Tuesday, June 25, 2024

NHL free agency: Ducks move on from Max Comtois, Kevin Shattenkirk

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For many teams, it goes without saying that it is an especially complicated year because the salary cap remains tight. That means there are a lot of players pursuing a scarce number of dollars in the system when the bell goes off for the start of NHL free agency on Saturday.

Specific to the Ducks, veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and forward Max Comtois will be joining a crowded free agent class that had a few surprise additions around the league. On Friday, the Nashville Predators bought out 32-year-old center Matt Duchene, and the Winnipeg Jets did the same with forward Blake Wheeler, their former captain who turns 37 on Aug. 31.

Shattenkirk, 34, will be heading to free agency after playing the past three seasons with the Ducks, his agent confirmed on Friday. It’s understood there wasn’t much traction in any talks with the Ducks after the regular season concluded.

He joined the Ducks as a free agent in 2020 – signing a three-year contract worth $11.7 million – just after winning the Stanley Cup championship with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The path to the parting of ways was different with Comtois, who is 10 years younger than Shattenkirk, and once a promising prospect, a second-round draft choice (No. 50) in 2017. The Ducks opted not to tender a qualifying offer to Comtois after a disappointing season in which he had 19 points in 64 games, and showed signs of continued regression after a 16-goal, 33-point season in 2020-21.

That wasn’t going to cut it with the (relatively) new and unsentimental management group. A year ago, the Ducks didn’t hesitate to cut ties with forwards Sam Steel and Sonny Milano, not qualifying either player. Milano, in fact, was coming off a career-high in assists (20) and points (34) with the Ducks, eventually winding up with the Washington Capitals. He had 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists) in 64 games this past season. Steel, a Ducks’ first-round pick (No. 30) in 2016, landed in Minnesota on a one-year deal and recorded 28 points in 65 games with the Wild. Steel, incidentally, did not receive a qualifying offer from Minnesota on Friday.

In addition to Comtois, the Ducks did not tender qualifying offers to five others: defensemen Axel Andersson and Simon Benoit, goaltender Ollie Eriksson Ek, right wing Bryce Kindopp and left wing Josiah Slavin.

Andersson recently signed a two-year contract with Djurgårdens IF in Sweden, and Eriksson Ek also agreed to a two-year deal with MoDo in Sweden.

As expected, the Ducks did extend qualifying offers to five restricted free agents – forward Troy Terry, centers Trevor Zegras and Benoit-Olivier Groulx, defenseman Jamie Drysdale and goaltender Lukas Dostal.

With where the Ducks are in their rebuild, realistically, it’s not in the timeline of the organization to take big swings in the free agent market. But you can’t rule out the possibility of Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek making a selective strategic signing or two at some point.

“There are a number of spots within our roster that we need to address,” Verbeek said on Friday. “We are looking to add to our forward group on the wing and we will look at a few options to help our blue line.

“We are in a good spot with the cap where we can be flexible in our approach.”

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