The Anaheim Ducks don’t have much more time to decide on the futures of defenseman Sami Vatanen and forward Jakob Silfverberg. Both players are signed for at least two more seasons, but protection lists for the expansion draft are required on June 18.
That’s something of a deadline for the Ducks to decide where Vatanen and Silfverberg fit into their plans. They’re good, talented young players, but Anaheim boasts one of the most talented, deep rosters in the NHL. There’s almost no way they could both be protected without the Ducks losing other valuable players.
Anaheim might prefer to protect both Vatanen and Silfverberg in general, but given how many others need protection, it’s difficult to see. If the team follows a 7-3-1 format to keep Silfverberg, it would be unable to protect Vatanen or 25-year-old blue liner Josh Manson.
If the team decides to go to the nine-player format, it would likely be to keep Manson, which would leave Vatanen and Silfverberg available.
So the Ducks are talking to other teams about a possible Vatanen trade, if the rumors are accurate, it’s possible Silfverberg is out there, too. But if Ducks GM Bob Murray wants to get any deals done, he’ll need to do it by June 18. Otherwise, the Ducks will be leaving some good players available to the Golden Knights free of charge.
The Ducks can’t protect everyone
There are simply too many bodies and not enough protection spots right now. Under the rules, each NHL team can protect up to seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, or nine players regardless of position.
The Ducks have four players required to be protected as a result of no-movement clauses: Bieksa, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler. Luckily, the last three guys on that list were no-brainers to be protected anyway.
But this creates the aforementioned crunch for the Ducks, given their protection list limits, unless they can convince Bieksa to waive his NMC or try to buy him out.
Under the 7-3-1 format, the Ducks would surely protect Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Bieksa as their three defensemen. This would allow them to protect Silfverberg, but both Vatanen and Manson would be available to Vegas.
Alternatively, the Ducks could go the nine-player format to protect Vatanen or Manson, but that would leave Silfverberg (and presumably one of those defensemen) available.
So no matter what, the Ducks lose this scenario to a degree. Vatanen, Silfverberg, and Manson are positive value players who could command returns on the trade market. It begs the question of why they wouldn’t just trade a couple of these players now to recoup value before the expansion draft — which is, in fact, reportedly what they’re trying to do.
Trades are likely the answer
This explains why the Ducks are reportedly trying to trade Vatanen right now. In fact, there’s almost no logical scenario where Vatanen could be protected from Vegas later this month.
Even if they go the nine-player format, it’s a no-brainer for the Ducks to retain Manson over Vatanen. Manson is younger, cheaper, and better at even strength. So given Anaheim’s current roster construction and the protection list rules, it’s fair to assume Vatanen is available. TSN reported the Leafs and Lightning as interesting parties.
It’s just not clear how much trade value Vatanen has. As The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow points out, Vatanen is more of a good third-pairing guy who can eat power-play minutes than a high-level, top-four defenseman. And given his cap hit of nearly $5 million, he’s not exactly coming cheap.
Surely there are teams rating Vatanen, who had 120 points in 257 games over the past four seasons, more highly than that, but will they give up major assets to pay him nearly $5 million through 2019-20? There are a lot of teams shopping guys right now knowing they might lose them to Vegas, I imagine.
Ducks fans should probably temper expectations for what a Vatanen trade will yield, even if he’s more well-regarded by some teams than by analysts like Dellow. Still, it’s better than nothing.
The bigger question is Silfverberg or Manson
Assuming the Ducks get a deal to ship out Vatanen in the next nine days, it’ll be up to GM Bob Murray to decide whether to protect Silfverberg or Manson. Either way, it feels like Vegas would be the winner if the expansion draft starts with one of those players available.
If the Ducks decide they’re going with Manson in the nine-player format, it would make sense to trade Silfverberg along with Vatanen to maximize value. If they’re protecting Silfverberg in the 7-3-1 format, trading Manson now as well would be the similarly prudent move.
But either way, you get the sense that the Ducks aren’t really choosing what to do with Vatanen. They’ve already made that choice — he’s either getting traded, or he’s being left unprotected. They’re not using a protection spot on Vatanen at the expense of Silfverberg or Manson.
What should Vegas do?
They need to trade Vatanen and either Silfverberg or Manson by June 18. Otherwise, Vegas is getting one of those players for free, which seems like a bad deal for the Ducks given all three likely hold value on the trade market right now.
In an ideal world, the Ducks trade two of Vatanen, Silfverberg, and Manson for players who are expansion draft exempt, protect the remaining player out of that trio from Vegas, and let the Golden Knights choose from an underwhelming list that includes Simon Despres, Clayton Stoner, Andrew Cogliano, Antoine Vermette, and others.
This would allow them to maximize value on the three players who could be prime Vegas targets while retaining whichever player they like the most (which is presumably Silfverberg or Manson).
The tricky part for the Ducks is that these decisions all need to be made and executed within the next week or so. Otherwise, they’ll be left toothless as the Golden Knights decide which of their valuable players to nab for free.
The rumors are already swirling around the Ducks. Expect them to be one of the most active teams in the lead-up to the expansion draft given this situation.