Pandemic Punts: Anaheim Ducks should embrace rebuild in 2020-21

Pandemic Punts: Anaheim Ducks should not fight rebuild in 2020-21 Bob Murray as GM coach
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Introducing: Pandemic Punts

Tanking isn’t a pretty thing to do, but in a normal NHL season, several teams should at least consider it.

Yet, in a 2020-21 NHL season that figures to be even more unpredictable than usual — it remains to be seen if the season even happens — just about every front office should at least have that conversation. “What if we punt on the 2020-21 NHL season altogether?”

Of course, some punting opportunities will be more obvious (Red Wings/Senators) than others (Lightning/Golden Knights).

However strong the attraction might be for each team to tank, “Pandemic Punts” could be a worthwhile thought experiment for all 31 NHL teams. Pondering why the Lightning and other teams may not punt under any circumstances could be a way to forecast future problems or opportunities.

Starting in alphabetical order, PHT’s Pandemic Punts begins with … the Anaheim Ducks’ 2020-21 season. Luckily, they’re a pretty good first run for “Pandemic Punts.”

State of the Anaheim Ducks heading into 2020-21 NHL season

Rebuild denial is a real thing in sports. In the case of the Ducks, it still feels like the team has one webbed foot in, and one foot out.

For every move to build for the future (trading Ondrej Kase to land a first-round pick from Boston), there are moves to maintain a fleeting grasp on contention. In a vacuum, signing Kevin Shattenkirk to a solid bargain contract would be smart … for a team that’s on the cusp. The Ducks seem closer to the cellar than the playoff bubble in 2020-21, though, so that otherwise smart signing instead smells of desperation. (Or at least rebuild-denial.)

Perhaps some of that denial comes from the Ducks not being that far removed from their glory days. After all, they’ve only missed the playoffs for the past two season. (Granted, you can zoom in and pick that apart, as it’s been a while since they even won a playoff game, as the Sharks summarily swept the Ducks in 2017-18.)

But life comes at you fast, and sometimes that means you need to quickly rebuild. Unfortunately, it seems like Ducks GM Bob Murray did not receive that TPS report.

Try this exercise: realistically, how likely are the Ducks to contend in 2020-21? If so, how?

Most probably answered “John Gibson doing everything.” Indeed, before 2019-20, John Gibson ranked as the best thing going for the Ducks. Yet … even in 2018-19, we saw the limits of leaning on Gibson. In the grand scheme of things, all of Gibson’s saves really only helped the Ducks to save face.

Call it punting or tanking, but the Ducks need to embrace a rebuild now, not later. Just ask their fans.

Punting before the season even starts?

While the Ducks don’t boast the vast cap space of truly committed cellar dwellers (punters?), it’s possible they could still help cap-challenged teams while helping themselves.

Via Cap Friendly, the Ducks are currently close to the 2020-21 salary cap ceiling, but it wouldn’t be surprising if David Backes‘ $4.5M lands on LTIR. From there, the Ducks could open up a little more wiggle room.

If that happened, then the Ducks could consider calling up teams that need a breather. For the short-term pains of taking on a problem contract, the Ducks might land some valuable future pieces of the puzzle.

Embracing a rebuild would allow the Ducks to make that step earlier. But, most likely, it seems like the Ducks will need to pick up the pieces after they get kicked in the teeth …

Getzlaf: the most obvious trade chip if Ducks rebuild

Pandemic Punts: Anaheim Ducks should embrace rebuild in 2020-21 Getzlaf
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

For quite some time, it’s been curious that the Ducks haven’t tried to trade Ryan Getzlaf.

Yes, he’s a face of the franchise, and their captain. Of course it would hurt to see him go. And there’s no denying that you’d need some buy-in, being that Getzlaf boasts a no-movement clause.

In the grand scheme of things, the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline could open up some avenues.

To start, 35-year-old Ryan Getzlaf would probably ponder a trade, much like Joe Thornton warmed up to the idea during his contract year with the Sharks.

While Getzlaf’s value isn’t peaking, he’s also entering low-risk territory. Theoretically, the Ducks could retain some of his salary in a trade. Also, while Getzlaf’s cap hit is $8.25M, his base salary is just $3M.

A big, veteran who can still produce? One who brings that sort of nastiness teams crave in the playoffs? Getzlaf checks a lot of boxes, and his cheap real-world cost could really appeal to teams who want to contend but not overspend.

Frankly, if Getzlaf signs off on a trade, it would be a major failure if the Ducks don’t pull the trigger.

Ducks punting conundrums: Trade young (but not that young) players?

As clear as trading Getzlaf feels, the most pivotal questions revolve around tougher judgment calls.

Over the years, we’ve seen the Ducks go a number of ways with similar conundrums.

Back in February 2019, it already seemed questionable to extend a player like Jakob Silfverberg. But, with Ondrej Kase, the Ducks showed at least some willingness to move a prime-age player. They might need to do so again.

  • Rickard Rakell is a nice player, especially at a cheap $3.8M cap hit. That bargain only runs through 2021-22, however, and Rakell is 27. By the time the Ducks are competitive again, Rakell’s likely to be older and more expensive.
  • For years, Hampus Lindholm ranked as one of the most underrated defensemen in the league. Even after taking a troubling step back recently, he’s still a 26-year-old gem at just $5.205M per year. But the Rakell example lingers again: that contract runs out after two seasons.
  • Josh Manson ranks as another player with just two years left on his deal ($4.1M AAV). He’s a little older at 29, but right-handed defensemen are in high demand.

