Since his first full NHL season in 2015-16, Josh Manson has been one of the most reliable defenseman for a Ducks team that has benefitted from a deep pipeline of blueliners. Even with much of that depth gone, Manson has remained a constant, eating big minutes with the third highest time on ice per game on the Ducks this season.
He’s not the kind of guy who will generate much offense outside of his 37 point campaign in 2017-18, but that’s not his style of play. Manson is the defenseman Murray thought Kevin Bieksa and Clayton Stoner were. The difference is that Manson isn’t particularly slow, can jump into the rush when needed, and most importantly, moves the puck up ice quickly.
Despite a few more obvious mistakes in his own zone then Ducks fans are used to, Manson has overall had a relatively decent season.
Overall, the 28-year-old has been the steady presence the Ducks have needed with plenty of questions in a rebuilding team’s defensive core.
Which is why it is the perfect time to trade him.
There were essentially no weaknesses in that group, and perhaps only the Nashville Predators could claim to have a blueline as talented as Anaheim at that time. Fast forward to two season later, and half of that group has been traded away. So the thought of trading Manson too might not sit well with some people.
However, the Ducks of now are very different than the 2017 playoff squad. This is a team in competition for a lottery pick instead of a postseason berth. They are in the middle of a retool that very well might need to turn into a full rebuild in order to get back to contention. These transition periods in the NHL force teams to make tough decisions in order to ensure their long-term health.
One of the most logical moves the Ducks could make would be to deal Manson to a contender. Outside of a few isolated stretches, Manson is the type of responsible, puck moving defenseman who brings an oft-desired physical edge to a team looking to prepare for the tight, physical games that Stanley Cup Playoffs are known for.
He is right in the middle of his prime production years, has playoff experience, currently serves as an alternate captain, is a right handed shot, and has two seasons remaining on a reasonable $4.1 million contract. He’s the type of defenseman that many contenders would have little issue paying a premium for.
If those reasons aren’t enough for you, let’s take a look at a comparable player who was dealt at the trade deadline last season: Jake Muzzin. Traded from the Los Angeles Kings to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Kings received a first round pick as well as the Leafs numbers three and five prospects at the time, Carl Grundstrom and Sean Durzi.
On the surface, Muzzin has the reputation of a player that was a significant contributor to the Kings two Stanley Cup Championships in 2012 and 2014, which is certainly worth considering. Comparing him side by side with Manson over the last several seasons, however, paints an enlightening picture.
First, the on-ice play. Muzzin made his NHL debut in 2010-11, while Manson debuted in 2014-15, so the former has a few more seasons under his belt. Because of this fact, we’ll look at the three most recent seasons to get the most accurate value comparison.
Outside of pure shot attempts, Manson and Muzzin are nearly identical players when isolating their production from external factors like coaching, line mates, and deployment. Manson has the edge in defense, while Muzzin has the edge on offensive generation.
Another good comparison metric is GAR, which stands for Goals Above Replacement. Developed by Evolving Hockey’s Josh and Luke Younggren, this number attempts to measure how many goals a player contributed to their above a replacement-level player (think of a fringe NHL/AHL guy you call up to fill in for injuries). This metric takes into account not just offensive contributions at even strength, but defensive contributions at even strength as well, in addition to power play offense and shorthanded defense. Essentially, every possible game situation.
From 2016-2019, Manson and Muzzin are similar in GAR, contributing around 20 goals above replacement to their teams with both their offensive and defensive play. The biggest differences coming from Manson being better at even strength (EVO and EVD) while Muzzin wins in the special teams department (PPO and SHD) in addition to penalty differential (Take).
Looking at traditional point production, Manson and Muzzin differ a bit more with Manson sporting a 0.87 point/60 rate while Muzzin posts a 1.25 point/60 rate. Manson, of course, played all of that time in a Randy Carlyle system that wasn’t the most adept at scoring, and while Muzzin spent most of last year on an equally offensivly-deficient Kings team, the better offensive numbers line up with the underlying metrics differences between the two of them.
Taking his on-ice production, cap hit, and leadership qualities into account, the evidence in this area seems to favor getting a Muzzin-type package that could help speed up the rebuild quite a bit. A late first round pick and two #2-5 ranked prospects that have a high chance to stick at the NHL level would be a great return. You might even be able to argue for slightly more of a return given Manson’s extra year on his deal (expires after the 2021-22 season) compared to Muzzin’s at this time last season.
Another reason to deal him: the 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft. We all saw what happened when Bob Murray dealt Shea Theodore to the Vegas Golden Knights primarily to protect Sami Vatanen or Manson from being selected. In hindsight, especially with the moves that came later, this was a significant misstep. Anaheim will likely be in a similar situation at the next draft unless Murray starts to clear out players for a return now or risk losing another talented young player. Players like Sam Steel, Troy Terry, Max Jones, Ondrej Kase, and Josh Mahura are all eligible to be exposed. It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to think that maybe you want to try and protect forwards who will be 23-24 years old as opposed to a 30-year-old stay at home defenseman exiting his prime.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Manson is currently on the trading block. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently quoted an NHL executive as saying that “your wife doesn’t love you as much as the Ducks love Josh Manson.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t be dealt. Teams could, and should, make significant offers to add him for a playoff run. Manson is an ideal win-now move for contenders looking for the ever-elusive right-handed puck-moving defenseman. The question is whether or not Murray recognizes that moving a good blueliner who realistically does not fit into the Ducks future contending plans for high-end future assets is the optimal strategy for this situation.
Yes, dealing Manson would be a blow to the current Ducks defensive depth. They currently have no one who can replace what he brings to the team, especially on the right side. But the Ducks are punting this season. They’re going to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year, and desperately need a top five pick at a minimum. There are a few defenders in San Diego who could reliably take over some of these minutes like Brendan Guhle, Josh Mahura, Chris Wideman, and Simon Benoit, to name a few.
Translation: trading Josh Manson will not be a death blow to this team. In a contending year, sure. But at the bottom of the standings? Absolutely not. In fact, this is the kind of move that Kings General Manager Rob Blake has shown he can make in order to give his team better odds at contending for a cup in the near future.
Looking at all the evidence available to us, it’s clear that the Anaheim Ducks need to take a page out of the book of their crosstown rivals and give this retool some extra juice by making the tough decision of trading Josh Manson.
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