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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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

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    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

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    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.