The rising of the Anaheim Ducks from a seeming early season grave is a story that has continually made waves around the league as it has unfolded. After confounding fans and experts alike with a slow start, the team is now looking like the competitive outfit many expected to be a major player come playoff time.
These sort of things happen fresh from knocking off the Calgary Flames for the 22nd consecutive time at Honda Center in a game immediately following the most successful seven-game road trip (5-1-1) in franchise history. The big numbers of 19-4-2 since Christmas, averaging 3.36 goals per game over the stretch while allowing just 2.16 are eye-catching. The rebounding production from stars Ryan Getzlaf (seven goals and 20 assists), Corey Perry (12 goals and eight assists), and Ryan Kesler (nine goals and 12 assists) has played a major role in the team's ascent to expected performance level.
With the NHL trade deadline a week away, it's a dramatic time for fans and a stressful one for general managers, trying to make the right deals to put the pieces in place to close the season strong and make a run in the playoffs. The question is for now-rolling Anaheim, do they really need to make a major splash on the trade market?
The Perron Effect
Since acquiring David Perron from Pittsburgh for Carl Hagelin the night of a 4-2 win over Dallas on January 15, the impressive post-Christmas run has jumped to another level. With Perron skating alongside Getzlaf, he's been nearly a point-per-game player (six goals and eight assists in 15 games with the Ducks), and Anaheim is 12-2-1 following the trade. The offense has been even more impressive with the reconfigured lineup following the deal, averaging four goals per game with Getzlaf and Perron together, while Perry has skated with Rickard Rakell as his center.
What's interesting is despite the uptick in scoring, the Ducks even strength possession numbers have backslid a bit. While their full season shot attempt differential percentage is third best in the league at 53.2%, since acquiring Perron it's slipped to 51.4%, 12th overall during the stretch. The scoring chance percentage has remained level at 52.5%, while high danger chance percentage has dropped to 49.8%, from the full season number of 52.7%. Of course, there are other extenuating factors defensively that contribute (heavy, tough minutes for a Cam Fowler-Kevin Bieksa pairing that seems yet to find consistent rhythm for one), but it's something to consider.
On the individual level though, it's hard not to call the move a rousing success at five-on-five. Regardless whether it's been the currently injured Chris Stewart, or his recent stand-in Mike Santorelli on the right wing, Getzlaf and Perron have be dominant at even strength. The duo are generating 58.1% of the shot attempts (a 1.5% jump for Getzlaf), and have scored ten goals while allowing just two. The shutdown combo of Kesler with Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano on the wings are controlling 55.2% of the shot attempts despite beginning 42.2% of their shifts in the defensive zone. Even though Rakell and Perry are below the break even mark in SAT% when not stacked alongside Getzlaf, they've score more goals (11) than they've allowed (10).
The Cost Of Potential Market Moves
Considering things are humming along for Anaheim, with the top three lines in form and making things happen, there's the ever present thought that "hey, maybe things could be even better if this player is brought in."
Looking at some of the names on the market, it's hard not be intrigued by the possibility of what Andrew Ladd could do alongside Rakell and Perry, or maybe what Loui Eriksson may do if partnered with Getzlaf and Perron. Both are 30-year old veterans with plenty of experience on their side, on expiring contracts, and would likely require a significant expenditure to bring to the Ducks. Bearing in mind the established trade philosophy of general manager Bob Murray's preference to avoid rentals, each seems a significant ask.
There's also the question of how said big names could fit even if Anaheim were willing to spend the young players/picks necessary to make one of those potential moves. Eriksson has a reputation as a bit of a peripheral player at times in the offensive zone despite his defensive prowess, and wasn't that one of the reasons why Hagelin was shipped to Pittsburgh? Is Ladd enough a difference-maker as a physical, scoring (which he hasn't done much of this season) forward, as significant an upgrade over Patrick Maroon or Nick Ritchie that it'd be worth paying the sizable ransom Winnipeg will surely want for their captain?
For as much as folks like to talk about the Ducks wealth of cap space ($7.011 mil. according to NHL Numbers) making them a prime possibility for a rental, there is next season to worry about as well. The value of the Canadian dollar has folks talking that the cap increase many anticipated may not come to pass. If that's the case it's worth noting Anaheim, a budget team, will have $53.076 mil. locked up in eight returning forwards, five defensemen, and one goalie lext year. The Ducks could be looking at having in the neighborhood of $20 mil. needing to fill at least four forward spots, one defense spot, and one goalie at the NHL level, and only some of which could be covered by their raise-needing restricted free agents.
Murray has made some canny moves thus far this season, getting out from under a $4 mil. deal with three additional years remaining by sending Hagelin to Pittsburgh for a scorer who fits the team better stylistically and has been lights out thus far in Perron. Shipping out the skilled but ill-fitting Jiri Sekac for the less expensive, half paid-for and better gritty bottom line fit Ryan Garbutt was a stroke of genius. The Ducks lineup is now as balanced as it has ever been this season, and the team is performing at a tremendous level as a result.
One could make the argument that Anaheim already has made a rental-type move in picking up Perron. With the available cap space there is the room to make another major one, and it certainly feels like if there ever were a time where it financially made sense to swing for the fences with another big name rental, this is the year. The window to compete for the Stanley Cup is ever fleeting, and recent history in Chicago and Los Angeles shows that fortunate has favored the bold in bolstering their lineup for successful championship pushes.
However, with how the Ducks are playing now, there may not even be that necessity for another moon-shot swing on the trade market. Players like Rakell, Hampus Lindholm, and Sami Vatanen are vital to Anaheim remaining competitive as the likes of Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler age into their declines, as are the prospects and picks a major move would almost certainly require.
The last few deadlines have seen Anaheim bring in a future defensive cornerstone (Simon Despres) while adding further depth (James Wisniewski, Korbinian Holzer) last season, and a veteran depth defenseman (Stephane Robidas) and draft picks in 2014. With the team's turnaround in a weaker division, the Ducks are once more in a position where there is no immediate, pressing need for Murray to address. Rather, once again they can look for a 'hockey move' that makes sense both this year and into the future, while having plenty of appealing chips should they choose to deal.
Trade deadline day is usually one of the most intriguing on the calendar during the NHL regular season. Perhaps most exciting for Anaheim, there seems no immediate, pressing need to go out of the way to make an earth-shattering move.