The second biggest stage of the 2012 off-season is approaching, as Free Agency is only days away. July 1st, which is also coincidentally Canada Day, is a big deal to most Canadian and big market teams as they look to fill the most pressing needs in their lineups.
For the Anaheim Ducks, it's generally quiet. Last year the front office made minor tweaks to a playoff roster, with the biggest name acquired being left-winger Andrew Cogliano. The previous year, the major signings were defensemen Toni Lydman and Andy Sutton, who the Ducks hoped to help with the departures of captain and future Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer, and truculent defenseman James Wisniewski. Not great moves, but I digress.
This off-season, the most important need in the Ducks lineup is a top-six center to play behind captain Ryan Getzlaf on the depth chart. Unless Bob Murray and the front office are comfortable moving star left-winger Bobby Ryan, the fan base likely won't see improvement at that position. Since Anaheim works on an internal budget, the positions we'll more likely see filled are the positions of first-line left-winger to play with Getzlaf and Corey Perry; a bottom-line center to replace Rod Pelley, as well as a top-four defenseman to take the place of recently traded Lubomir Visnovsky.
Listed below are six names (three forwards and three defensemen) who can fill the aforementioned voids on the Ducks roster as the NHL collectively heads into Free Agency on July 1st.
Listed first are three options at the forward position who can fill the role of 1st line LW or 4th line C.
1. Dustin Penner, Left Wing, Los Angeles Kings
Penner is a player familiar with the Ducks organization and fan base having played in Anaheim for two seasons, from 2005-2007. Penner recently won his second Stanley Cup title, this time with the Los Angeles Kings. He posted 3 goals and 8 assists in the 20 games Los Angeles played en route to their first Cup victory in franchise history. Penner is a left-handed left-winger who has experience with Ducks stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Depending on his cap hit, it's not unreasonable to believe Anaheim will aggressively pursue him once Free Agency begins.
2. Zenon Konopka, Center, Ottawa Senators
Konopka should be the hands down front-runner for the Ducks fourth-line center position as he fullfills two pressing Ducks needs. He's a consistent faceoff winner, something the Ducks have lacked since trading uber-grinder Sami Pahlsson. He can assume the role of resident tough guy, due to the impending loss of George Parros. Konopka is the type of 'policeman' who can add an extra dimension to a line-up, and he finished the 2010-2011 season with the 4th highest face-off percentage at 57.7%. This trait is something that always keeps Konopka in the Ducks line-up, meaning stars like Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan don't have to drop the gloves themselves.
3. Mike Knuble, Left Wing, Washington Capitals
When Mike Knuble turned 30 years of age, he had amassed 41 goals through parts of five NHL seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Boston Bruins. After that, he aggregated nine consecutive 20-goal seasons, his last being 2010-2011. Knuble's production (nine goals last season) and age (39) might scare some people, but he is the type of winger who brings value twofold. He can crash the net with skilled players like Getzlaf and Perry, and help mold young players in the locker-room. It also helps that he is familiar with current Ducks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, having played two-and-a-half seasons under him in Washington.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Zigomanis (Toronto Marlies), Wojtek Wolski (Florida Panthers), Brandon Prust (New York Rangers)
The following three options on defense are meant to fill the roles of #4 or #5 D. As it is now, #1 D (Francois Beauchemin), #2 D (Cam Fowler) and #3 D (Luca Sbisa) are occupied. We'll assume #6 D is filled by rookie Sami Vatanen.
1. Matt Carle, Philadelphia Flyers
Most like to think Carle is a Ryan Suter clone, and I'd have to agree. If Suter does not come to Anaheim (highly likely), Carle is a good player to settle with. He's not an elite shutdown guy, but he's a steady presence in his own end and can fill Lubo's spot on the powerplay. Carle is heralded for his versatility, meaning he could fit with any of the top-three guys (Beauch, Fowler, Sbisa), which is why he's placed at the top of the list.
2. Sami Salo, Vancouver Canucks
Although he's seemingly made of glass (he missed 172 games in nine seasons with Vancouver due to injury), he's a viable option to fill a top-four spot with the Ducks. His patented point-shot is something to behold, and he's a sizable presence on the blue-line at 6'3, 212. This option seems the most likely, as Vancouver is looking to Florida's Jason Garrison as Salo's replacement, and the Ducks are the equivalent of the Finnish National Team.
3. Filip Kuba, Ottawa Senators
Depending on the cap-hit - he made $3.7 million last season with Ottawa - Kuba could be a very realistic and intriguing option with Anaheim. For those who don't know, Kuba was partner to Norris trophy-winning Erik Karlsson last season, being the shutdown guy to Karlsson's puck-moving prestidigitation. Kuba's flexibility could mean he could play the #4D or #5D role, depending on where Coach Boudreau wants to fit him into the line-up. Do you know what's enticing? Pairing him with skilled rookie defenseman Sami Vatanen, allowing Sami to play the offensive game that won him two consecutive Pekka Rautakallio Trophys for best defenseman in Finland's SM-Liiga.