Anaheim Ducks: When does a Rebuild become Impossible?

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 19: John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks is congratulated by Cam Fowler #$4 after defeating the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on January 19, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. The Ducks defeated the Devils 3-2. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 19: John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks is congratulated by Cam Fowler #$4 after defeating the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on January 19, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. The Ducks defeated the Devils 3-2. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Having inevitably fallen to the basement of the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks need to enter a rebuild to replace their aging corps. Is this even possible?

When the Ottawa Senators traded Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks during the offseason, the response from fans and media was overwhelmingly negative. In terms of talent, they didn’t receive anything that would ever replace him. They traded their rusted, barely-serviceable motor for a bag of untested parts. Why can’t the Anaheim Ducks do the same?

Well, a while ago, the Ducks made a different deal. To continue our car analogy, they decided to renew a lease on a shiny vehicle, presumably covered in Mighty Ducks memorabilia.

Across the automobile, a giant bumper sticker reads: “This car will work for 10 years. You have to keep it for 15.” Unfortunately, the Ducks now find themselves at the front end of these final five years.

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With contract upon contract of over-valued, declining veterans, the Ducks are in an awful position. Fans obviously dread the years it takes to get a rebuild over with, but Anaheim fans might also have to sit through the years preceding the rebuild too.

Contracts on a good team

On the surface, the Senators and Ducks look quite similar this season. They sit 6 points apart in places 27th and 31st respectively. Ottawa’s ugliest struggles come in the defensive end. Craig Anderson doesn’t have long, and they allow the most goals in the Eastern Conference.

The Ducks’ woes, although more widespread, come mainly in the offensive end. Combined with a shot total over 200 below the league average, their shooting percentage rests at a lowly 7.9% If they had a  starting goalie inferior to John Gibson, there’s no knowing how low they would go.

Well, how are these two teams addressing their problems? It’s actually not so simple. Both team’s average age is around 27, so the Senators aren’t necessarily fixing their problems by building a corps only around prospects.

Sure, Ottawa have guys like Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk, but the Ducks haven’t completely forgone injecting young talent into their roster. Even if they can’t stay off the IR, Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase exist.

This is where contracts come into play. A team who wants to sustain success for a long period of time has a contract system very much like a revolving door. Preset contracts are given out to players who meet certain requirements.

Even the best players shouldn’t be locked down for too long, else they become a burden when they stop being your best players. When they get to the end of their contracts, they get moved out of the revolving door so younger talent can enter.

The revolving door comes with its downsides; sometimes, players who wouldn’t be on the first line on most teams end up with ugly contracts. However, by using it, the Senators have avoided the situation that the Ducks now find themselves in.

Let’s take a look at who the Ducks value according to salary. Teams that can smoothly transition from one era to the next pay their stars and younger players the most, while compromising on hole-filling veterans.

The problem with the Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim, who have the worst goal differential in the NHL also have under $60,000 in available cap space according to CapFriendly. A basement team like the Ducks should not have only $55,000 in cap space.

When this situation arises, you want to get rid of your over-paid veterans, right? But the Ducks just can’t. Ryan Getzlaf is the team’s leading scorer, but he has 36 points in 52 games. He is getting $8.3 million a year until 2021.

Corey Perry has just 1 assist in 7 games played this season. He scored 49 points in 2017-18. He’s getting $8.6 million until 2021. 34 year old Ryan Kesler is getting another $27 million before his contract expires in 2022.

Adam Henrique is doing well now, for Anaheim standards at least, but his contract doesn’t expire until 2024. Mind you, his salary goes up to $5.8 million per year next season. Cam Fowler, whose CF% is below 42 is getting $6.5 million until 2026. This is probably one of the worst contracts in the league.

This is the problem with the Ducks. Their contracts reflect what the team was a few years ago; Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf were the players to build the team around. Ryan Kesler and even Henrique and Fowler, to a lesser extent, were just compliments to a stronger force.

But when guys like Rickard Rakell, Nick Ritchie, Brandon Montour and Hampus Lindholm are now some of the best players on the team, the pay they should be getting is already taken. The situation the Ducks have brought upon themselves should act as a giant red flag to teams considering signing veterans to long-term deals.

Take a look at the Ottawa Senators in contrast. The only similar contract they have, funnily enough, is Bobby Ryan‘s. He will receive $7.3 million per year until 2022. They have an improving pool of prospects, ready to take the place of their veterans; most of whom have decent-enough contracts. Don’t forget, they have almost $7 million in cap space too.

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The Senators have already started their rebuild. By trading Erik Karlsson, they have committed to avoiding long-term contracts of aging players, regardless of their current talent.

The Anaheim Ducks, previously assuring success in the short term, have effectively doomed themselves for the next few seasons. A rebuild becomes impossible when contracts fail to reflect the future of the team.

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