enough, but now you're signing Pirri and Rakell, probably for multiple millions of dollars each, and still have to bring at least three forwards and a goalie into the fold to fill out your roster.

Where is all this money coming from? Based on all past indicators, one can assume that the answer is not “Ducks ownership.”

Anaheim is, fortunately, pretty blessed in terms of the talent they had outside the NHL last year. And those players are, fortunately, going to provide low-cost options. But how many of those guys actually contribute at the NHL level is, unfortunately, always a big ol' question mark for any team.

And if you find suitable buyers for Andersen and maybe another semi-expensive player or two (Fowler and Andrew Cogliano, maybe?) things start to make more sense. But then you're chipping away at the team's quality. And the team's quality was pretty much what led to Bruce Boudreau getting fired at the end of the day, was it not?

The problem here is obviously that the Ducks have $23.75 million — more than a third of what they usually spend each year — committed to only Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler. All of them are 31. All of them are signed until at least 2021, when they will be about 37. It's a problem, and there's no good answer because they all have no-move clauses.

The news that's either good or bad depending upon how you look at it is that, when Randy Carlyle was re-hired, a few former NHLers not-too-subtly hinted that a few guys who had played for him before might want out. Murray better hope like hell one of them is Ryan Kesler.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Apparently Murray is at least considering keeping Andersen and moving Gibson instead. High degree of difficulty on “getting it right” here. 

Arizona Coyotes: No surprise here but the Coyotes are calling their new AHL affiliate the Roadrunners. The logo is sick. That's all. Bye.

Boston Bruins: Pretty much agree with Deej here.

Buffalo Sabres: Now I wouldn't go around making long-term roster decisions based on one good AHL season, but yeah Justin Bailey looks like he could be pretty good to be honest.

Calgary Flames: The Flames may try to move into the top-three in the draft. How on earth they do that is going to be interesting. They could use a Jesse Puljujarvi to be honest.

Carolina Hurricanes: A local station rebroadcasted the 2006 Cup win yesterday, in what seems like a pretty bald-faced effort to make people think the 2016 Cam Ward contract isn't a complete disaster.

Chicago: Sounds like JJ Watt..... is awful.

Colorado Avalanche: “A new coach.” Folks …

Columbus Blue Jackets: Often, when the Blue Jackets break a stick, they get donated to a sled hockey team so they can be repurposed for handicapped players.

Dallas Stars: Yeah, hey, the Stars do indeed have some good late-round picks on the roster.

Detroit Red Wings: My dude might wanna check Twitter on this one. Plenty of hard feelings were flying around Saturday.

Edmonton Oilers: Tyler Pitlick is back!!!!

Florida Panthers: Gotta spend money smarter when you can't spend it more.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are cracking down on ticket brokers who buy season seats just to re-sell them at a markup. Lots of teams are now trying to address that problem in their own way, but the Kings' tactic of just charging them more is a good one.

Minnesota Wild: Strap yourself in for this week. It's gonna be a wild one. I wrote that without even thinking about the team's name. Sorry. Really.

Montreal Canadiens: Yeah I mean if Marc Bergevin screws up this summer that could be the last straw. But also at the same time it's like, “Michel Therrien still has a job, so...”

Nashville Predators: The Preds might try to upgrade their attack by trading for Scott Hartnell, but if it's me I'm not looking to bring on that contract for a 34-year-old.

New Jersey Devils: Oh hmm I don't know gang.

New York Islanders: There really is a lot to think about here, especially because Garth Snow is letting Kyle Okposo walk.

New York Rangers: This would be a trade that is at once surprising and totally unsurprising.

Ottawa Senators: You know Karlsson was just standing in the bucket hacking. European guys have no idea how to hit a home run. Finally, something this dude isn't good at.

Philadelphia Flyers: Pretty crazy the Flyers have used one of only two buyouts league-wide to this point. Of course, they did the right thing for themselves, but it's a little surprising they and Toronto are the only ones in the mix after almost a week.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Gotta think the answer is “probably not.”

San Jose Sharks: Stay strong. Don't trade for John Scott again.

St. Louis Blues: The most eye-widening sentence of hockey analysis you will read this week: “Kyle Quincey is likely a better pure defender [than Jay Bouwmeester], but he’s not a top line defenseman to me.” Buhhhhhhh.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The more you look at this forward group, the more you say to yourself, “If there's one team in the league that won't be hurt too badly by losing Steven Stamkos...”

Toronto Maple Leafs: If Mitch Marner bulks up, the whole NHL better watch out. The knock on him has been his size. If that knock goes away, he should become a huge scoring threat ASAP.

Vancouver Canucks: Sven Baertschi should be a decent Canuck. Hard not to like this two-year deal.

Washington Capitals: The Caps haven't even talked money with Marcus Johansson yet. All term so far.

Winnipeg Jets: Man, imagine if the Jets have to trade Jacob Trouba? It's been hard to be anything but bemused with the rumors, but there's starting to be a lot of smoke around this potential fire.

Play of the Weekend

OTTAWA, CANADA - MARCH 25: The hockey rink sits empty before a game between the Washington Capitals and the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place on March 25, 2011 in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)


RIP hockey for a few months. Not a fan.

Gold Star Award

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a press conference prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

The next few days should be some of the busiest of the offseason. Time to get excited, gang.

Minus of the Weekend

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 17: Brian Burke walks the red carpet prior to the induction ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 17, 2014 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

If you got together a team of the best television writers on the planet and locked them in a room for a week, there's no way in hell they'd come up with anything as great as the self-parody of “Brian Burke's team made a coaching candidate climb a mountain to prove he was tough.”

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “Halla” wants to set the record straight.

To Anaheim:
JVR (4.25, 2 years left)
Hunwick (1.20, 1 year left)
30th overall

To Toronto:
Fowler (4.00, 2 years left)
Stoner (3.25, 2 years left)
Andersen (RFA)

Stay blessed.


Report immediately for an assembly in the Butthead Memorial Auditorium.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)


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