Ducks should accept short-term pain for long-term gains

AP
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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.

The Anaheim Ducks’ future may very well hinge on one x-factor among all others: GM Bob Murray’s self-awareness.

When a team has self-awareness, you can go from dour to hopeful with rocket speed, like the Rangers have. If you’re delusional, you can get stuck in hockey quicksand, like the troubled Wild.

Whether Murray wants to admit it or not, the Ducks seem headed toward that fork in the road in 2019-20.

[MORE: Three Questions | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | 2018-19 in review]

The road’s been bumpy up to this turning point, too. Randy Carlyle and Corey Perry are both out after a terrible 2018-19 season, and the Sharks summarily swept the Ducks in Round 1 to end 2017-18, so things have been dark for the Ducks for quite some time.

Despite all of the red flags waving around, one could picture Murray talking himself into this season being radically different.

  • What if Dallas Eakins fixes that broken Carlyle system, and seamlessly integrates young forwards like Sam Steel and Troy Terry?
  • Players like John Gibson, Ryan Getzlaf, and Cam Fowler could enjoy better injury luck.
  • Beyond the top three of the Sharks, Flames, and Golden Knights, the Pacific Division is pretty crummy. Why not us?

If you take an honest look at this Ducks team, though, ask yourself: what’s a realistic ceiling for this team?

When Ryan Getzlaf leads your team in scoring with 48 points despite being limited to 67 games played, and you basically flushed months of brilliant work from John Gibson down the toilet, you probably shouldn’t print those 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs tickets just yet.

GM Bob Murray’s perception of this Ducks team isn’t just Anaheim’s biggest X-factor for 2019-20, as the tug-of-war between seeking a playoff run and setting up this team for a better future could affect this team years down the line.

After all, Murray’s already dug a bit of a hole assuming that the Ducks have another run or two left.

Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique are fine players, but at 28 and 29 respectively, each having five years remaining at about a combined $11M is pretty unnerving. The Silfverberg extension happened during this past, disastrous season, so there’s reason to worry that Murray might still need convincing that at least a soft rebuild or pivot is necessary.

The Ducks have some anchors in Silfverberg and Henrique, which contrasts with the Rangers, who had contracts teams wanted, including Mats Zuccarello.

That said, Murray could push things in the right direction if he’s realistic about this team’s rather limited potential.

For one thing, while the Ducks have unearthed solid talent even while lacking many high-end picks during their contending years, it seems like a lack of blue-chippers is catching up with them. Trevor Zegras (ninth overall in 2019) is a strong start, but the Ducks need more cornerstone pieces to build around.

If the Ducks can show some discipline in absorbing growing pains, they may very well turn things around.

Ideally, the Ducks would allow Eakins some breathing room to work with, and encourage a focus on getting younger players like Sam Steel and Troy Terry more minutes, even if that could push a mediocre team into becoming a cellar dweller. Not only would you get a better idea of what you have in Steel and Terry (and Eakins), but you’d also probably end up with better lottery odds to land someone like Alexis Lafreniere.

With Perry bought out, Ryan Kesler eyeing possible retirement, and Ryan Getzlaf looking understandably creaky lately, the Ducks probably don’t have much of a choice. As great as John Gibson can be — and I’d wager he was the best goalie in the world for stretches of last season — the Ducks still looked mediocre last season, even when he was standing on his head.

Yes, it would be painful to suffer through another abysmal season in 2019-20, but the Ducks have been willing to do painful things, like buying out Corey Perry. Besides, the pain could last a whole lot longer if Murray chooses to ignore the symptoms.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.