It’s been a while since the Anaheim Ducks have made a major splash via trade or free agency.
Think about it: the Ducks last trade to acquire top-line talent was back in June 2014 when Ryan Kesler was brought down from Vancouver. There was the Sami Vatanen-for-Adam Henrique deal last season, though the magnitude of that trade falls a bit short of being considered a true game-changer; Henrique is a middle-six center.
There is an opportunity for the Ducks general manager Bob Murray to take a big swing though, and that opportunity is there because of an ongoing strife between the Toronto Maple Leafs and restricted free agent forward William Nylander.
Nylander is without a contract and has not played this season, and if he and the Leafs cannot agree on a deal by Dec. 1, Nylander is ineligible to play this season. While various rumors of trades, or even a yearlong holdout, have been floated, it doesn’t seem Toronto and Nylander will agree on anything before that deadline.
This is where the Ducks could and should take advantage of another team’s cap constraints.
At the moment, Toronto has over $12 million in cap space, but obviously the Maple Leafs are hesitant to take on salary right now because of the wealth of upcoming restricted free agents. After 2018-19, Mitchell Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and, most importantly, Auston Matthews all become RFAs.
Toronto currently has $30 million in projected cap space for next year with only 10 current NHL skaters and one goaltender under contract.
Obviously, Matthews is a priority and he’ll command, at minimum, what Jack Eichel is earning over in Buffalo ($10 million AAV). Marner is already a two-time 60-point scorer and in his third season has taken his game to another level (20 points in 17 games); he won’t come cheap either. And don’t sleep on Kapanen, another young winger who is producing at nearly a point per game.
Nylander’s holdout is not only a function of his salary demands, but how much the Maple Leafs already have committed, or will commit, to their forward group. Because of the play of Marner and Kapanen, he’s become somewhat expendable.
Now, the Ducks aren’t exactly in cap heaven either. Anaheim only has about $5.3 million in space next year and nearly $14 million the year after that. Considering that Jakob Silfverberg is the only significant piece coming off the books after 2018-19, there’s very little wiggle room for Ducks general manager Bob Murray.
Because of that, and because Nylander is obviously going to need a new contract straight away, the Ducks cannot just unload prospects and picks to make this work. There needs to be NHL players involved, and at least one with a decent-sized contract. Plus, in a Ducks season that’s been so mediocre and irregular, would it really be wise to deal a potential lottery pick? Obviously not; Murray absolutely should keep that in his back pocket.
It’s no secret that Toronto has been craving more defensive beef since its rebuild began a few years back. Morgan Rielly is a strong offensive defenseman, and Jake Gardiner has his moments, despite some warts, but the Maple Leafs are still missing a truly reliable defensive option.
Enter Josh Manson.
Would losing Manson be a hit to a Ducks defensive group that has lost more good players in recent years than it has gained? Of course. Shea Theodore, Sami Vatanen and Manson would be a nice unit for any NHL team, and in this hypothetical Anaheim would have let all three go in the span of about 16 months.
Manson is a good player, but he’s not a great player. The former sixth-round pick brings an element of nastiness and physicality to the Ducks’ defense that is otherwise missing, and his 37 points in 80 games last year was easily a career-high.
But Manson has his warts, and with increased responsibility his play has suffered. Often paired with Hampus Lindholm, the duo’s CF% over the last two seasons is a strong 53%. Without Lindholm, Manson’s CF% dips to 44% during that span.
This year, playing primarily without Lindholm, Manson’s CF% is a ghastly 41%. Now to be fair to Manson, the Ducks are the worst possession team in the NHL and only one player is above 50% in that category, but he’s not an irreplaceable player. You can find Josh Mansons.
Can you find William Nylanders? Not as often, but right now the Ducks have a chance to add a very appealing player to their offensive group. Anaheim has more than enough wingers who are solid role players, whether it be Patrick Eaves, Nick Ritchie or Andrew Cogliano; aside from Rickard Rakell, there’s a great lack of dynamic talent around for the long term. There’s intriguing prospects like Troy Terry and Max Comtois, but Nylander is a sure-fire top-line player.
Now, there has been speculation that it would actually be Brandon Montour, and not Manson, that would head the other way in a deal for Nylander. While this would probably be preferable for the Ducks, Montour seems a bit redundant along that Maple Leafs’ blueline. Plus, while there’s only a difference of about $800K between Manson’s and Montour’s cap hit, that still assures the Ducks would need to ship another veteran to Toronto (again, likely Silfverberg). If you’re Murray, you’re probably more willing to part with Montour than Manson, especially considering the long and likely contentious negotiation that happened over the summer to agree on Montour’s new deal.
Let’s say the Ducks do nab Nylander, what will he command in his contract?
Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers seems like a fair comparable. Only three months older, Ehlers is also a two-time 60-point scorer. Due to become a restricted free agent after the 2017-18 season, Ehlers agreed on a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Jets last October. That AAV of $6 million comes with a modified no trade clause in the final three years.
There’s also Boston’s deal with David Pastrnak to use. Pastrnak’s deal, signed last September and beginning in 2017-18, costs $6.67 million per year for six years and includes clauses in the final two seasons. And Pastrnak, unlike Nylander or Ehlers, has been an 80-point scorer.
Only a year after Ehler’s and Pastrnak’s deals were signed, it’s hard to imagine Nylander warranting much more than either. A six-year deal for about $6.67 million per year seems fair, considering increase in the salary cap since last year. Should the Ducks trade Manson and Silfverberg together, that’d clear up $7.85 million, while a Montour-Silfverberg package opens up just over $7 million.
So yeah, this isn’t some pipe-dream. This is a unique opportunity for the Ducks to acquire a skillful player — one who is only 22 years old — that can immediately improve an area that has been a longtime need. The report that Cam Fowler will be out indefinitely with a facial fracture should have no affect on a pursuit for this deal; Nylander is an investment.
In turn, the Maple Leafs would acquire two players that could help them contend for a Stanley Cup this year, and in Silfverberg’s case he won’t be stuck on the books past 2018-19.
Time to strike while the iron is hot.
(Salary figures courtesy of capfriendly.com; statistics courtesy of corsica.hockey and naturalstattrick.com.)