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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    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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    Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    Florida Panthers in familiar territory, backs to the wall once again down 0-2 in Stanley Cup Final

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sport

    SUNRISE, Fla. — The Panthers need a miracle. Again.

    Such is the story of Florida’s season, and it makes all the sense in the world that the plot has reappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers needed a furious late-season push just to get into the playoffs as the lowest seed, then needed to win three consecutive elimination games to oust a record-setting Boston team in Round 1.

    And now, another huge challenge awaits. Down 2-0 in the title series to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Panthers return to home ice on Thursday night looking to spark one more epic turnaround and get right back in the hunt for hockey’s biggest prize.

    “Desperation and winning a game,” Florida veteran Marc Staal said. “We’ve approached every game in the playoffs the same way. We just try to take it – like everyone says – one at a time. But our backs are against the wall, obviously. We’re down by two. But we’re coming home. Love our team, love our resiliency. We’re going to go out and give our best effort and play our best game tomorrow and go from there.”

    To say the odds are stacked high against the Panthers is a bit of an understatement.

    – They’ve beaten Vegas in four of 12 all-time meetings between the franchises. And now they’ve got to beat them in four of the next five games to win the Cup.

    – They’ve been outscored 10-2 in the last four periods against Vegas.

    Matthew Tkachuk has two more misconduct penalties (three) than he has points (one, a goal) in the series.

    – Former Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have as many goals so far in the series (four) as all the current Panthers do in the series, combined.

    – Vegas hasn’t dropped four out of five games since going 1-2-2 to start a six-game road swing that began in late January.

    – Teams that start a Stanley Cup Final with two home wins have won the Cup 38 times in 41 past instances.

    But by now, Florida’s penchant for pulling off the improbable is well-known. Almost expected, really.

    “Of course, we’ve had three really tough series,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Boston is a good example. We were down, we found a way, we started playing a little better, we found a way to come back and get out of there. Same thing here – we’ve just got to work a little harder, work a little smarter and find a way to win games.”

    They’ve done it before.

    There was the 6-0-1 stretch late in the season to hold off Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The winning three elimination games against a Boston team that had the best regular season in NHL history in Round 1; Game 5 there was on the road in overtime, Game 6 required a rally late in the third period to erase a 5-4 deficit and Game 7 was another road OT victory. There was a four-overtime win at Carolina in the East final, setting the table for a sweep where the Panthers got four one-goal wins and allowed only six goals.

    They’ve given up 12 goals in two games against Vegas. And it’s not all on Sergei Bobrovsky, either. Panthers coach Paul Maurice found it funny that it was considered a surprise to some that Bobrovsky – who carried Florida to the final round – will remain the starter for Game 3.

    “He was outstanding in Game 1,” Maurice said. “And he was as good as our team was in Game 2.”

    The message was simple: Everyone has to be better. The Panthers have a history of rising to those moments.

    “We never lose doubt in this room,” Florida forward Ryan Lomberg said. “Obviously, they’re a good team. They got here for a reason. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s kind of the theme of our whole year is we make it tough. Whether we wanted it this way or not, it’s this way, so we’ve got to play the hand we’re dealt now.”

    NOTES: Maurice said he expects D Radko Gudas, who left Game 2 injured, to play in Game 3. Forward Eetu Luostarinen will remain out. Maurice declined to offer specifics on Luostarinen’s injury, but quipped “he’s a good human.” … Thursday will be Florida’s first Stanley Cup Final game on home ice in FLA Live Arena. The Panthers’ 1996 final appearance was at a long-demolished arena in Miami.

    Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

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    Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

    The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

    There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

    — Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    — Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

    The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

    Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    “We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

    Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

    Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

    “I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

    Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

    Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

    The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

    “Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

    Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

    Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.