Ducks look like a team still stuck in neutral

Anaheim Ducks
John Cordes/NHLI via Getty Images

It is time to ask what has now become a yearly question with the Anaheim Ducks.

That question: What, exactly, is the plan here?

The Ducks are coming off a 2020-21 season that was their third consecutive outside of the playoffs. Their points percentage has gotten worse in each of those seasons, and went all the way down to .384 this past season, the absolute worst mark in franchise history. Yes, even worse than their original expansion teams.

It is a team that is clearly trending in the wrong direction. But when you look at what changes they have made (or more accurately, have not made) during that time it is difficult to get a sense for how they reverse that course. They have still not really committed to any sort of an all-out rebuild that only seems to be delaying how long it takes for them to become a relevant contender again. They have also not really done anything to improve their short-term outlook.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

They signed Kevin Shattenkirk to a multi-year deal a year ago and re-signed Ryan Getzlaf to a one-year contract this season.

In a vacuum those moves are fine. Shattenkirk is a good player. Getzlaf is a franchise icon. Those moves are not actively hurting the Ducks or making them worse. But when those are the only significant or noteworthy moves it does leave you wondering where this team goes next.

The Ducks have not really made a significant trade since moving Sami Vatanen for Adam Henrique nearly four years ago. Yes, they have made trades since then. But they have been smaller, more inconsequential moves on the edges that do not really strengthen or worsen the roster. Or improve either the short-term or long-term outlooks.

So if you are a Ducks fan looking at this roster what exactly is there to make you optimistic about this team?

The top players on the roster (Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, John Gibson) are all at an age where their best days are probably in the rear view mirror and they are probably not going to be a factor on the next contending Ducks team (they probably will not even be on the roster).

The original wave of younger players on the roster — players like Sam Steel, Max Jones, Max Comtois — have not really taken a major step forward quite yet.

The good news is Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale — the next wave, and perhaps highest upside prospects — made their debuts this past season and showed some real promise. They are the highest upside players on the roster and the closest thing they have to franchise building blocks, with 2021 No. 3 overall pick Mason MacTavish there as well.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Potential breakout players for 2021-22 season]

They are also starting to get into a slightly better contract situation where the long-term commitments are starting to wind down. Gibson, Fowler, Henrique, and Silfverberg are the only players with significant cap numbers signed more than two years in advance, and none of them make more than $6.5 million per season. So there is some flexibility there.

But at some point don’t you have to pick a direction and do something to alter the team in a meaningful way? Just sitting back and waiting for players like Zegras and Drysdale to become stars and hoping other pieces fall into place is going to take a lot of time and require a lot of luck for it to all work out.

What they need is something significant one way or another.

Something significant could be a full scale rebuild where players like Rakell and Gibson get moved since they would bring back the most meaningful returns. Or doing something really bold and trying even more of a push for a player like Jack Eichel. There is no team in the league that is more desperate for a superstar in the prime of their career than the Ducks.

Until they do one of those two things, though, it is hard to envision the Ducks’ on-ice fortunes changing much in the near future. We know the current roster is not good enough, because it keeps proving that. We also know they are not doing anything to significantly change the roster. So unless Gibson goes into superman mode and plays the season of his life it is hard to envision the results changing anytime soon.

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    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports

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