There is a certain freedom to the certainty of fate. While there is little that is set in stone, there are those things that seem to be such an overwhelming likelihood that all other outcomes are rendered irrelevant.
With 28 points through 54 games, and in the midst of nine game losing streak, the Detroit Red Wings securing the best odds for the first overall draft pick in this year’s lottery is a fait accompli for all those hoping to have a shot at drafting Alexis Lafreniere. And given that all of Detroit’s remaining games this year are against NHL teams, there is a better chance that Adam Sandler wins an Oscar for Uncut Gems than there is that the Wings put a late season run together and surge up the standings. Bad luck really.
All of this is to say, everyone else is fighting for second worst. Only five points separate the second-from-last Los Angeles Kings and the sixth-from-the-bottom San Jose Sharks, with the New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, and your Anaheim Ducks filling in the gap. A rather interesting group when you consider that one of those teams was in the Eastern Conference Finals three years ago, one of them just traded away the only Hart Trophy winner in club history still in his prime, and the three California teams spent the majority of the last decade amongst the West’s elite with one of the three appearing in nine of the last 10 Western Conference Finals.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Time comes for us all it seems.
Fresh off a 3-1 win over the Kings, Anaheim will see themselves in another game that will feature two of the leagues true Titans of Terrible, when they visit the Ottawa Senators this evening. In this clash of the calamitous, two teams separated by a single standings point will engage in an event that will closer resemble an avant-garde art exhibit commenting on the futility of effort and the inadequacy of man than it will an NHL game.
In a truly cruel twist of fate, those with the most to glean from this game might in fact be those least invested in its outcome. Less than three weeks away from the NHL trade deadline, there are sure to be a number of scouts in attendance from various contenders across the league hoping to get a look at the handful of pieces rumored to be available for the right price. While GMs from the 20 or so teams with a shot at the playoffs will certainly be circling both rosters like vultures waiting for the signs of death and decay to have set in, both Bob Murray and Pierre Dorion will be taking long hard looks at the players on their respective rosters to see who is, and more importantly who is not, part of the long-term solution to both teams’ woes. And while it’s hard to know from the cheap seats just how aggressive either GM may or may not be in the weeks to come, you have to imagine they’re both starting to get more than a few inquisitive phone calls, and itchy palms to match.
Players to Watch
Ondrej Kase is the highest ranked Duck on TSN’s trade bait board. The Czech winger is on an incredibly appealing contract that sees the 24-year-old make $2.6m against the cap this year and next. While most teams aren’t looking to add money to their books that extends beyond the playoffs, Kase has shown glimpses of the type of high-end skill that could make a lot of teams re-examine that belief. And at less than $3 million against the cap, there isn’t the kind of financial commitment that comes with most non-rental players this time of year.
While Kase has managed to play in 46 of Anaheim’s 52 games this year, there are still likely to be teams wary of trading for a player with a less than stellar injury history. According to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, the Boston Bruins are among those interested in the young forward, but his proposed return for the fan favorite leaves a lot to be desired from Anaheim’s perspective. While that could just be the reality of the market as it stands right now, it’s hard not to think Kase’s spotty health record is at least some what of a factor.
Speaking of fan favorites whose contract doesn’t break the bank and offers some cost certainty beyond this year, Josh Manson is the only other Duck on TSN’s list coming in at 15. The rugged right-hander has yet to show more of the offensive production that made him a legitimate Norris candidate in the eyes of some a few years ago (It’s me. I’m some).
The truth is offense has never been his calling card. A true defensive-defenseman, Manson has shown an ability to eat big minutes for good teams, and his stay-at-home style makes him a perfect partner for both young and more offensive-minded defensemen. The Cody Ceci experiment in Toronto has gone the way everyone short of perhaps Kyle Dubas saw it going. That is to say, not so great. However, with a $4 million cap hit and his status as a pending UFA, replacing him might not prove to be the Herculean task it’s been made out to be. The flight from Toronto to Ottawa is a little over an hour, for anyone who was curious.
On the opposite bench, there are a few players who fit similar builds to the two players listed above. Jean-Gabriel Pageau burst into the national consciousness in the second round of 2017 playoffs with a four goal game against the Rangers, who I’m told were good at the time. That performance earned him a shiny new contract extension that summer, and a lifetime supply of trade rumor speculation at the deadline. The kind of player who is capable of playing up and down the lineup, and a right-shot center to boot, JGP and his incredibly attractive $3.1 million cap hit is the type of rental that GMs covet this time of year, especially coming off a career high 20 goal season at age 27. Coming in at 4 on TSN’s ranking, it’s all but certain that Dorion moves the veteran role player for draft assets by the end of the month.
Dylan DeMelo is another right-shot defenseman with minimal offensive upside who could, and should, be moved by the deadline. The 26-year-old also-ran from the Erik Karlsson trade has only 10 assists and no goals on the season, but has confoundingly strong underlying numbers while averaging 20 minutes per night on a Senators team that is, in fact, in the NHL. Over 50% in CF%, GF%, and xGF% (52.57/52.54/56.08, respectively) on a team that is decidedly not above 50% as a whole, DeMelo seems to have found himself the victim of a stacked blueline in San Jose and a bad team in Ottawa.
Someone is going to trade for the underutilized and underappreciated defenseman and be more than happy with the toolkit he brings with him. He may not score goals when he’s on the ice, but the other team sure isn’t going to either, and that’s a great player to add to any Cup hopeful. Especially at less than $1m in cap hit.
Keys to the Game
It’s officially the 20’s now. Nihilism is in. Nothing matters. Eat Arby’s.
*Contract details courtesy of CapFriendly.com, stats courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com and NaturalStatTrick.com