Ducks need new direction and new outlook

Anaheim Ducks
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There were seven teams that did not qualify for the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoff field this past season. Over the next few days we are going to take a look at each of them to examine whether or not they are capable of bouncing back this upcoming season. We continue today with the Anaheim Ducks.

Between 2005 and 2018 the Anaheim Ducks had an outstanding run near the top of the NHL.

During that time they won a Stanley Cup, played in a few more Western Conference Finals, and were a consistent 100-point team that was almost always a contender.

They are no longer that team.

The 2019-20 season was their second straight year on the outside of the playoff picture, while their .472 points percentage was one of the worst marks in franchise history.

What exactly are they right now?

Let’s examine it.

Stuck in no-man’s land

The Ducks are in the position no team should ever want to be in.

They are not really fully committed to a large scale rebuild at the moment, but they are also not a contender or even a playoff team.

Their core players are not totally washed up, but they are also not going to get any better. What you see from them is what you get. If anything they are mostly at a point where the downside of their careers is just beginning.

They have some intriguing young players, including four first-round draft picks from the past two classes, but beyond Trevor Zegras (No. 9 overall in 2019) and Jamie Drysdale (No. 6 overall in 2020) they don’t really have many prospects with a huge upside.

They also have a very expensive roster (spending right to the cap) in the short-term even though the roster is not particularly strong.

None of that is encouraging.

Zegras and Drysdale definitely have the potential to be cornerstone pieces in the future, but they have to actually develop into that and the Ducks need to see some other pieces emerge around them. Players like Sam Steel and Max Jones have been highly regarded prospects in the past, but the time has arrived for them to take big steps forward in their development if they are going to be key parts of the Ducks’ future.

No one should be untouchable

This roster just isn’t good enough, and even though a player like Kevin Shattenkirk is a decent addition to the blue line, it is not going to be enough to dramatically shift the direction of team in the short-term.

There are just too many holes, too many flaws, and too many issues.

Their best hope to return to contention in the immediate future is for John Gibson to turn into a goaltending deity and put the team on his back and single handedly carry it. Now, it is not impossible for that to happen. He is certainly the type of goalie that is capable of doing that, especially when he is playing at his best. But it is a big ask of one player to do that for a franchise. It is also not likely.

Given that, there is no reason for the Ducks to have any untouchable players on its roster in terms of trade.

Ryan Getzlaf still has some value, even if he is no longer a franchise player. Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg, Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Rickard Rakell are all fine NHL players. They are good enough to play on contending teams.

But they are not difference makers.

Their best place on a roster should be a as complementary piece for a team that does have difference makers that can drive the bus. And by the time the Ducks find players that can be that (maybe Zegras and Drysdale? Maybe a yet-to-be drafted potential superstar at the top of the 2021 class?) these players will almost certainly no longer be members of the team.

So why hold on to them now for a roster that is probably going to end up in the same place without them as it would with them? You do not need to trade them just for the sake of trading them, but they should be aggressively shopped starting right now to see what is out there in return.

The only player on the roster that MIGHT even come close to “do not trade” status is Gibson, but even he should not be off limits if the right deal comes along. Not only for the potential return, but also to get him on a team where he has a chance to win.

The outlook

It is just hard to see how things get better in the long-term without getting a little worse in the short-term.

This roster, even with a goalie like Gibson, is not going to contend. And that becomes even more true if Gibson is anything less than spectacular as he was this past season.

They had a very strong decade where they were one of the league’s best teams, and at times one of the NHL’s most overlooked contenders. Their consistency was nearly unmatched in recent years only to have it all be forgotten because they could not get over the hump that was the Western Conference Finals.

But that time has come to an end, and the longer it takes for them to realize that, the longer it is going to take for them to get back in the right direction.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.