The free agency dust has well and truly settled and with just the two RFAs left unsigned, we can start to play the guessing game as to how the Ducks (and subsequently the Gulls) lines might look this season.
Jake and Felix already did a brief dive into this on their most recent podcast and in the interest of not looking like too much of an idiot, my combinations do not differ too much from their thoughts (although they did initially because I completely forgot about Perry - oops).
But for all the multitude of depth signings and free agency dumpster diving Bob did this off-season, we are still left with the “pick your own head scratching adventure” scenarios of what happens if those two RFAs remain unsigned or the other potential - what happens if Ryan Kesler has to sit out the season.
Disclaimer: I am fully aware that this will not age well. Please do not laugh too much at past-me dear time travelers of the future.
Scenario 1: Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase hold out and Ryan Kesler is unable to play this season.
Lets call this the worst case scenario. It’s actually the least painful in terms of slotting forwards in at their preferred position and side. It also provides the perfect opportunity to “give the kids a chance” or allow some now-aging prospects to get some real minutes in the NHL before potentially being moved or earning spots at the expense of others.
This line-up is running on the assumption that Patrick Eaves is not quite 100% back to normal. It also wishfully thinks that all the motivational calling out in the press that Murray did over the summer causes Perry to have a bounce back season that deems him worthy of 1st line minutes.
I will also defend my choice of Kossila centering the 3rd line with the following points:
- He has centered the top line in San Diego for most of the past 2 seasons (and all of last year)
- Murray has stated he would not put youngsters on the fourth line to get minimal minutes
The other concern with this line is that they are all kids - but Roy has a decent amount of NHL experience now (25 games), including top 6 minutes in stretches last year and Terry has played in the Olympics for Pete’s sake. It’s not like any of these 3 are coming fresh from juniors.
Rodin is the odd man out but only because I don’t know a heck of a lot about him. His numbers in the Swiss league last year were not too bad but not amazing either. He was over a point per game in the playoffs for HC Davos but then again, the league leader in playoff scoring was Maxim Lapierre (shout out to former Duck Andrew Ebbett who was 7th) so...yeah Rodin seems like this year’s Dennis Rasmussen with less expectations.
The blue-line is easy - and you will note - does not change from scenario to scenario. The 3rd pairing left side spot is Petterssons to lose (or Larssons to gain - but I give the edge to Pettersson) and management has made it clear that Welinski isn't ready by signing 2 additional right shooting veterans.
I am also operating under the assumption that, given he was put on waivers to start the offseason - Korbinian Holzer is down with the Gulls.
Scenario 2: Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase are brought back before season starts but Kesler is still unable to go.
This is where the headaches start. I am still operating under the same assumptions as Scenario 1 in terms of Perry having a bounce-back and Eaves not being quite 100%.
The hardest call was switching Kase to his off-wing such as Jake mentioned in the podcast in order to keep Terry on the right side of that 3rd line - leaving Roy to head back to the Gulls. I would prefer to keep Roy up and allow Terry the 1st line minutes he would get in San Diego, but if I had to guess - and based off the reports surrounding who is likely to earn a roster spot, Terry is the clear front runner.
I am keeping Kossila up because I do not really trust any of the other depth signings to get full time centering minutes when it isn't their natural position.
The other contingency that may help determine who stays up and goes down is waiver exemption status. Here are those players on the bubble and their waiver exemption status:
Troy Terry: 158 more NHL games played until no longer waiver exempt - which based on how the Ducks have operated in the past; might mean he gets sent down either for cap savings like Theodore or simply because he can (sorry Jake).
Kevin Roy: 35 more NHL games played until no longer waiver exempt - a strong reason why Roy curiously took a paycut on the AHL side of his recently signed 2-way contract extension. He is betting on himself to make the big club and stick, or get picked up on waivers (or traded) mid-season to make it someplace else. A lot of talk lately is centered around it being either Terry or Steel making the big club this year but honestly I think it’s down to Terry or Roy.
Kalle Kossila: 49 more NHL Games played until no longer waiver exempt - this is Kossila’s last year of exemption. If Kesler is out for the season or misses time, or if the Ducks inevitably lose a center to injury - Kossila is the depth call. It is make or break to impress or remain a career AHLer - I hope for Kalle’s sake that he gets a shot with some decent line-mates this time.
But I digress. What this scenario shows is that when almost healthy - this line-up has a major issue with bodies on the right side; what with Perry, Silf, Kase, Terry, and Eaves, not to mention the depth signings of Rowney & Rodin. It’s a full bus and something has to give. Thankfully, after Terry there isn't an immediate standout prospect coming at that position but it still needs to be fixed both now and in the long term.
The same could be said for the center position if Kesler is indeed able to go for this year - which leads us to Scenario 3.
Scenario 3: Kesler is able to go, Kase and Ritchie are signed. Full line-up.
Not much change here except Kossila is dropped to the Gulls in a year that he should be probably getting as much NHL time as possible. Meanwhile, the next wave of Ducks center depth has arrived with Sam Steel beginning his first pro season. The highest rated prospect in the Ducks system should be getting top line minutes with the Gulls if not top 6, but if Kossila is dropped, it would slot him on their 2nd line and possibly even 2nd power play unit.
With Getzlaf, Kesler,and Henrique locked up for the next 3-6 years, it doesn't leave much room for the likes of Kossila, Steel, Morand, and Lundestrom to come through. Because of what has happened in the last few seasons with asset mismanagement, I am forever fearful of the Ducks becoming the league’s default player development program with minimal return on assets. The Devils seem to be making good use of it so far.
