When the Anaheim Ducks dealt Ben Lovejoy to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline last season, there were concerns about the return in defenseman Simon Despres. The lanky Quebecois had yet to establish himself as a regular NHLer with the Penguins, despite his stature and skating ability. Upon arrival in Anaheim Despres immediately slotted alongside Cam Fowler in the second defense pairing, helping the Ducks post a marked jump in shot attempt differential and helping the club reach the Western Conference Final for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
BREAKING: #NHLDucks sign defenseman Simon Despres to a five-year contract extension: http://t.co/kWt9LAlYyV pic.twitter.com/i0kS0w6Jf9— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) October 9, 2015
#ducks Simon Després: 5 ans / 18,5M$ total. #tvasports— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) October 9, 2015
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As referred to in our Season In Review series, the 24 year-old became a great partner for Fowler in the second pair. While not noted as an offensive presence, Despres ability to suppress shot attempts is vital and makes him the perfect yin to Fowler's offensively inclined yang. We pointed out in the '3 Questions' post as part of SBN's NHL Preview that the Ducks defense as a whole rose to 53.8 SAT% over the final 18 games and ranked 4th in the playoffs at 51.7 SAT%. Fowler, who had posted a 49.9 SAT% over the first 63 games, improved to 51.3 over the last 17 regular season games while Despres posted a 53.0 SAT%. The two were a reliable second pair in the playoffs, a 51.8 SAT% mark between them.
At 6'4", 215 lbs the smooth skating Despres is the ideal modern 'defensive defenseman'. He has enough speed to be able to handle the quicker forwards, and moves the puck well enough to either hit a forward on a breakout pass or get it to his partner to carry. Though not an overwhelming physical presence, he still uses his frame well, particularly with punishing hip checks.
Another thing this deal does is set the baseline for the seeming range that the organization will likely try to keep both Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen. With Fowler at $4 mil. a season for the next two years and now Despres locked in at $3.7 mil. through 20-21, that seems to be the neighborhood that the other defensive RFA's will likely attempt to be kept in. A quick calculation removing expiring contracts from NHL Numbers Ducks cap figure shows that with this deal Anaheim will have in the area of $13.7 mil. in available cap space, not accounting for any potential raise in the cap.
There is still much work to be done as far as figuring out the financials for next season, but the Ducks have put themselves in a good position defensively by locking down a former first round selection in Despres through nearly the remainder of his 20's.