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2020 NHL Free Agency: How much have Ducks improved so far?

Shattenkirk is a huge boost to the defense, but is standing pat up front the right move?

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Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the Tampa Bay Lightning controls the puck as Jamie Benn #14 of the Dallas Stars pursues the play in the third period of Game Four of the NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place on September 25, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Anaheim Ducks didn’t have it easy going into free agency. The cap-strapped club pulled off a very friendly signing in defender Kevin Shattenkirk, in hope to address the team’s struggles at the blue line last season. But that’s about all they’ve been able to afford, as the team is still without a back up goaltender. Have they done enough to get back into playoffs already?

If you’re familiar with analytics work within hockey and/or you have a subscription to the Athletic, you’ve certainly heard of analyst Dom Luszczyszyn, who has been improving upon his predictive model over the last few years. He recently took a look at each team’s off-season moves and ranked all 31 teams’ performances so far.

Using a player’s last three seasons of box score data, Luszczyszyn created a model that identifies a Game Score Value Added, a concept he adapted from basketball. No model is perfect, and rookies, coaching, usage and team stats are a few of the things that could affect the model’s accuracy.

You can read more on the methodology here, but with a wins above replacement rate for each player, he can predict (on paper, anyway) how much better or worse a team will be next season based on the values of each team’s roster. He also looks at the total salary moved, comparing these two values on a scatter plot:

With that said, Luszczyszyn’s model ranked the Anaheim Ducks at fifth overall in added value through the 2020 free agency period so far:

Anaheim Ducks

Wins Added: 2.0 wins

Salary Added: $1.4 million

In: Kevin Shattenkirk, Derek Grant

Out: Erik Gudbranson, Ryan Miller, Michael Del Zotto

Getting rid of Erik Gudbranson and adding Kevin Shattenkirk is obviously a pair of moves my model is going to love — especially since the latter is somehow (!) cheaper. Shattenkirk gives the power play a lot more bite and he showed last season on the league’s best team that he can still be a strong defender at 5-on-5. He’s underrated. The question, of course, is why the Ducks are even aiming to improve at all given their current need for a rebuild, but maybe they find a way to surprise.

The Ducks’ major move of free agency — acquiring Shattenkirk at a bargain price — while shedding the salaries of Erik Budbrandon and Michael Del Zotto on the blue line is huge for the team plagued with bad luck on the backend last season.

But as Luszczyszyn notes, and I’ve mentioned before, it’s an unusual move for a team that hasn’t otherwise done major work toward rebuilding. They haven’t created significant cap space for themselves this year and while they’ve draft well enough, they also haven’t really acquired a franchise-defining player, either.

Corey Pronman of the Athletic gave their 2020 NHL Draft a B+ rating, mostly due to their two first-round picks and their second-round selection. Pronman also ranked the Ducks 18th overall in his post-draft prospect pool rankings, stating:

Anaheim had two straight years with a top-10 pick and has begun the steady process of rebuilding. The Ducks have some good players, but they will either need someone like Trevor Zegras to really pan out or get a pick at the top of the draft to give this young core a true foundation to build around.

Still, earlier this month, Ducks general manager Bob Murray said he sees the team getting back into playoff contention, as he addressed reporters after the Shattenkirk signing.

“We’re a better team. We’ve got a lot of good teams out West, so we got to get going here. I think it’s time and I think you’re going to see improvement with some of our young guys. And if we get improvement in some of the young guys, which it’s time for, and you get a little bit more consistency from the middle-age guys, I think we can be right there fighting for a playoff spot. There’s no reason we can’t be.”

It seems like the Ducks are trying to artificially jumpstart their rebuild by adding Shattenkirk, but the front end of the roster isn’t all too different. Last year, the Ducks ranked 19th in shots for and 21st in goals for. There’s also a general lack of defensive depth, both on the NHL roster, and in the Ducks’ system. Those issues will limit how well a jumpstart will hold.