With the puck dropping on the Anaheim Ducks season on Thursday night, the team was without two of their indispensable restricted free agents. On Friday, GM Bob Murray crossed center Rickard Rakell off his ‘to-do’ list. As first reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Rakell signed a six year contract with an average annual value of $3.8-million; at the end of the contract Rakell will be a UFA.
This is a relief to Ducks fans as Rakell had a breakout 2015-16 season and was integral to the team’s secondary scoring.
In his second full season in Anaheim, Rakell scored a career high 20 goals and 43 points. He led Anaheim in game-winning goals with seven, and was fourth on the team in overall scoring.
Prior to the start of the playoffs, Rakell’s appendix ruptured causing him to miss the final six games of the regular season. He returned to the lineup for the team’s seven-game series against the Nashville Predators, but was a shade of his regular season self.
In the offseason, Rakell was named as a replacement to the Swedish World Cup of Hockey team before being hospitalized with a stomach ailment. The 23-year-old required additional surgery to remove scar tissue that resulted from the appendectomy.
During the contract negotiations, Rakell continued to heal and train at home in Sweden. From Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register:
[Rakell’s agent Peter] Wallen said Rakell is fully healed and has been working out daily, with the expectation of skating Friday and stepping up the levels of intensity in his practices. “We’re hoping he will be back within two weeks,” the agent said.
Rakell will need to secure a work visa before joining the Ducks, which Wallen hopes will be done in Stockholm within three to five business days after an appointment time is made.
Since it’s going to be a couple weeks before Rakell gets in the lineup, the Ducks picked up Emerson Etem off waivers to give the team options as he gets healthy.
Now the focus for Murray turns to Rakell’s fellow Swede, Hampus Lindholm.
The defenseman is considered to be an integral part of the team’s defensive core going forward. The only problem is the Ducks, who have always been an internal cap team, are bumping up against the actual salary cap.
Per General Fanager, including Rakell’s contract, the team has about $323K in cap space left.
[The Ducks and Lindholm’s agent Claude Lemieux] want long-term commitments for a defender who could potentially become the anchor of the Ducks’ blue line. At the moment, there is a significant difference in the asking price Lemieux has and the amount the Ducks are willing to pay.
According to TSN hockey reporter Bob McKenzie, Lemieux views Lindholm as a comparable to Florida’s Aaron Ekblad in terms of ability and prominence on the team. In July, Ekblad signed an eight-year extension that carries an average annual value of $7.5 million.
It isn’t known if Lemieux wants exactly that but it is, as McKenzie reports, believed that he sees Lindholm as being worth at least $6 million annually, if not around $6.5 million. The Ducks would prefer to have Lindholm come in around $5-5.5 million, near what Columbus gave Seth Jones and Toronto gave Morgan Rielly over six years.
Settling on a two-year bridge deal is not up for discussion for the time being. The Ducks don’t want that as they’d prefer to gain some cost certainty and buy some years of Lindholm’s unrestricted free agency instead of potentially seeing Lindholm ask for a mega-deal in 2018.
Defenseman Clayton Stoner cleared waivers last week, but the team has yet to assign him to San Diego of the AHL. By hanging on to him, his full $3.25-million cap hit sits on the books; instead of taking a $950K cap hit to send him down.
As a stopgap to Lindholm not being on the ice, the team has kept rookie Jacob Larsson – and his $925K cap hit – with the team. Without Lindholm, the team has shaken up the defensive pairings leaving some players to play on their opposite side.
If the rumors are true, the team is looking to move Cam Fowler to make room for Lindholm’s contract. Fowler carries a $4-million cap hit for the next two seasons before hitting the market as a UFA. He is the most attractive trading piece of the Ducks defensive core they’re willing to part with.
Aside from the money, Bob Murray is also looking at this from a strategic perspective as far as the upcoming expansion draft.
Protecting the depth at defense is key for the team. Kevin Bieska is the only defenseman on the NHL roster with a no-move clause. From there the Ducks have to elect who to protect. With a wealth of talent, it behooves Murray to get something for Fowler instead of nothing at the expansion draft, even if it pains to part with the player the team once constantly compared to Scott Niedermayer.
Expect the rumor mill to be churning at full speed until someone gets moved on the Ducks to make room for Lindholm.