Then again - the club is inching ever closer to the cap lately and it is out there that at the same time Murray is attempting to extend Silfverberg. He is also not averse to dealing him before he might lose him for nothing by this season’s end. The same could be said for Ritchie. So lets explore the possibility of “Scenario 4 - trades happen”.
Scenario 4: Silfverberg is traded to create space to sign Ritchie and Kase.
Assuming the Ducks do not take back a roster player in the trade (because that would be counter-intuitive to the whole saving money thing), this creates space on the right side to allow both Terry and Kase to play their natural position. The difficult part is trying to guess which of the two is the more defensively minded.
In terms of pure NHL experience it would probably be Kase but we know that isn't really Kase’s game either and he already has existing chemistry with Henrique, so I am slotting in Terry in that spot purely because I don’t really know where else to put him. The other bonus from this is that it opens a spot for Roy to play the left side on the 3rd line.
I realise throughout all four of these scenarios that the depth signings of Rowney and Rodin are just hanging out as healthy scratches, but I’m not the GM who signed them seemingly for no reason so am absolving myself of responsibility there - as far as I am concerned they are purely injury cover for the 3rd or 4th line.
If Ritchie is dealt it just means either of the left-shooting Rodin or Gibbons - with Rowney doing spot duty at center with him gets a spot on the 4th line.
The Gulls line-up now gets confused by all of these scenarios but I think we can present it in two forms. One - with both Roy and Kossila up with the Ducks and perhaps one of the vet signings down - let’s say Rodin. Or alternatively, with Roy and Kossila and no additional veterans other than Holzer.
Gulls Scenario 1: Roy and Kossila up - Rodin down.
This should promote Steel to first line center with Carrick taking the 2nd line center spot. I might be over-hyping Jones but given what we saw with how Carlyle deployed this pair last pre-season, I think Eakins will keep them together also. Veteran AHL signing Ben Street will serve as the experience and guide for the youngsters. I can see Eakins keeping Blandisi and De Leo together as a pair to allow for their speed to complement each other. Rodin is the throw-in.
With all of the excitement surrounding Jones, Steel and Mahura going pro this year I almost forgot about Jack Kopacka. The bruising left-winger with a scoring touch acquired via pick from Edmonton for Patrick Maroon. He doesn't really fit anywhere but the 4th line in this scenario but if Jones falters - he could be swapped to join Steel on his wing.
Mitch Hults and Keifer Sherwood round out the rest of the 4th line - Hults love to hit and Sherwood is hard working with a penchant for scoring clutch goals, much like Kopacka.
Once again - much like last season - Nattinen, Dostie, and Sideroff are left out. Dostie saw time in the ECHL last season, as did Hults but Sideroff and Nattinen managed to avoid being demoted. That may change this year unless they can prove themselves. EIther way - the Ducks still need an ECHL agreement or affiliate.
Korbinian Holzer, Scott Moldenhauer, and Chris Forney suffer the same fate - Holzer I can see being swapped with Steve Oleksy on a rotational basis but it’s not where he likely wants to be. He could potentially go back to Europe like Rasmussen did last season.
Forney and Moldenhauer seem like depth signings to me.
As for the other pairings, Larsson and Megna have already spent most of last season together so there is existing chemistry. Oleksy was mentoring Pettersson for much of last season before he was called up - so Mahura is the next logical prodigy to place under his teachings.
Meanwhile, Andy Welinski is a curious case. He should start the year as the first powerplay unit quaterback but could find himself ursurped by Mahura if the youngster can hit the ground running, so to speak. Much like Roy and Kossila, this is Welinski’s last waiver exempt season and he needs to make it count or end up a career AHLer. Both he and Thompson are entering their 3rd year pro and 3rd with the Gulls, both on expiring contracts (in the case of Welinski, extended on a show-me deal) so the pressure is on to succeed.
In net - despite the veteran Coreau having vastly more experience and better numbers, I still see the net being equally shared in a 1A, 1B situation. Kevin Boyle demonstrated last season that he is ready to take on the number 1 responsibilities full time - to the point where both he and the departed Reto Berra stole games down the stretch whilst routinely facing over 40 shots a night.
Coureau - like Berra last year, Enroth before that, and Khodobin originally - are the veteran 1-year injury cover for whenever Gibson or Miller go down. Neither of these goaltenders are waiver exempt but if it is for an emergency injury call up - it is likely that Coureau will get the call while Boyle continues to get playing time in San Diego.
The other scenario is if Roy and Kossila start the year with the Gulls with Terry making the big club and the other veterans staying up as injury cover also.
Scenario 2: Roy and Kossila with the Gulls to start.
Once again the only change is in the forwards - with the Steel line moving to 2nd and Kossila taking Carrick’s spot with Tropp and Fiore. This, in turn, forces Carrick down to the 4th line and displaces Hults (the next obvious choice to lose his spot given he spent time in the ECHL last year). Roy comes back on the 3rd line with Rodin staying with the big club. Were Rodin to also be sent down - that would mean five extra forwards and three extra defenders, far too much depth for the club to carry and another reason why an ECHL agreement is desperately needed.
That does it for now - feel free to tell me how very wrong I am in the comments. Or start debating who needs to be traded. Or even more fun - think of all the additional players coming in next year! Here is a starter list - Comtois, Morand and Lundestrom (likely).