As Ducks’ season ends, critical offseason begins

Retaining key free agents, improving bottom six both part of GM Pat Verbeek's busy summer agenda.

ANAHEIM — Cutter Gauthier was on one knee Thursday night when the moment hit him.

He was on the ice at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, preparing to play his first NHL game. While going through some pre-game stretching, he slowly scanned the arena’s massive interior, his mouth agape. Whoa. He started to make out some faces in the crowd, shyly waving, trying to contain his awe.

A smile washed over him when he located his parents in the second deck.

This is it, he appeared to be thinking. The dream has come true. Less than a week after playing in his final collegiate game (a championship game, obviously), Gauthier became a pro (and scored his first NHL point).

Thursday night’s Anaheim Ducks season finale was momentous for several reasons, from Gauthier’s NHL debut and Jakob Silfverberg’s NHL farewell to Frank Vatrano’s hat trick, which put him in elite Anaheim company. Vatrano joined Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan as the only Ducks ever to score 35 goals or more in a single season for the franchise.

Yet when the game ended and the handshake lines dispersed, the Ducks’ offseason began. And there is much to do before training camp begins next fall.

As things stand on day one of the offseason, Anaheim already boasts two solid forward lines. Gauthier has already generated some exciting chemistry with Leo Carlsson, and the addition of Alex Killorn to that line creates what could be the Ducks top line next season (and potentially one of the most lethal lines in the team’s history).

The second line, which Thursday night featured Trevor Zegras centering Vatrano and Ryan Strome, could also reform next season (although replacing Strome with a more consistent scorer like Troy Terry is a variation to consider too).

Defensively, the story is the same. The Ducks will enter next season with some young, gifted defenseman in place, including Olen Zellweger and promising rookie-to-be Tristan Luneau, who sounds like a lock to join the NHL club on a full-time basis. In goal, Lukas Dostal’s stellar rookie season likely solidifies him as goalie #1b (at worst) for the foreseeable future.

In-House Free Agency

With Silfverberg’s $5.25M annual salary coming off the payroll, the Ducks’ largest UFA decision has already been made. None of the team’s remaining UFA earned more than $800K last season. Those players include G Alex Stalock and D William Lagesson, that latter performing admirably in the Ducks’ final stretch after being acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline.

The restricted free agency story is altogether more difficult, as several key contributors from this season are due new contracts this summer. Verbeek will certainly be busy determining which of the following players return (and at what cost):

  • C Isac Lundestrom ($1.8M cap hit in 2023-24; 5-6-11)
  • D Jackson Lacombe ($925K; 2-15-17)
  • LW Max Jones ($1.295M; 5-10-15)
  • D Gustav Lindstrom ($950K; 3-7-10)
  • D Urho Vaakanainen ($850K; 1-13-14)
  • RW Brett Leason ($775K; 11-11-22)
  • C Bo Groulx ($775K; 0-2-2)
  • LW Ben Meyers ($775K; 1-2-3)
  • Others include LW Blake McLaughlin, LW Pavel Regenda, and LW Braden Tracey

By trading away large expiring contracts at the trade deadline (Adam Henrique, Sam Carrick and Ilya Lyubushkin), Verbeek gifted himself ample salary cap space to keep the names on the above list he wishes to retain.

Free Agency

Verbeek has mentioned recently a desire to improve Anaheim’s bottom six forward group. This season, that group frequently included the departing Silfverberg and several aforementioned RFAs: Lundestrom, Leason, Jones, Groulx and Meyers. Whether or not those players are offered contracts, plenty of available NHL free agents could slide into the Ducks’ bottom six this summer. NHL free agency begins July 1.

Special Teams

Anaheim’s 17.9% success rate on the power play ranked twenty-fifth out of thirty-two NHL teams and their 72.4% penalty kill rate was thirty-first.

Even more glaring was the team’s penchant for taking penalties. This one is hard to overstate. They took averaged 5.37 penalties per game, by far the most in the league this season. Anaheim won just 27 games, and many of its losses are very closely related to players taking countless penalties at inopportune moments in games. Late in close games. During or immediately after another penalty kill. The timing of some of this year’s penalties was as difficult to comprehend as the sheer number.


As Anaheim becomes more potent offensively, it will need to increase its shot totals. Gauthier should certainly contribute to improvement in that area, and his shooting prowess and volume are badly needed. The team averaged under 27 shots per game this season; only San Jose, Chicago and Washington shot less frequently.  

Follow all of the Ducks’ personnel moves this summer on Twitter, @DannyEvansTST.