2020-21 Anaheim Ducks: What Went Wrong

2020-21 Anaheim Ducks: What Went Wrong
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As the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs approach, NHL teams will start getting mathematically eliminated from contention. PHT’s “What Went Wrong” series aims to analyze why each team missed the playoffs. The “What Went Wrong” series continues with the 2020-21 Anaheim Ducks.

When you think of the worst places an NHL team can be, you often picture “puck purgatory.” Many teams find themselves in that unhappy medium: not good enough to compete, but not bad enough to collect high-end draft picks.

But what about teams who must be dragged kicking and screaming into rebuilding?

Even teams who go through whole-hearted rebuilds often find themselves taking years and years. Sometimes they can’t ever really dig themselves out of that hole. The Ducks (in 2020-21, and before then) instead seem content to mostly just lean back and relax in the cellar. Someone Photoshop GM Bob Murray as the dog insisting that things are fine while the Ducks’ house is aflame.

Above everything else, the Ducks’ 2020-21 season (and recent seasons) shine a glaring spotlight on how not-fine things truly are. Maybe the offseason will mark the time when the Ducks finally try to get out of this situation, before their faces melt some more?

(Note: full season Ducks stats from after their Friday, April 30 game.)

What went wrong before their 2020-21 season

When the Ducks traded Ondrej Kase and took on David Backes‘ contract during the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, it seemed like a sign that maybe the lights were on. Instead, that move feels more like an outlier.

It’s puzzling, too, because of how clear it’s been that the Ducks were right to part with depreciating assets for first-rounders. In the cases of both Kase and Brandon Montour, you can bet that the Bruins and Sabres would accept mulligans for those trades.

Why not try to repeat those victories, even if they’re smaller wins, for the likes of Jakob Silfverberg, Josh Manson, and Ryan Getzlaf?

Generally speaking, the Ducks have waddled away from those opportunities. And, again, they’ve sent mixed signals. They acquired players like Danton Heinen and Christian Djoos for the likes of Nick Ritchie and Daniel Sprong, rather than picks.

Even seemingly reasonable moves in a vacuum were head-scratchers in context.

Kevin Shattenkirk proved that he could help a team when he signed a bargain contract with the Lightning. However, he seems more like someone who could push a team over the top, rather than accomplish … whatever, exactly, it was that the Ducks were expecting. That $3.9 million cap hit through 2022-23 didn’t make sense then, and it looks worse now.

What went wrong during the Ducks’ 2020-21 season

Plenty went wrong for the Ducks in 2020-21, and the main reasons to feel optimism revolve around hoping that potential eventually turns to production.

One area where the Ducks suffered from a staggering lack of production was the power play. As of May 1, the Ducks sport an astoundingly low 9.48 power-play percentage. Here’s a quick list of recent teams that were in that cruddy ballpark:

Panthers: 10% in 2013-14
Blackhawks 11.8 in 2006-07
Hurricanes 10.7 in 2003-04
Devils 11.9 in 2002-03
Ducks 11.5 in 2001-02
Wild 9.6 in 2000-01

Not good! To some extent, numbers that extreme will work themselves out.

But only to some extent. When you’re severely lacking in talent, you’re going to feel it in areas like the power play.

By just about every metric, the Ducks got crushed in 2020-21. They’re every bit the very bad rebuilding team that should be trying to accelerate that rebuild.

It sure seems like Bob Murray’s “too close” to a lot of the players he should be selling. During a 31 Thoughts Podcast following the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, Elliotte Friedman indicated that the Ducks set asking prices so high, they likely scared people off.

In some cases, the Ducks might eventually find an equitable trade for someone like, say, Rickard Rakell. Even then, buyers might not be as excited about paying up for Rakell in a contract year, versus getting “two playoff runs” for him.

Setting the stage to sell even lower?

If Ryan Getzlaf retires, or simply comes back, then the Ducks might have squandered an opportunity there, too.

There’s little reason to believe that the Ducks will suddenly become a playoff-caliber team in 2021-22, so it’s fair to wonder if they’re only going to hurt the trade value of potential trade targets that much more.

Speaking of value dropping, it’s fair to worry a bit about John Gibson.

From 2015-16 to 2017-18 (and some extent, 2018-19), Gibson built a resume as one of the best goalies in the world. About the only complaint — beyond the team in front of him — was that he played 60 games or fewer each season.

But we’re now two years into a swoon.

In 2019-20, Gibson went 20-26-5 with a troubling .904 save percentage (and -8.7 GSAA, by Hockey Reference’s version). This season hasn’t been much better, as Gibson is 9-18-6 with a .903 save percentage and -5.7 GSAA.

Now, it’s important to note that he hasn’t received much help. It’s understandable if other teams believe he’d snap back into elite form if he joined a winner.

Still, as this goalie tiers poll from Craig Custance indicated (Athletic sub required), some already questioned Gibson going into 2020-21. Those rumblings likely only grew louder after another tough season.

Frankly, if the Ducks take a sober look at this, they might realize that it could be a while before they compete, and it might be wise to trade Gibson. If they wait too long — Murray’s default setting, it seems — then they could be stuck with a goalie whose best days are behind him.

What went right

Despite dipping their toes (webbed feet?) in the rebuilding water instead of diving in, the Ducks still have some pieces in place for their rebuild.

Trevor Zegras has been turning heads, and with good reason. Jamie Drysdale‘s already gotten his feet wet at the NHL level, too, and could end up being the best defenseman of the 2020 NHL Draft. The Ducks made four first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, and generally seem to have found some quality talent.

(The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked their farm system seventh in February, while Elite Prospects placed them 12th thanks to some “graduations.”)

Sure, it would’ve been nice if the Ducks were proactive like the Red Wings to get even more picks/”dart throws.” It’s also tough not to look at their Los Angeles neighbors and be jealous about the Kings’ more-dynamic approach. But the Ducks have a chance to turn things around if they make the right picks, and get the most out of those prospects.

What’s next?

Follow the Push for the Playoffs to keep track of the Ducks’ 2021 NHL Draft Lottery odds. And maybe keep an eye out during the offseason, as Bob Murray (66, in place since 2008) might not be the ideal executive for what clearly needs to be a full-fledged rebuild.

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.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

    avalanche injuries
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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

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    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

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    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

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