In a word, 'Defense.' And not just that big 'get' free agent defenseman. Really, for Anaheim, every little bit helps at this point.
After buying out Nathan Oystrick, the Ducks' signed defensive corps now consists of Lubomir Visnovsky, Steve Eminger, Sheldon Brookbank and Brett Festerling, also known as Lubo and the Bottom Pair . . . ers. The RFA process continues with Brendan Mikkelson and James Wisniewski, and while the former will most likely sign for an affordable price, discussions with the latter are visibly irritating Bob Murray. That's not too different from last year, but this time, Murph may actually take it to arbitration. And if the outcome is too far from what he's willing to pay, he may just walk away.
So, despite having four players signed, potentially five, the Ducks have three openings in their Top 4. That's reason enough for a budget team to become buyers in free agency, but when you consider the Ducks can only make an offer sheet between 1.6M and 3.1M this summer (and don't have the most attractive trade bait beyond Bobby Ryan), the team could be downright desperate buyers. More after the jump...
UPDATE: This was a network wide exercise, and I left out some information. So here it is for format purposes (via Capgeek):
Pending (qualified) RFA's
Pending UFA's (minus Kyle Calder)
Current Cap Space: 21.6M
Current Budget Space: No budget has been reported for this year, but based on the money Anaheim spent to start next season, I would say around 15M
Defensive Prospects who could make the jump: Luca Sbisa (most likely), but also Eric Regan, John de Gray, and Stu Bickel (all may get looks on final year of contracts, but none may be ready to step in full time). I also think highly of Matt Clark.
If you missed it above, the Ducks cannot issue a meaningful offer sheet this summer. Why? Their 3rd Round pick for next year is currently involved in the Justin Pogge trade with Toronto:
If Pogge ends up starting 30 or more regular-season games for the Ducks -- or another NHL team he is traded to by Anaheim -- between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, the Maple Leafs would receive the [third round] pick [in 2011]. - [emphasis added] - NHL.com
Carolina has not re-signed Pogge, but they have tendered him a qualifying offer. Until they trade him, or until it becomes mathematically impossible for him to play 30 games for their club, the Ducks do not own their third round pick next year, and thus cannot issue an RFA offer sheet for which the compensation would be their third round pick. And as you can see from this handy chart courtesy of Coppernblue, the only offer sheet amounts that do not require a third round pick as compensation are offers under 1M, offers over 7.8M and offers between 1.6M and 3.1M. That's not a lot of wiggle room.
That makes the moves the Ducks make in unrestricted free agency all the more important. The team should certainly be in 4M+ discussions for players like Paul Martin, but they should also be in discussion for depth defensemen, whether they be older players who could be had at a discount (like Andy Sutton) or younger players who could be snatched for the same price. Obviously, names like Kurtis Foster and Shaone Morrison come to mind as players that could potentially be valuable if the raise on their previous contracts isn't too large. And the Ducks really need to explore every option, as their needs go far beyond a single missing piece.
Maybe the best move the Ducks can make is to trade. As players shuffle around, defensemen will undoubtedly shake loose. I think an offer for Greg Zanon or Andrew Alberts would go a long way to shoring up the blueline. And those players could certainly be had for less than a big name forward. Unfortunately, to acquire a marquee name, the Ducks don't have much to trade after Bobby Ryan, and if they can't acquire enough defense through free agency, you have to assume they've already lost Selanne and Koivu, making the loss of a forward, not to mention Ryan, tough to manage.