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September 11, 2017 | 10:40am ET
As a Duck takes to water...
By Hannah Spraker

ANAHEIM, CA -- As a duck takes to water, Bob Murray strikes deals. Somehow, someway, “Bargain Bob” pulls something out of his back pocket leaving everyone puzzled at how he managed to do it.

Keeping vital players in the expansion draft, re-signing Patrick Eaves, extending Cam Fowler, and getting a bonafide backup goaltender -- all in a days work, right? Apparently.

Now that the dust has settled, we can get a better grip on how teams stack up; what they have, what is missing, and all that jazz.

The Anaheim Ducks came off yet another disappointing post-season, falling to the Nashville Predators (again). Question marks were hovering in regards to contracts, who stays and who goes in the expansion draft, who will backup John Gibson, and the biggest question -- the Ducks window to win a Cup.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again, yes the window in closing for this core -- and I think Murray made a very telling statement with re-signing Eaves. Time is ticking away and we now have an inkling of which direction Murray is taking this team.

Blueline Burdens

The Ducks are rarely a headliner during the offseason, and typically lay low in terms of going after sought after free agents. That being said, let’s look at what Murray’s drawing board looks like.

Nearly everyone thought defenseman Sami Vatanen was going to Las Vegas in the expansion, and if it wasn’t him the next guess was probably Josh Manson, but Murray worked his magic. In a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights, they took 32-year-old defenseman Clayton Stoner. For taking him as their official expansion pick, they snagged young defenseman Shea Theodore. Smart move.

Theodore is a young defenseman who has shown incredible potential and promise with the Ducks. Sure, losing him might not be ideal, but with a budget team, it was better to be rid of Stoner’s albatross of a contract. Let’s not forget what the Ducks have on their blueline to begin with, not only on their current roster, but in the pipeline, as well.

All-Star defenseman Cam Fowler was given an eight-year extension, which kicks in after the 2018 season, and is worth $52 million. The contract includes a modified no-trade clause, with a four-team trade list.

Now, there have been some mixed feelings about this contract in the twitter-verse. Some reservations about the term, the price, and Fowler’s potential have come up. “Eight years is a long time”, “he hasn’t lived up to the hype yet”, “his corsi isn’t good”, etc.

Cam is only 25-five years old and just now really coming into his own as a top defenseman, calm down. Yes, eight years is a long time, but looking at how he is progressing, how hard he trains during the offseason, and how he adjusts his game accordingly, it should pan out. Furthermore, “if” Fowler is the next Scott Niedermayer, these same naysayers should be happy with the price they got him for down the line. Personally, I think that this is a steal; the Ducks got him on a home-team discount. Any number of teams would have loved to get their hands on him, and would probably pay more, but Cam likes it in Anaheim and wants to win here.

The Ducks are always spoken of in regards to their depth on the blueline, and have one of the stronger defensive corps in the League. Between Fowler, Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, Manson, Brandon Montour, Korbinian Holzer, and Kevin Bieksa -- it already looks like a well oiled machine. While that very well might be true, there has been a hiccup in the plan.

Injuries upon injuries once again plague the Ducks. Two of the best defensemen on the roster, Lindholm and Vatanen, will be out for at least the start of the season due to torn labrums, injuries that were sustained in the first round of the playoffs against Calgary. An apparent hole on the blue line for the first couple months, who will step in?

Minor acquisitions have been made in Steve Olesky, and the unexpected move of (yet again) signing Francois Beauchemin to a one-year deal, definitely adds depth, but camp is going to be the determinant here. My guess is that Ducks prospect Jacob Larsson is going to make the team.

Larsson is a extremely talented kid. The 20-year-old Swede plays in a way that is similar to that of Fowler. He is a smart, two-way, puck moving defenseman with great hockey IQ. While there are still some kinks to work out in his game, there’s a possibility he will be seeing NHL ice time, at least until Vatanen and Lindholm are back.

The Ducks decided to buyout defenseman Simon Despres, who has been struggling with concussion symptoms for quite some time now. After suffering multiple concussions and long term injury, he is not the same player and the team has decided to part ways. Finally the Bieksa-buyout rumors have been put to rest. Bieksa was not going to be bought out. He has one year left on his contract and then he’s gone, it is abundantly clear that they would rather stick out his contract than retain part of his salary for the next two years.

So we have a general idea of what could happen in the next few months before the start of the season, but seeing as the Ducks are knee-deep in talented defenseman, is there still a possible trade coming their way? From the looks of it, not likely, but stranger things have happened.

While injuries are never ideal, the beginning of the season is going to give those prospects some NHL ice time and see how they mesh with the veterans. This team has a handful of promising talent in the farm system, both on the blueline and up front, it is going to be interesting to see who makes it out of camp, and how it pans out.

Up Front

Sometimes the flame just burns out, right? Well I think Murray just blew the flickering flame out when it comes to Getzlaf and Perry. Two phenomenal players, but together just do not seem to have the chemistry they used to. Re-signing Eaves to a three-year deal confirmed this. Eaves is coming off of a career year, 51 points in 79 games, 32 of which were goals, between playing for Dallas and Anaheim. His chemistry with Getzlaf is undeniable and he has earned his keep on that top line. The two just mesh, and Eaves was a huge catalyst for the Ducks success as they reached the tail end of the regular season.

Nick Ritchie might look like a child, but this guy is a beast on the ice. I mean, we all remember that hit on Viktor Arvidsson, right? In the 2016-17 season alone he had 247 hits in 77 games. I would think it is safe to assume he is going to start the season on the top line with Getzlaf and Eaves, as they were for a portion of last season. This is a big top line.

