Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.
Three questions for you to ponder regarding the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks…
1. Who is going to score?
This is not the sort of question any team wants to answer. But when you finish the season with an NHL-low 196 goals and with just one player scoring 20 or more, it’s a question that demands an answer for the Ducks.
To illustrate how bad an issue scoring was last season, consider that Ryan Getzlaf was the team’s leading scorer with 48 points. Only one team — the Arizona Coyotes — had a player who led the team with fewer points (Clayton Keller, 47). Jakub Silfverberg’s 24 goals led the team, the third-fewest in the NHL to lead a team behind the Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings.
You can safely assume that both all three of those teams missed the playoffs. Scoring, at the end of the day, is paramount, and the Ducks need a lot more of it this season if they are to compete and avoid franchise-record losing streaks.
Some of that could come in the form of a bounceback year for Rikard Rakell, who managed just 18 last year after hitting the 30-goal plateau in each of the previous two seasons.
But without any big-name scoring acquisitions this offseason, the team will be looking at some promising prospects to get the job done.
Sam Steel will be one of those guys. He could play as high as the team’s top-line centre, which should give him a couple of good wingers to play with. In 22 games last season — and on a very poor team — he scored six times and added five assists.
Troy Terry will be another. The winger saw 32 games with the Ducks last year, scoring four times on 25 shots and adding nine assists. There could contributions from Max Comtois and Isac Lundestrom as well, depending on how training camp battles play out.
What’s certain is someone needs to step up.
2. What impact will the arrival of Dallas Eakins have?
Anaheim’s biggest move this offseason came at the position that stands behind all the players during the games.
Eakins will give it another go in his second stint as a head coach in the NHL after one and a half very poor seasons with the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
His coaching record in the NHL is 36-63-14, otherwise known as pretty abysmal. And now he’s been handed the keys to another bad team and is being told to make something out of nothing.
Eakins has run a winning machine in San Diego of the American Hockey League over the past four seasons and has overseen some of Anaheim’s next stars, which is a healthy boon.
Eakins has promised that the guys he’s groomed — Steel, Lundestrom, Brendan Guhle, et al — will have to battle for spots in training camp, but given last year’s team and the lack of reinforcements this summer, they shouldn’t be particularly hard to win.
Eakins had a couple of good runs with the Toronto Marlies before the Oilers hired him, so his AHL success hasn’t translated in the big league as of yet.
He’s got a mountainous task in front of him once again.
3. Can a team devoid of team defense last season band together in the upcoming one?
Here’s a common statement uttered by people around the NHL last season: “John Gibson needs some help.”
Gibson deserved to be on the ballot for the Vezina this season, and not just for a pity add for enduring the type of hanged-out-to-dry year that he did. Gibson rose above all that to post some ludicrous numbers despite the hand he was dealt in 2018-19.
But surely, as good as Gibson is, he can’t endure another round of it without showing some cracks in the armor.
It remains to be seen what kind of defensive system Eakins will deploy. In his only full season in Edmonton, the team gave up an NHL high 267 goals, including 204 at even-strength — also the most in the league that year.
One would think that a buy-in under Randy Carlyle’s old regime was a longshot given how poorly the season went. When Bob Murray took over in February, there wasn’t much to play for. Having Eakins there could re-invigorate the team with a new message and a new way to play.
That has to be the hope, for Gibson and the rest of the team.