Anaheim Ducks: 2021-22 NHL season preview

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The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Anaheim Ducks.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 17-30-9 (8th, West Division)
• Postseason: Did not qualify; drafted Mason MacTavish No. 3 overall
• Offensive leader: Max Comtois (16 goals, 33 points)

• Free Agent Additions: Greg Pateryn, Danny O’Regan, Buddy Robinson, Brogan Rafferty
• Free Agent Subtractions: Ryan Miller (retired), David Backes (retired), Danton Heinen (Penguins), Andrew Agozzino (Senators), Andy Welinski (Flames), Andrew Poturalski (Hurricanes), Carter Rowney (Red Wings), Chase De Leo (Devils)

Biggest Question Facing the Ducks

• Who’s going to score the goals?

The Ducks scored an NHL-worst 124 goals over last season’s 56 games. They were also fifth-worst in even strength goals scored with 111. Max Comtois (16) and Adam Henrique (12) were the two leading goal scorers, making Anaheim the team with the fewest number of players with double digit goals — only Buffalo and Detroit (three) were ahead of them.

A lack of scoring has been a trend for the Ducks. They averaged 2.56 goals per game (29th) in 2019-20 and 2.39 goals per game (31st) in 2018-19. The previous offensive horses are either aging out (Ryan Getzlaf), no longer in Anaheim (Corey Perry, Ondrej Kase, Ryan Kesler), or have regressed (Rickard Rakell). It’s time for the next generation to begin to make an impact.

As the youth movement continues, it’ll be the kids who will be relied upon to push the offense in a new direction. Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry, Sam Steel, Max Jones, and Isac Lundeström will be among those expected to lead this roster rebuild. There  is always the possibility that general manager Bob Murray injects a spark into his lineup, maybe a certain center who plays in Buffalo. But it’s tough to know what his plans are moving forward.

What’s the salary cap situation?

According to Cap Friendly, the Ducks are a little more than $14 million under the salary cap ceiling. Murray’s summer consisted of re-signings players and not dipping his toes into the free agent or trade markets. That quiet off-season has, however, added speculation that Anaheim could be a potential landing spot for Jack Eichel. They have the cap space, prospects, and draft picks to create a package that would tempt Sabres GM Kevyn Adams. It would be a bold move that would move the needle in Anaheim and potentially push the progress of the team’s top prospects. But how much would the cost of such a move affect the GM’s current development plans?

trevor zegras
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Breakout Candidate

• Trevor Zegras

The 20-year-old made his NHL debut last season, scoring three times and recording 13 points in 24 games. Expectations were high for the No. 9 overall pick from 2019, but with the way the Anaheim Ducks’ roster is currently constructed, it’s best to have patience with Zegras, and his fellow youngsters.

Zegras also played 17 games with AHL San Diego last season and netted 10 goals and 21 points. That experience will bode well going forward as the franchise hope he meets the expectations placed on him.

Best-Case Scenario

The expected young leaders settle into productive roles they will be hold for years to come. A strong core develops and begins to gel allowing Murray to build around them in order to go from lottery team to playoff team. John Gibson continues to be John Gibson and the progress puts a halt on any rumors about his future in Anaheim.

Worst-Case Scenario

Progress is slowed and the inconsistencies of their top prospects results in another wasted year and more questions about the direction of the franchise. Gibson, 28, is not getting any younger and what will the talk be following another down season? And if there are few bright spots, what changes will come next summer? Will that be it for head coach Dallas Eakins? And what of Murray, who seems to be coated in Teflon?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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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

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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.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    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.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    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.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.