Bob Murray has much work ahead in how he’ll shape the Ducks for next season and dealing with several key restricted free agents is right at the top of the general manager’s to-do list.
Murray has one he can no longer worry about.
Sami Vatanen is set with the team for the foreseeable future as the Ducks signed him Saturday to a four-year contract extension worth $19.5 million as the club’s top offensive defenseman is locked in as he hits his prime.
At Honda Center to speak with season ticket holders Saturday, Ducks general manager Bob Murray called it an exciting move when talking about it during a team-produced Facebook Live interview session.
“One of the things we set out at the end of the year to do is try to keep Sami and try to keep him in the fold because he’s a very competitive young defenseman and important to our hockey team.,” Murray said. “It was a deep breath [Friday] night when I talked to Sami and he agreed.”
Vatanen, 25, has led the Ducks defense corps in scoring the last two seasons. He had a career-high 12 goals along with 37 points in 2014-15 and came back with nine goals and a personal-best 38 points in 71 games in 2015-16.
Those numbers ensured that Vatanen would get a substantial raise in his next contract after making $1.275 million last season. That contract will be with the Ducks as his RFA status led to speculation that he could be dealt if Murray couldn’t get him signed.
Once arbitration eligible, Vatanen will make $5 million next season and in 2017-18 and 2018-19. His salary will drop to $4.5 million in 2019-20, giving the Ducks a $4.875-million salary cap hit.
Murray still has to address the status of goalie Frederik Andersen, defenseman Hampus Lindholm and center Rickard Rakell. Forward Brandon Pirri, whom they acquired during the season, is also a pending RFA.
Andersen and Lindolm are likely Murray’s highest priorities. Andersen, 26, is eligible for salary arbitration and may triple the $1.3 million he made last season. He shared the net with John Gibson in much of 2015-16 but was their undisputed No. 1 goalie the year before.
The Ducks have Gibson signed to a $2.3-million cap hit for the next three seasons but Andersen was arguably the better goalie this spring and took over for Gibson in Game 3 of their first-round series against Nashville, allowing seven goals in the final five games.
“That negotiation is ongoing,” Murray said. “Not as well obviously as Sami’s was at the moment but it’s ongoing.”
Being able to sign Andersen doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be the Ducks’ undisputed netminder going forward. Murray has to decide between Andersen and Gibson and the potential of a trade — perhaps at next week’s NHL draft — is high.
Getting as much as he can for either Andersen or Gibson is far preferable option than losing one to expansion. Las Vegas is expected to gain official approval by the NHL’s Board of Governors on Wednesday to become the league’s 31st franchise and teams will only be allowed to protect one goaltender.
Either Andersen or Gibson could be coveted by the new expansion team as they’d be younger (and arguably as good or better) alternatives to someone such as Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury.
“If I can get Freddie signed one way or the other, I’ve got to move one because I’ll lose one for sure in expansion,” Murray said. “It just will happen. It’s just something that’s in front of us. It’s there. We have a lot of defensemen.
“So we have to turn some of these thigns into assets.”
Lindholm, 22, does not have arbitration rights but the Ducks have long seen him as a potential top-pairing star on their blue line and perhaps a future cornerstone piece of the franchise.
If the two sides can’t come to terms on a deal spanning five years and beyond, Murray could look toward trying to get Lindholm re-signed to a more affordable two-year bridge extension and put the defenseman in line for a massive free-agent deal in the summer of 2018.
Center Rickard Rakell, who had a breakout 2015-16 with 20 goals and 23 assists, also needs a new contract but isn’t arbitration eligible and it appears Murray will take more time in his negotiations with the representatives for Lindholm and Rakell.
“They’re at a point where we give them qualifying offers,” Murray said. “That is not a time-sensitive issue. That could take well into August and September before that gets done. We’ll take our time.
“Obviously they’re very important to the organization and we hope to get them signed and keep them for long term.”
Getting Vatanen signed and keeping Lindholm in the fold could make Cam Fowler a hot topic at the draft. Given that they operate on an internal budget that millions below the salary-cap ceiling, the Ducks may not be able to keep everyone and Fowler would be an attractive trade piece.
Fowler, 24, is signed for two more years at $4 million for each. It is a cap-friendly amount for a mobile puck-moving defenseman that plays in every situation and plays between 20-25 minutes a night with the capacity to log more ice time.