The Ducks have had an interesting few days. Right before the draft, Murray made what was arguably the best trade of his tenure as the Ducks GM, giving up an underused Luca Sbisa, a liked but perhaps necessary sacrifice in Nick Bonino, and the 24th overall pick for the 2C he's been chasing sine he took over this job: Ryan Kesler.
The Ducks continued the center acquisitions by picking up Nate Thompson from the Lightning. Nate had his first positive Corsi season despite only starting 45% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Nate kills penalties, is pretty good in circle, and will always be referred to as Nate, or Nate Dogg. I miss Nate Dogg. After the deal, the Ducks boasted very solid center depth in Ryan Getzlaf, Kesler, Mathieu Perreault and Nate Thompson. Rickard Rakell would still be first alternate out of Norfolk. Things were looking very good down at the Ponda Center.
Then things got different. Murray decided not to qualify Perreault, making him an unrestricted free agent, instead of an organization controlled RFA. The two sides couldn't come to terms, so Murray apparently decided letting him walk was the best course of action. Letting a controlled player go for nothing is almost always poor asset management. The exception is usually for guys who the organization think can't cut it anymore. The best defense of the move would be that Murray felt he could finish his Cup contender via free agency. Rakell is highly touted. If the organization believed it could fix the defense via free agency and Rakell could replace Perreault, then Murray is just trying to dodge a headache he thought he didn't have to deal with.
That's the situation heading into free agency. MP had been given a take it or leave it deal and the Ducks still needed to fix a defense that was playing Ben Lovejoy on the top pair and should have an intense concern about an aging Beauchemin. With that in mind, let's look at the moves that were made.
Clayton Stoner: 4 years, 13 million
Lets be honest, there's only one reason to sign a Stoner (couldn't help myself); he's there to be a big, physical, shot blocking defender. So how does he match up to our other guys in terms of hits, blocked shots and giveaways. These are all last year numbers, and standardized to 60 minutes played for comparisons. I also rounded to whole minutes to keep calculations a little more simple for me.
First, there will be plenty of time to debate the merits of the NHL's real time stats in the comments. Stoner is a big body guy with an edge. He hits and blocks shots. His corsi numbers are pretty bad, so giveaways function as a comparison to the guy he's likely going to be compared to Fumblepuck..I mean Allen. At first glance, Sami Vatanen is a tiny Boss. At second glance, why do the Ducks hate Marc Fistric? That man can give you everything you probably just signed Clayton Stoner for at half the price. Fistric is a wrecking ball of Miley Cyrus level proportions.
Now that we got that out of the way, Stoner looks like Bryan Allen. They are almost the same player. Allen hits less, but blocks more shots and gives the puck away less by a pretty slim margin. So, Stoner is a cheaper Bryan Allen. Stoner was involved in three more fights, so we'll be better protected. This signing is a head scratcher all around.
The Ducks need help at the top of the defense and not the bottom. Fowler needs a better partner than Lovejoy. Lindholm needs a guy who will be around a little longer than Beauchemin. If you can count, you probably noticed there are now eight contracts on the blue line again, because nobody actually believes Vatanen is going anywhere. Vatanen probably only moves if we are getting a legitimate #1 defender in return, and I don't think Nashville wants to move Shea Weber. This looks like Murray replacing Allen with Allen when he probably could have replaced Allen with Fistric. It also doesn't address what we will do with the top of the defense. Even if Murray's looking for a back door to shove Allen out of, as is rumored, he would have the same defense that couldn't get it done last year.
Did I mention we tripled his salary from last year...tripled, and he kills bears.
Jason LaBarbera: 1 year 750K
I really liked the Chappelle Show. There was this sketch about the Annual Player Haters gathering. Chappelle's character says something along the lines of, "What can I say about that shirt, that hasn't already been said about Afghanistan." It's funny if you remember when the Chappelle Show aired. LaBarbera is a 34 year-old who spent most of last year in the AHL, and he didn't necessarily play well there. He didn't really play well in the NHL either. Is he supposed to be Andersen's backup in the NHL, or Bobkov's in Norfolk so we can call him up when Gibson or Anderson falters? LaBarbera is a veteran and...a veteran. The Ducks needed one in the organization, and he is one. So, need addressed.
It's been weird. Murray obviously didn't improve the team through Free agency. He picked up the same player he had at least one of, maybe two, and paid him a ton of money. He didn't get any forward upgrades and it's hard to say if the goaltending help will...help.
If this team is going to get any better from last year's squad, there will be trades or rookies taking on big roles. If there are trades, Murray took a bullet out of his gun by not qualifying Perreault. No matter what value Perreault may or may not have had, he is certainly a guy who can play in the NHL. There will have to be something going forward. Kesler agreed to be traded here because he thought we were a contender. Stoner is a superfluous expense that will continue to clog up the blue line for the next four years, and undoes some of the well-earned good faith brought by the Kesler trade.
Free agency was a bit of a failure for the Ducks. In order to improve going into the season, the Ducks will be looking to shoplift from teams near the cap.