Which defenceman should the Anaheim Ducks trade?

Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler (4) celebrates his goal late in the first period against Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31) during the first period of Game 3 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup NHL hockey playoffs, Monday, April 20, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Anaheim defeated Winnipeg 5-4 in overtime, taking a 3-0 series lead.

Finally Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim’s best and most important defenceman, is under contract and will return to the team in short order. Adding him back to the lineup is vitally important to turning around a slow start, but he won’t solve all the team’s problems. The Ducks are still lacking up front and will need to do something to address that situation.

GM Bob Murray has shown patience in the past, like choosing not to fire Bruce Boudreau during a mid-season swoon last year, but it sure seems like if the team is going to trade away one of their blueliners, this is the year it’ll happen.

With a forward corps rather thin after Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the stars seem to be aligning for the Ducks to move a blueliner for help up front. But which defender should they move if they do decide to make a trade?

Money is a factor as Anaheim will need to drop some salary, so we’ll focus on who we think are the three most likely to get dealt.

The Ducks would probably get the biggest return for Lindholm, but at the same time, they’d be losing their best defenceman who they just re-signed. This one seems unlikely.

At the end of last season, Dimitri Filipovic wrote a piece for Sportsnet that broke down just how important Lindholm is to the Ducks, as he elevates everyone else who is on the ice with him.

He drives play and helps his teammates, but Lindholm isn’t a big point producer (at least not yet), which is something the next two guys on this list have over him. The thing is, that could be about to change.

While Lindholm has had seasons of 30, 34 and 28 points, he reached 10 goals for the first time in 2015-16. If you look at his Corsi ratings in each of the past three seasons, he’s trending up.

(For the purposes of this article, we’ll compare Lindholm to Anaheim’s two other big trade candidates)

NAME CF% (2013-14) CF%% (2014-15) CF% (2015-16)
HAMPUS LINDHOLM 51.03 51.54 57.25
CAM FOWLER 49.23 50.15 48.74
SAMI VATANEN 53.38 51.73 50.5

Everything about Lindholm’s game is trending in a positive direction. His goals have gone up and don’t appear to be at a level that is unsustainable for him since his shots have gone way up as well — and although his assist totals dipped last season, his sheer involvement in the play (at both ends) would indicate a rebound is on the way there. Forty-plus points shouldn’t be out of the question for him over a full season.

But we know Lindholm isn’t just about offence, or even primarily about it. He’s easily Anaheim’s top all-around defenceman, one who is vitally important to suppressing shots against and creating shots for. He was the best at both ends of the ice last season and across the past three.

NAME SF60 (2015-16) SA60 (2015-16) SF% (2015-16)
HAMPUS LINDHOLM 32.75 23.68 58.03
CAM FOWLER 28.9 30.24 48.86
SAMI VATANEN 28.94 29.05 49.9
NAME SF60 (2013-2016) SA60 (2013-2016) SF% (2013-2016)
HAMPUS LINDHOLM 32.03 27.38 53.91
CAM FOWLER 28.97 29.17 49.82
SAMI VATANEN 30.15 28.16 51.7

Although you would think Lindholm would draw the biggest return for the Ducks out of these three, they probably don’t want to part with a freshly signed defenceman who is already their best blueliner — and one who’s trending towards better seasons. At $5.25 million for the next six seasons, including this one, the Ducks have more control over this asset than the other two so a trade involving Lindholm is probably the least likely here.

Another good driver of offence, Vatanen is underrated at his position — something playing on the West Coast and being a 5-foot-10 defender may contribute to. The big plus for Vatanen is that he’s a quality power-play quarterback and an excellent complement to Lindholm.

However, Vatanen is no liability in his own end and that’s why he played the second-most minutes of all Ducks defencemen on the penalty kill last season, a unit that ranked the best in the league short-handed.

Vatanen has had better offensive results so far, though, with goal totals of six (in 48 games), 12 and nine in his past three seasons, and rising shot totals each year.

Goals Shots Shooting Percentage
2013-14 6 73 8.2
2014-15 12 122 9.8
2015-16 9 140 6.4
2016-17 1 12 8.3
Total 28 347 8.06

Vatanen too is in a nice contract situation for the Ducks, signed through 2019-20 with a $4.875-million cap hit. And as we know, quick-skating, puck-moving defencemen are what the NHL is all about these days, so Vatanen brings that and really isn’t much of a problem in his own zone.

He seems to be the best partner for Lindholm moving forward, but because he’s under team control with a good cap hit, Vatanen is a decent candidate to move.

Fowler is the least well-rounded of these three players and although he has scoring potential as a strong-skating puck-mover, he posted the fewest points of his career over a full season in 2015-16, despite logging a team-high 22:46 of ice time.

It’s going to be extremely hard for the Ducks to replace everything Vatanen and Lindholm have to offer both now and in the future, but Fowler is different. You have to wonder if the Ducks have a similar player to Fowler in Shea Theodore, a 21-year-old with similar size and offensive upside who is on a contract paying him $863,000 for another season past this one.

(Graph shows totals from last season and this season)

CF% SF% xGF60
CAM FOWLER 49.31 49.14 2.43
SHEA THEODORE 49.19 50.52 2.45

Theodore’s possession numbers are perhaps misleading – he’s played in just 22 NHL games, many of them with Fowler – but he is absolutely an offensive defenceman.

He posted 37 points in 50 AHL games last season, his first full year of professional hockey, and before that he finished his WHL career with 48 points in 43 games and was a better than point-per-game player in his last two major junior seasons.

He could theoretically step in and do similar things to Fowler, though he might not be able to cover as many minutes. Still, he has the potential and pedigree to replace Fowler, which should make losing the 12th pick of the 2010 draft more palatable.

And make no mistake: Fowler has value and passes the eye test. He’s another terrific skater who was brought into the NHL with a highly touted offensive game. He is signed for one more season beyond this one at a $4-million cap hit, after which he would become a UFA.

For a Ducks team already struggling against the cap, he should be the most movable asset.

Consider also that Fowler is off to a great start this season with seven points in eight games and there’s bound to be a team out there that’s willing to bite and offer a top-six forward.

While Fowler appears the least valuable of these three, his skill set is still valuable in today’s NHL.

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