Ducks Potential Free Agent Target: Brett Pesce

ducks potential free agent target: brett pesce

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Anaheim Ducks GM Pat Verbeek has made his intentions for the 2024 offseason crystal clear regarding the areas of the roster he means to improve upon.

A top-four right-shot defenseman is at the top of his shopping list, along with a top-six right-shot winger.

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One of the bigger names on the market as July 1 approaches is Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce (29).

"I'm looking for a top-four defenseman," Verbeek stated during his exit interview at the end of the 2023-24 season. "If you look at our lineup, we have a lot of left shots, so I'm looking for a right-shot defenseman."

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The Carolina Hurricanes have a lot of business to address in the offseason of 2024. Newly appointed General Manager Eric Tulsky will have roughly $23.9 million in salary cap space to work with five RFAs and seven UFAs in need of new contracts.

"Obviously I'm hopeful we can work something out here," Pesce stated during his exit interview following the Hurricanes' 4-2 second-round playoff defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers. "Everyone knows I love it here. I love the guys, I love the core and I still think we can get it done. Just hopeful."

From a distance, the right side of the Canes blueline seems pretty stable with Brett Burns, newly re-signed Jalen Chatfield, and incoming rookie Scott Morrow set to fill out that position on the depth chart in Carolina for the 2024-25 season.

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Unfortunately for the nine-year NHL veteran, Pesce, Carolina may look to address other areas of their roster with their current cap space, leaving primed to hit the UFA market, which opens on July 1 at 9 AM PST.

Pesce seems to fit what Pat Verbeek is looking for in his desire to round out the blueline in Anaheim for the foreseeable future.

The Fit

Brett Pesce (66th overall in 2013) was drafted by the Hurricanes and has played 627 regular season games while tallying 198 career points for the organization. Carolina has been one of the more successful teams in the NHL over the past six seasons, making the playoffs in each of those years. Pesce had played in 57 playoff games and totaled 21 points.

Pesce averaged 20:17 minutes per night in 70 games for the Hurricanes on their second pair with Brady Skjei in 2023-24 and was a fixture on their second penalty kill unit, where he totaled 163:34 TOI.

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He was forced out of the Canes' playoff run due to a broken fibula suffered in game two of their first-round series victory over the New York Islanders. He was nearing full recovery when Carolina was eliminated and won't require surgery.

Pesce is a player whose impact on a game largely goes unnoticed. He will never challenge for a team lead in points and isn't one to throw a bone-crunching hit. His contributions are far more subtle as a defensive specialist, but they aren't unimportant by any means.

With a 6-foot-3 205-pound frame, Pesce is a terrific skater and can close gaps on attackers in an instant. He expertly judges when to activate and pinch in the offensive zone. In the neutral zone, he keeps gaps tight and doesn't give up the middle. He remains tight on his assignment in the defensive zone and can fend off the heaviest of forechecks before making a clean outlet pass to ignite a breakout.

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The Hurricanes ran a man-to-man defensive zone coverage scheme not dissimilar to the one the Ducks implemented when head coach Greg Cronin took over in 2023-24. If the Ducks intend to retain that system, Pesce would be a seamless fit and if they don't, he's adaptable and cerebral enough to adjust.

The Ducks have a trio of young and talented left-shot defensemen who just played out their rookie seasons in the NHL in 2023-24; Jackson LaCombe (23), Pavel Mintyukov (20), and Olen Zellweger (20).

Lining up Pesce on a top-four defensive pair with one of those three blueliners could elevate them to realize their potential while simultaneously extending Pesce's effectiveness as a modern shutdown defender in the NHL.

The Hurdles 

According to AFP Analytics, Pesce's contract is projected to have a term in the range of five years and an AAV of $6.28. With $33.3 million in projected cap space for the 2024-25 season, the Ducks can certainly afford to take on that salary.

Because the Ducks aren't in their contending window yet and play in a state with a high-income tax rate, they may have to overpay and exceed that projection if they are to acquire Pesce's services.

Pesce has expressed his enjoyment of playing on a contending team, so a team like Anaheim may not be a preferred destination.

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"It's fun to win and be in a winning culture," Pesce stated during his exit interview. "You can't put a price on coming to the rink everyday and winning and being happy."

At 29 years old (turning 30 in November), Pesce is likely in the latter part of his prime and the Ducks are seemingly just on the verge of opening their contending window. By the time the Ducks are ready to start pushing for deep playoff runs, Pesce may be approaching or in his mid-30s.

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The timelines may not align perfectly, but Pesce's game is such that he'll likely age gracefully and remain effective through the duration of the projected five-year contract.

There are several defensive UFA options for Pat Verbeek to ponder and evaluate as July 1 approaches. Pesce seems as good a fit as any to what Verbeek and Greg Cronin are trying to accomplish in terms of projection and play style for the Ducks. He could be worth the cost and the glove-like fit may benefit all involved.

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