Perhaps the writing was on the wall back in September concerning forward Ondrej Kase’s long-term status with the Anaheim Ducks.
Less than six months later, Kase is officially on the move as the Ducks have shipped him to Boston for veteran forward David Backes, defensive prospect Axel Andersson, and the Bruins’ 2020 first-round pick.
For those expecting Ducks general manager Bob Murray to fleece every team he engaged in trade conversations with, you’re probably left wanting more in return for a 24-year-old only two years removed from a 20-goal season. But there are reasons to be encouraged by this deal and how it sets the Ducks up for the future.
WHAT THE DUCKS LOST
A seventh-round pick in 2014, it’s possible that Kase has already surpassed his career expectations. In his sophomore campaign in 2017-18, he finished tied for second on the Ducks with 20 goals. If not for a concussion that delayed his season debut and a torn shoulder labrum that prematurely ended it, Kase would’ve easily exceeded that goal total in 2018-19.
His performance in 2019-20 has been uneven. Despite being one of the Ducks’ leaders in a handful of categories like individual shots for, individual Corsi for, expected goals, and penalty plus-minus (he leads the Ducks in penalties drawn), Kase has lacked the scoring finish present in previous seasons. In 49 games, Kase has only seven goals, with a shooting percentage of only 5.2%, which would be a career-low.
Setting aside the statistics, Kase ranks behind only Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell on the Ducks in terms of skill, creativity, and playmaking ability. For a franchise that often values nebulous characteristics like toughness and physicality, Kase proved a nice change-of-pace.
What has often derailed Kase is his injuries, specifically his unfortunate battle with concussions. Kase hasn’t played since Feb. 7 with what’s been called flu-like symptoms, though some (perhaps irresponsibly) have speculated he’s battling another concussion. After being limited to 30 games in 2018-19, Kase has missed another 11 so far this season. His career-high in games played is 66.
WHAT THE DUCKS GAINED
The crown jewel of this trade for Anaheim is Boston’s 2020 first-rounder. The Bruins are currently No. 1 in the NHL standings and will contend in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so the pick will most likely land very late in the first round, potentially No. 31 if they have a successful cup run.
The Ducks are in desperate need of adding to their farm system, but prior to the trade only had five selections in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Now, for the second straight year, the Ducks will have two first-rounders. Anaheim also still has its second-rounder, and considering the Ducks’ likely finish in the standings, Bob Murray will almost certainly have three picks in the top 40. He can also package the Ducks’ two first-rounders together to move up, depending on how Anaheim fares with the lottery.
A dependable center for most of his career, Backes’ four-year tenure with the Bruins has been tumultuous. Backes signed a five-year, $30 million contract with Boston prior to the 2016-17 season, but his play soured so badly that this year the Bruins essentially told him, “go away,” waiving him back in January. He did not report to Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence, instead waiting on the Bruins to come up with a trade solution. Backes’ contract doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season, but the Bruins agreed to retain 25% of his remaining salary. He is almost 36 years old and his value on the ice has dramatically waned, but the hope for the Ducks is that he can be another veteran leader in a locker room full of young prospects.
The wild card in the deal is Andersson, the Bruins’ second-round pick (57th overall) in 2018. Billed as a smooth skater with a solid transition game, Andersson was ranked 27th among international skaters by Central Scouting entering his draft. Andersson has spent 2019-20 with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, recording 22 points in 41 games.
There’s some difference of opinion on Andersson’s potential as a prospect. Some, like The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler, ranked Andersson 11th in the Bruins’ 30th-ranked farm system. Others were more bullish, like Catherine Silverman of Elite Prospects, who had Andersson fourth in Boston’s system.
Anaheim does have a solid track record with Nordic defensemen (Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen), so the hope for the Ducks is that Andersson, a right-hander, can help reinvigorate that position in Anaheim’s system.
Like all trades, it takes time to determine who came out on the better end. Right now, the Ducks likely traded away the best player in the deal. Kase might have injury concerns, but he’s still only 24 and a team like Boston could push him to new heights. It’s also possible that he’ll continue to be plagued by various ailments, and that 20-goal season from 2017-18 was a one-time deal. As ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski put it, if smart organizations like Boston and Carolina are trying to acquire a specific player, that’s quite telling.
Backes is almost inconsequential in this deal. What’s more important for Anaheim is that Andersson develops into an NHLer, and that first-rounder turns into a player of substance. If the Ducks are to return to form, that farm system needs to improve, and trading Ondrej Kase was potentially an important step in achieving that goal.