Puck moving defensemen series: Anaheim Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks hit the 100 point mark in the regular season (finished with 105 points) before losing to Nashville in 6 games in the Western Conference Finals. While the Nashville D-corps gets most of the hype as the league’s top unit, Anaheim is no slouch. In fact, a 1A/1B designation might be needed. Let’s explore.

Note: For detailed methodology on our metrics and approach, feel free to read up on it here.

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Rapid Fire Observations

+ Was Hampus Lindholm the Ducks’ best puck mover at 5v5 in 2016/17? HL was fantastic at driving possession, posting an impressive PMF of +3.91 while facing strong QoC in a top-4 role. Some of the names Lindholm spent the most 5v5 ice time against include McDavid, Draisaitl, Pavelski, Thornton, Kopitar, etc. He also started 34% of shifts in the defensive zone vs 32% in the o-zone. After signing a 6 year $31.5M contract in October 2016 – and seeing what free agent defensemen have been signed to this year – it’s easy to see the excellent value the Ducks got in signing Lindholm early. Expect him to be a staple on the blueline throughout his contract.

+ Consider Lindholm’s impact. Kesler, Perry, and Rakell posted a CF% of 55.1%, 54.7%, and 56.1% with Lindholm on the ice. WITHOUT Lindholm, those numbers drop to 49.5%, 48.8%, and 48.2%.

+ Josh Manson, Lindholm’s defense partner for much of the regular season, was equally great. He excelled as a puck mover posting a PMF of +4.45. Although his QoC was slightly lower, it was still strong.

+ Shea Theodore, still only 21 only and with first round pedigree, only played 34 games in 2016/17. He was OK as a puck mover (PMF -0.25) in a sheltered role (weak QoC, more o-zone starts) but he likely has a future in the league. Anaheim agreed to trade Theodore to Vegas in order for the Golden Knights to select Clayton Stoner in the expansion draft – rather than one of their other top defensemen. The trade makes sense for both teams as Vegas gets a prospect who needs a couple more years of seasoning, while the Ducks – in win-now mode – keep their core intact.

+ Along with Lindholm and Manson, Fowler and Vatanen rounded out the top-4 for Anaheim. Fowler led the way, logging big minutes per night and facing strong QoC. His PMF of -0.12 was adequate given his role, but he does not appear to have been as effective as the Lindholm/Manson pairing. Additionally, ~40% of Fowler’s scoring came with the man advantage. While he brings strong value as the powerplay QB, it makes one wonder how strong Fowler is as a 5v5 puck mover. Still, signing an 8-year, $52M contract (avg cap hit $6.5M) is good value for a defenseman who plays 25 minutes/night against top competition, is solid – although not exceptional – as a puck mover, and brings lots of value to the powerplay.

+ Sami Vatanen was also solid on the back-end in a top-4 role. His PMF (-0.72), like Fowler’s, his OK given his role (strong QoC, more defensive zone starts) – but it’s not top-end.

+ Brandon Montour played only 23 games in the regular season and was solid during the Ducks’ playoff run (averaging ~17min/game in a sheltered role). Still only 23, the Ducks are looking for Montour to take a jump next season.

+ Bieksa and Holzer struggled immensely as puck movers on the 3rd pairing. They faced the weakest QoC and posted staggering PMF’s of -5.20 and -5.74, respectively. While both were above average at suppressing opponent scoring chances (Holzer’s DAM of +3.15 was highest on the team), it’s likely not enough to overlook their complete inability to drive possession. While Bieksa still brings experience and grit, expect Montour to jump past Holzer in 2017/18.

Verdict

The Ducks have an abundance of riches on the back-end. Led by Fowler, Lindholm, Vatanen, and Manson, expect the Ducks to once again boast one of the top – and youngest – blue lines in the entire league. If Manson and Montour continue to develop, Lindholm and Vatanen recover fully from off-season surgery, and Fowler and Lindholm maintain their top play, expect the Ducks to be true contenders in the West again in 2017/18.


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