Ideally, the Ducks would convince someone to shake loose some real assets for scary contracts in Silfverberg (30, $5.825M through 2023-24) and Adam Henrique (also 30, also with a deal [$5.25M] through 2023-24). Realistically, teams would be more interested in the sort of trades that would sting.

(Truly, it’s tough to avoid wincing when picturing the Ducks coughing up someone like Lindholm.)

Ducks should get ready for a future fight, rather than going down swinging meekly

No, the Ducks don’t have to trade away every Rakell/Lindholm-type player to rebuild. Still, it seems like their window to compete might not match up very well with the peak years for those players.

Taking your best shots in the future sometimes means retreating today. In the Ducks’ case, it also might mean selling off some of your best ammo.

Overall, the Ducks would be wise to punt — early, and often. Rather than going for it on Fourth and Long, the Ducks must commit fully to a rebuild.

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

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    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.

    Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

    “We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

    Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

    Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

    The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

    “It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

    That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

    Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

    The outcome was determined long before that.

    After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

    Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

    “That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

    Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

    Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

    “I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

    Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

    Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

    “If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

    Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

    “It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

    The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

    The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

    It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.

    Penguins name former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as director of hockey operations

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    PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Dubas wanted to take a breath and take a break after being fired as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Then the Pittsburgh Penguins called.

    The break ended shortly thereafter.

    Dubas joined the Penguins as the team’s president of hockey operations, less than two weeks after a somewhat ugly exit from Toronto following a second-round playoff loss to Florida.

    The 37-year-old Dubas goes from one type of hockey crucible to another. In Toronto, he was tasked with helping the Maple Leafs emerge from two decades of postseason futility. In Pittsburgh, his mission will be to prop open the Stanley Cup window for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a little longer.

    All three are 35 or older and haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. Yet Dubas believes strongly the issue isn’t the age of the franchise’s core but deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Dubas replaces Brian Burke, who was fired along with general manager Ron Hextall in April after the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

    “I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here and the way I view it, if the people want to bet against (Crosby, Letang and Malkin) they can go ahead and do so,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them and go with them here. I think it is a group that’s capable of contending to win a championship.”

    Crosby and Malkin were excellent for much of last season and Letang showed remarkable resiliency while dealing with multiple setbacks, including a stroke and the death of his father. Yet save for a 14-2-2 stretch in November and December, the Penguins struggled to find consistency and ultimately stumbled down the stretch to snap the longest active playoff streak in major North American Sports.

    While the Penguins do have $20 million in cap space and the 14th overall pick in this month’s NHL draft, significant changes or upgrades could be difficult in the short term.

    Dubas inherits a team that was the oldest in the NHL last season and is littered with question marks, particularly in goal and the forward group outside of Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

    Two-time All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry will become a free agent this summer and was beset by injuries over the second half of the season. Forward Jason Zucker, who served as the emotional sparkplug for long stretches, is also scheduled to hit the open market and may have priced himself out of town.

    Pittsburgh also has several aging players with full or partial no-movement clauses, including 38-year-old forward Jeff Carter, 30-year-old Bryan Rust and 35-year-old defenseman Jeff Petry.

    “I think that those are obviously very real situations, everyone knows that they exist,” Dubas said. “To me the effect on it … is what we can add in terms of depth pieces? What we can add in terms of younger players? That’ll be the real key.”

    Dubas does plan to hire a general manager to fill the vacancy created when Hextall was let go after a short but largely unfruitful tenure. Dubas will serve as the GM on an interim basis until early July.

    Dubas comes to Pittsburgh after nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, including the last five as general manager. Toronto won a postseason series for the first time since 2004 this spring before falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

    Shortly after the Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, Dubas said that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to remain in Toronto. His contract was set to expire on June 30, but team president Kyle Shanahan opted to pre-emptively fire Dubas instead. Toronto hired former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving as Dubas’ replacement.

    Dubas helped build the Maple Leafs into a regular-season power during his tenure. Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

    In the end, advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2004 wasn’t enough for Dubas to remain in Toronto.

    He joked he was maybe a little “too honest” during his season-ending press conference with the Maple Leafs when he expressed reservations about returning. Shanahan’s abrupt decision to move on came as a bit of a surprise, and Dubas planned to take some time to hit the reset button before looking for another job.

    Yet the Penguins – who’d already been given clearance by the Maple Leafs to interview Dubas – provided a compelling reason to speed up the timetable. Dubas’ due diligence included speaking to Crosby and longtime coach Mike Sullivan to take the pulse of a leadership group that remains firmly in place.

    Dubas called them “some of the best competitors” in hockey. Competitors that have – for one reason or another – been unable to recapture the magic of their runs to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

    Time is running out for Crosby to put his name on the Cup for a fourth time in a career that will almost certainly end in the Hall of Fame. Dubas knows he’ll be judged in part on whether he can make that happen. After taking more than six weeks of searching before landing on Dubas, Fenway Sports Group Chairman Tom Werner believes Dubas is up to the challenge.

    “Our philosophy is giving Kyle and his associates the best possible resources to win,” Werner said. “Kyle’s been very articulate today about his path to success … we’re very confident that Kyle will execute the plan he’s articulated to us.”