Ritchie is 6’2, 230 pounds, Getzlaf is 6’4, 220 pounds, and Eaves is 6’0, 200 pounds -- these guys can do damage. Now, the downside I see to this is speed. This team has trouble against really fast teams, but if we have learned anything about this team, it is that the Ducks play their best when they can control the pace of the game, and slow it down to the more methodical style of play that players like Getzlaf thrive in.

The shutdown line. The infamous “Cogs-Kes-Silfvy” line, when the “ooh ahh silfverberg” cheers start booming throughout of Honda Center. A big concern before the expansion was protecting Silfverberg, precisely for this reason. Not only is he an incredibly talented and underrated player, but he is vital in this shutdown line. For a chunk of this last season, this was the only line making headlines and producing when others were falling flat. There were concerns that this team had become a one-line team, and off season moves are happening to ensure that that is not the case.

Perhaps the most controversial player this season, Perry is striking up rumors and criticism left and right. Yes, he had a down season and left everyone wondering if he was on the decline. Well, now we are going to find out. This coming season will show whether he just had an off year, or if he is really starting to taper off. Either way, now with Eaves on the top line with Getzlaf, he is better suited on the third line with Rickard Rakell. Rakell was playing left wing on the top line for a while and was producing just fine, but he is a natural center and I would imagine that that is where the coaching staff would ideally like him to be. Rakell and Perry have great chemistry, but once again, what about those left wing?

Here is where the question remains, does Murray go after a bonafide left wing, or does he work with what he’s got? I think he is going to work with what he’s got until something just fits. Ondrej Kase got his name in headlines quite a bit last season. The 21-year-old Czech is incredibly fast and plays with a good amount of finesse, similar to Rickard Rakell. In 53 games last season, Kase managed 15 points and two goals during the playoffs. Looks like he will be the front-runner for the coveted spot on that third line.

Center Nate Thompson signed with the Ottawa Senators in free agency. Is this a blow to the Ducks depth? Nope. While Thompson is definitely a great hockey player, but he is a fourth line guy who can never seem to stay healthy and the Ducks managed fine without him for the majority of the season.

The revolving door of free agency brought in Dennis Rasmussen in his place. The Ducks signed the center to a one year contract, but it is more likely that he will be seeing ice time on the third or fourth line until Ryan Kesler is fully recovered from hip surgery. This was a depth acquisition, and how he fits into the Ducks system will be interesting to see.

Until Kesler is back in, I would assume we will be seeing centers shuffled all up and down the lineup. We could see Antoine Vermette playing on the second or third line, but his spot is likely fourth line center, and he is great for what the Ducks got him for. Also able to play left wing, I think there is a possibility that Carlyle fiddles with him on the third line wing.

Chris Wagner is an underrated player for the role he plays. He plays a very physical game for someone of his size, and can still put up some points. He had three very valuable goals this past postseason, and came in clutch when they needed him. I think many will agree Wagner is a far better fit than Jared Boll for the fourth line right wing. Logan Shaw will likely take the left side, a career fourth line guy it would seem, but again we will see lines shuffling all over the place in the beginning.

The Ducks have so many talented prospects in their system; Sam Steel, Troy Terry, Max Jones, Jack Kopacka, etc. Regardless of how training camp plays out, the Anaheim Ducks future looks bright, and while the window for this roster is closing, a rebuild might not be as detrimental as expected.

Nothing but a “G” thing

Looking between the pipes, John Gibson is their guy, no doubt. The 23-year-old goaltender has sparked controversy and criticism with his unpredictability, maturity and tendency to get hurt, so going after a bonafide backup goaltender was high on the list going into the summer. Backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier signed with the Colorado Avalanche in free agency. Berny was a great backup for Gibson; he carried the team and stood tall when Gibson was injured and helped them solidify that Division title for the fifth consecutive year.

The problem was the playoffs. Yikes. For a guy who went 14 rounds in a shootout like it was nothing to then just flatlining? It was not pretty, and this team cannot afford poor playoff performance from anyone. They needed to find a bonafide backup who could come in at any moment (because we all know how injury prone John Gibson is) and be lights out; and that is exactly what they did.

The Ducks signed Ryan Miller to a two-year contract at $2 million per year. Excellent deal Bargain Bob. This team has already improved with this acquisition. The former Vancouver Canucks goaltender is a seasoned veteran who has played over 700 games in the NHL with a career save percentage of .915. Many critics gave Miller flack because the Canucks just...well, you know. A goaltender cannot be relied on to bail the team out every night, although Miller certainly did so on many occasions. Not to mention he faced over 40 shots night in and night out.

Signing Miller should help alleviate some of the concerns about Gibson. Having a mature, former Vezina winner (2010) as a backup to split the load, will hopefully decrease Gibson’s chances of getting injured. Although, if he does, Miller is more than capable to take over while he recovers.

A feel-good story all around, Miller will now be re-united with his family. His wife, Noureen DeWulf is an actress who has been living in Southern California with their son while Ryan was playing in Vancouver. I’m sure with a sigh of relief, the family is happy with Ryan’s decision to sign in Anaheim. Furthermore, at 36, Miller will not have to spend what could be his last years in the NHL with a team that is in a rebuild.

Looking Ahead

I think the big question here is, are the Ducks in a better spot than they were last summer? Yes, thanks to Bob Murray. I think that this team will benefit greatly from keeping the core in tact through the expansion and free agency, and from signing Eaves and Miller.

On paper, they are in a better spot than last summer, but the problem is the injury plague once again. Vatanen, Lindholm and Kesler will not be on the ice for the beginning of the season next month, therefore, adjustments are going to need to be made and the kids are going to have to step up to fill in those gaps and keep this team in a spot to contend for the Stanley Cup.

Hannah Spraker is the Anaheim Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.




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