It’s not a good time to be a pending free agent athlete right now. Too many things need to be set in stone before general managers and agents can do their jobs with any degree of comfort.
The uncertainty surrounding the cap is probably one of their biggest concerns, as a small raise in the cap last summer was expected to be countered with more substantial growth in the upcoming off-season. What’s more likely is that the cap stays stagnant — meaning fewer teams are going to be cashing in on elite talent.
The uncertainty in finances might mean some players start to look for a shorter term in order to maximize profits later, when the cap is more stabilized. But other factors, like where a player is in his career (players with families will likely want more long-term stability) or even just putting off future negotiations (Taylor Hall of the Arizona Coyotes told The Athletic that he doesn’t “really want to play through a contract year again,” and honestly? Who can blame him?) can swing that decision-making.
The Ducks weren’t exactly planning on being in the market for any elite talent in the free agency market this season, but spending nearly to the cap doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for raises if that cap doesn’t adjust.
With that in mind, let’s look at some contract projections for the Ducks’ upcoming free agents and what they might be thinking whenever there is eventually an off-season.
First, I want to make note that the contract projection model I’ll be referencing was created by the Younggren twins at Evolving-Hockey, based on similar contracts signed historically. It is important to mention that the projections are based on an $84 million cap, which we can assume will be higher than the actual cap for next season (I left it at $84 million, because it did some wonky stuff when I adjusted the cap). There are also figures for different terms; I’m just going to present the figure the twins’ algorithm presents as most likely. There will be figures for both if the player re-signs with the Ducks and if they sign with a different team.
Speaking of which, because Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) very rarely sign with another team, I will only go through the major Unrestricted Free Agents on the Ducks. For those of you adding up at home, here are the RFAs currently on the Ducks’ roster and the Evolving-Hockey projections for those players:
- Sonny Milano — 2 years, $1,598,000 AAV
- Christian Djoos — 1 year, $825,500 AAV
- Jacob Larsson — 1 year, $1,350,000 AAV
That leaves four players on the Ducks’ roster that will be UFAs by the off-season. I don’t think I need to get into the numbers to say that Patrick Eaves, at 35-years-old and on the long-term injured reserve will likely retire (It actually hurts to say that, I watched him a lot with the Dallas Stars, weirdly enough). After that, the Ducks have two defenders and a goaltender waiting to see what free agency looks like in the brave new world.
Michael Del Zotto
Projected Contract with Ducks: 3 years, $3,238,000 AAV
Projected Contract with Other: 1 year, $1,367,000 AAV
It’s weird to think that Michael Del Zotto’s best years really were in Philadelphia, but given that at some during that period of time (who can say when, really?), he decided to block me on Twitter, I might’ve just soured on him early.
To me, this contract feels incredibly generous. His minor offensive capabilities are not making up for his defensive lapses — and beyond that, he cannot stay healthy. He’s only played a full NHL season once in his career.
Del Zotto turns 30 years old this summer and his performance has started to nosedive over the last two years. But being light on defense might make the Ducks cough up a little bit of term and getting closer to that landmark (sorry buddy, I’m right behind you) of 30 might make him push for that a little bit more. He’s healthy enough right now to be teaching fitness classes on Zoom, so maybe next year he plays all 82 games. Coming back to the Ducks after being trade might make him return one a much cheaper contract.
Projected Contract with Ducks: 1 year, $795,900 AAV
Projected Contract with Other: 1 year, $675,900 AAV
Matt Irwin has hardly had a cup of coffee with the Ducks. He was traded to Anaheim in exchange for Korbinian Holzer at the trade deadline, in an under-the-radar hilariously good move by Bob Murray.
Make no mistake: both defenders are incredibly bad. But Murray was able to unload the worse defender of the two in this swap.
The contract projection makes sense. I think there’s a case that the Ducks can make with the lower cap to keep Irwin around for less and if it’s for one year — in a year that the Ducks probably still won’t be very good and will be scheduled strangely anyway — I could see the organization going either way on this one. Still, the defense is rather thin and the budget is tight ...
The Twins’ algorithm is only for skaters, because as we all know, goaltending is voodoo.
If I’m being honest: if I’m Ryan Miller, I’m probably seriously considering retiring. With how weird the season ended though, maybe he tries for just one more year. It’s got to be hard to be on a rebuilding team, but also not want to be anywhere else, y’know?
Even without the contract projection, I think it’s safe to say that his contract would look pretty similar to the 1-year, $1,125,000 contract he signed last summer. The fact that it’s another 35+ contract and that he really doesn’t want to leave Southern California gives the Ducks the leverage here.
I’m rooting for Miller to come back and I don’t think the Ducks will have much of an option in net if they don’t. Cheap goaltenders don’t grow on trees.