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One Year Later: The Shea Theodore Trade
By Thomas Harrington
One year ago today, the Anaheim Ducks traded Shea Theodore to the Vegas Golden Knights. The Ducks did not receive any tangible asset in return. Instead, the Knights agreed to select Clayton Stoner from the Ducks in the expansion draft.
When the expansion rules were announced, it was clear that the Ducks were in trouble. Teams were given two options. First, they could protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. Or they could protect eight skaters and one goaltender. First and second year players were exempt from the draft, as were unsigned draft choices, and players who had no-movement clauses had to be protected. Coming off a loss in the Western Conference Finals, the Ducks wanted to give it another go with their current roster and didn’t want to lose a key piece of their roster.
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Unfortunately, the Ducks had too many players at both forward and defense that they wanted to protect. At forward, there were really only five players that Anaheim really needed to protect: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg, and Rickard Rakell. Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler all had no-movement clauses and had to be protected. Silfverberg had scored more than 20 goals for two consecutive seasons and been one of Anaheim’s better players in the playoffs over the previous three seasons. Rakell was coming off his first 30 goal, 50 point season. On defense, the Ducks had Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Sami Vatanen. Besides those four players, Kevin Bieksa had a no-movement clause, meaning that he had to be protected. A number of people have faulted Bob Murray for giving Bieksa that no-movement clause, and while that was clearly a mistake, it wasn’t the reason the Ducks lost Theodore. The real reason was that Anaheim had nine players who they wanted to protect, and four of those were defensemen. Nine players who were key pieces of Anaheim making it to the conference finals twice in three years.
Instead of losing one of those key pieces, Murray opted to get creative. Theodore will be a top defenseman for years to come, everyone knew it, but he wasn’t yet a huge part of Anaheim’s defensive core. He was one of Anaheim’s better players in the sweep of Calgary, but he struggled the longer the playoffs went on, and ended up being a healthy scratch against Nashville several times. Besides Theodore, the Ducks had another good, young defenseman: Brandon Montour. While he wasn’t quite as experienced as Theodore, Montour became the more dependable of the two as the playoffs went on. I’m not saying that Montour made Theodore expendable, far from it. But Montour’s progression meant that the Ducks had an excess of young defensemen on their roster, a fact that Murray and Vegas both knew.
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The Ducks also had a wealth of other young defensemen: Jacob Larsson, Josh Mahura, Marcus Pettersson, Andy Welinski, Jaycob Megna, and Keaton Thompson. While most, if not all, of those players won’t equal Theodore’s play in the future, having so much young, defensive depth meant that Anaheim could afford to part ways with Theodore and give it another shot at the Cup with the current group.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go so well for the Ducks this past season. It began with a historic run of injuries to start the season, and while the team got mostly healthy towards the end of the season, Anaheim was without Fowler in the playoffs and were swept by the Sharks. Kesler was nowhere near 100%, Siflverberg really struggled, Rakell scored only one goal, and the defense was atrocious through most of the series. Given Anaheim’s success the season before, I get why they wanted to go for it again with the same group, but no one could have foreseen the crazy injuries to start the year, or the implosion of the team in the first round.
While the Ducks suffered through injuries and a miserable playoffs, Vegas put together the best season by an expansion team in NHL history, and Theodore was one of the reasons for that success. In the expansion draft, the Golden Knights had taken far too many defensemen and had hoped to trade many for picks and prospects. That didn’t work out as well as they hoped, and Theodore actually started the year in the AHL. He played in eight games and scored 11 goals. He was called up to Vegas at the end of October, and had a solid season for Vegas, scoring six goals and 29 points in 61 games. He was even better in the playoffs, scoring 10 points in 20 games and helping Vegas get to the Stanley Cup Final. However, he did struggle against Washington, most notably in games 3 and 4 when he was a combined -4. Despite those two games, he still had an excellent playoff run. While he wasn’t Vegas’ best defenseman this season, he’s clearly got a bright future with the organization.
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The Ducks had signed Stoner to a four-year deal and he was a physical presence on the bottom pair for the first two years of the deal. While he was never a Norris candidate, he and Vatanen played very well together. However, in his third year of the deal, he played in only 14 games. With a cap hit of $3.25 million, the Ducks felt it was time to move on from him. By getting Vegas to take him, the Ducks saved a ton of cap space for this past season and freed up both a roster spot and a contract slot. With Vegas, Stoner did not appear in any regular season games, as he spent most of the season injured.
In the end, there was no way the Ducks were going to not lose a good player. Some teams were able to protect their core, but the expansion rules handcuffed Anaheim immensely. Rather than lose a core part of the team, the Ducks opted to trade away a potential future star, who could already be replaced by some of Anaheim’s other young talent and go for the Cup one more time. While it didn’t work out, the Ducks made the best of a bad situation. It will be interesting to see what choices are made in the next couple years during the next expansion draft.
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June 21st, 2018