With the NHL season (hopefully) inching closer to a return, it was only a matter of time before teams started dipping back into the still-fertile free-agent market, looking for bargains created by the flat-salary cap, which is forcing plenty of UFAs to take less than what they’re worth. One of the top available goal-scorers found a new home Thursday night as right winger Anthony Duclair signed a one-year, $1.7-million contract with the Panthers.
"Anthony is a dynamic and highly skilled player who is capable of being a dependable offensive contributor for our team" said Panthers GM Zito in a press release from the Panthers. "He possesses tremendous speed and goal-scoring ability and earned an opportunity to be named an NHL All-Star last season. We're excited to welcome Anthony and look forward to what he can add to our team."
In a normal financial landscape, Duclair, theoretically, would’ve had no problem securing double the AAV on at least a medium-term contract given his production in 2019-20. He now ranks as the 252nd-richest forward in the league – after tying for 48th in goals last season. Ouch. His 23 goals in 66 games were the most among any player who spent the whole season with the Ottawa Senators and earned him a trip to the All-Star Game as the franchise’s representative. Inconsistency has always been a bugaboo with Duclair, and it was last season, too, as he scored 14 of his 23 goals – 61 percent – during one piping-hot stretch of 17 games between Nov. 19 and Dec. 21. Nevertheless, any player capable of scoring 14 goals in 17 games is obviously talented. At 5-on-5, he set career bests in shots per 60, shot attempts per 60, scoring chances per 60 and rebounds created per 60. The breakout was legitimate. Among NHL forwards with 500 or more minutes played last season, he landed in the 83rd percentile in shot rate and scoring-chance rate. Duclair will never be confused with a top-end defensive forward, but his offensive impact was strong enough that the lowly Sens broke even at 5-on-5 with him on the ice last year, outscoring opponents 35-34.
Duclair also did his damage on a team relatively bereft of perfectly suited linemates. His most common linemates at 5-on-5 were left winger Brady Tkachuk, a shot-generation machine, and middle-six-caliber center Chris Tierney. It’s not like Duclair had pure playmakers feeding him the biscuit all year.
That’s where the Panthers signing becomes awfully intriguing for both sides. Even as a left shot, Duclair has spent plenty of time at right wing in his career, and we know the Panthers have an opening there after losing Evgenii Dadonov (to the Senators, oddly enough) in free agency. That slot will have competition from newly acquired Patric Hornqvist and promising rookie Owen Tippett, but it would be fascinating to see what Duclair might accomplish playing alongside two elite forwards, both of whom are good puck distributors. In the aforementioned sample of forwards who played 500-plus minutes at 5-on-5, Huberdeau sat in the 95th percentile in primary assists per 60, while Barkov sat in the 83rd.
Theoretically, Duclair will have his best chance yet at a 30-goal season if he can crack that top line. He needs to given he signed a one-year pact at less than his actual market value. He also reportedly turned down an offer from the Senators at roughly $3 million per year, and when the two sides could not agree on an extension, Ottawa chose not to extend him a qualifying offer rather than risk arbitration. Duclair bet on himself and, based on the deal he got, he lost Round 1. Having chosen to represent himself with no agent during talks, he has put himself in this position. If he can deliver another career year, the move will look great in hindsight.
But if Duclair winds up on the second line or lower in Florida, that goal will prove difficult to achieve. The linemate quality plummets quickly after the Panthers' top trio. He’d be looking at someone like Alexander Wennberg as his center, and it’s possible Duclair’s number would regress.
It’ll thus be a boom-bust year for Duclair’s goal total – and for his next contract.
Advanced stats courtesy of naturalstattrick.com