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Ducks’ Summer Mailbag: Vatanen Trade Rumors, Scoring Woes, and Irvine’s Nic Kerdiles

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Does Sami Vatanen have a future in Anaheim? Are the Ducks making money? Does Nic Kerdiles have an NHL future? All that, and more, answered in this week’s mailbag.

Anaheim Ducks v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Congratulations, dear reader; you’ve made it through the last hockey-less month of 2017. Training camp is nigh, and with it the excitement of yet another chapter waiting to be written into NHL history.

To help pass the remaining time, it only makes sense to address questions and storylines that you have in mind, so let’s get right into it.

Nic Kerdiles is easy to gloss over at first glance. He played in all of one regular season NHL game in 2016-17, as well as a brief cameo in the post-season. He certainly seems like a competent skater, but he doesn’t really possess any eye-catching skills outside of that.

Luckily, the available data on him is far more instructive than the eye-test. Surprisingly, he led all San Diego Gulls’ forwards in shots on goal per game in 2016-17 (3.07). 83 shots in 27 games is a lot in any league. The next closest Gull? Ondrej Kase, with 2.64 shots on goal per game.

Data courtesy of prospect-stats.com

Kase had one of the best on-ice shot-attempt rates of any Ducks’ forward in the regular season, while Kerdiles more than held his own in the playoffs. Granted, 34 even-strength minutes through four games is a tiny sample, but a 55.17 shot-attempt rate is encouraging. There’s a ton of value in having fourth-liners who can pin play into the opponent’s zone, so perhaps Kerdiles can eventually fill that role.

Anaheim’s fourth line isn’t exactly flush with talent, meaning Kerdiles should have a real opportunity to carve out a roster spot. After all, he is “Irvine’s Nic Kerdiles”. On a side note, it’d be interesting to see if shots-per-game in the AHL are a good predictor of NHL play-driving ability. More research needed.

Injuries certainly had their say in the Ducks’ eventual demise at the hands of the Nashville Predators, but their offense lacked the punch to survive any losses up top. Outside of Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry, Anaheim doesn’t have any guys who can truly create offense for themselves.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the grind-it-out, cycling style of Ryan Kesler’s line. As the Pittsburgh Penguins proved, however, having a couple of dynamic game-breakers can mitigate just about anything.

The forward free agent market wasn’t exactly stocked with offensive creativity, but it still surprising that the Ducks didn’t pursue a low-cost playmaker type like Radim Vrbata or Ales Hemsky.

With a fully healthy lineup, the Ducks are still a fearsome offensive unit, limitations and all. They graded out quite nicely both from a possession and expected goals perspective post-trade deadline, indicating that they were generally generating good looks. Perhaps some more ice time to Kase, or a step forward from Kalle Kossila could help bump those overall scoring numbers up.

Sami Vatanen is an interesting case study of perception not quite lining up with reality. Around the league, Vatanen’s name seems to carries a certain name-brand recognition in spite of some unimpressive on-ice results.

The 26-year old butters his bread with his offensive game thanks to his nimble skating and puckhandling. His heavy slap shot opens up lanes on the power play, much resembling the open lanes while he’s defending the other side of the ice. Him and Cam Fowler were largely ineffective together last year, partially due to Vatanen’s defensive limitations. Fowler’s possession numbers spiked in the playoffs once he was paired with Josh Manson, to no one’s surprise.

Does that make Vatanen expendable though? His 5-on-4 game certainly has value, and he can still have a positive impact in the right setting. Even so, the Ducks should capitalize on the fact that his trade value probably exceeds his actual usefulness.

Anaheim needs more play-driving ability on their bottom pairing, and Vatanen has essentially proven that he can’t do that at this point in his career. If he can fetch the Ducks another useful piece up front, then it’s worth pulling the trigger, potentially opening the door to give Jacob Larsson a real shot at full-time NHL duty.

Ryan Miller is still a capable NHL goaltender, and his relatively injury-free past has made for a smoother aging curve. He was an excellent low-cost signing for Anaheim, and should be an upgrade over the inconsistent Jonathan Bernier.

John Gibson has never had a veteran backup like Miller. The 36-year old veteran has a ton of big-game experience, and the Team USA connection should presumably help the two hit things off nicely.

Injuries have plagued Gibson’s young career to date. Miller has managed to stay healthy throughout his career thanks in part to a consistent off-ice regimen, so the hope for Anaheim is that he can impart some of those techniques onto the Ducks’ starter.

Given how well Gibson played last year, it feels extremely unlikely that Miller ever supplants him as the starter. Should Anaheim’s chosen one go down, however, they’ll be able to rest easy in knowing that Miller can easily play a long stretch of games.

The latest data from Forbes suggests that the Ducks are nearly breaking even in operating income, having operated at a loss between 2010-2016. They were only at -$1.2 million at the end of 2016, so perhaps that gap is now closed with the Vegas expansion money coming in.

Anaheim has spent right around the cap — sometimes even over it — for the last three years, so the organization has to believe that the books will be balanced sooner or later.

The franchise was valuated at $415 million in November of 2016, so Henry Samueli would make a very healthy profit given the $70 million he paid back in 2005. He’s not losing money in the long run.

Clearly, all the talk of the Ducks having an “internal cap” is nonsense. They’re once again right up against the cap at $71 million, retaining some breathing room to add a player during the season. Locking down Fowler long-term was huge, but Murray will once again have his hands full in the summer of 2018, as Andrew Cogliano, Brandon Monntour, and Manson will be hitting unrestricted and restricted free agency, respectively.

As things currently stand, the Ducks will enjoy the services of Vatanen, Fowler, and Lindholm together for at least the next three seasons. Vatanen is up in 2020, while Lindholm will be a UFA in 2022 (at which point he’ll be 28 — that contract will be a monster). It’ll be interesting to see if Vatanen is still a Duck by 2020, but both Fowler and Lindholm could very well retire in Anaheim.

Manson will be an RFA next summer, and his negotiation will be fascinating to follow. Although both a puck possession and literal monster, he hasn’t exactly put up the kind of flashy statistics that tend to get guys paid. Lindholm, clearly more talented —although not nearly prolific offensively, was signed to a very team-friendly deal in the fall of 2016. It feels like that’s the most likely outcome.

Montour’s negotiation has the potential to be a lot stickier. He’s already shown a ton of offensive potential, which should help his ability to drive a hard bargain. As long as he doesn’t develop a reputation as a defensive liability, he should be able to potentially make a healthy sum. He didn’t really drive play last year, leaving one to wonder if his ceiling is a better — but still flawed — Vatanen. Given that he’ll be an RFA, it’s a safe bet that he’ll remain in Anaheim for the foreseeable future.

Put all that together, and it would seem that the Ducks should be able to retain their core of defensemen for quite some time. A talented blueline with its best years still to come guarantees that Anaheim will remain very competitive even as Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler get up there in years. Already a solid group, the Ducks could have something really special on their hands if Larsson or Marcus Pettersson turn into NHL regulars.