Are Ducks moving in the right direction under Eakins?

Are Ducks moving in the right direction under Eakins?
Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images
1 Comment

PHT’s “What Went Wrong?” series asks that question about teams who’ve been eliminated from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why did this team fall short, and how far are they from getting things right?. Following word that Dallas Eakins will return as head coach next season, this seems like a good time to discuss the 2021-22 Anaheim Ducks (and touch on their future).

In 2021-22, the Anaheim Ducks were strange beasts. Actually, call them odd birds.

At first, the Ducks played way above their (fuzzy?) heads, beginning 2022 with a real chance to make the playoffs. Even so, people pointed to red flags that hinted at future stumbles.

Eventually, the Ducks did indeed hit a wall or two. Being officially eliminated from the playoffs serves as the latest reminder.

Yet, with that, there were still reasons to take away some optimism. They showed with enough time that, instead of spending big at the trade deadline, the Ducks made smart moves to enhance their rebuild.

So, what do we make of the 2021-22 Ducks? Let’s break down their season, and touch on how this season should affect their larger outlook.

2021-22 Ducks: Highs and lows in the present, laying down a foundation for the future

At the bottom of this post, you can check out the 2021-22 Ducks’ month-by-month record heading into Tuesday’s games.

Broadly speaking, though, you can break the Ducks’ season down to two extremes. At first, they were getting a lot of bounces, winning like a strong team even if they were playing more like a solid one. Eventually, things flipped to an extreme. No, the 2021-22 Ducks weren’t great, but their recent 2-11-3 slide should only weigh so much.

While not necessarily a strength yet, the 2021-22 Ducks improved quite a bit defensively compared to last season’s team.

As you can see from this Hockey Viz chart, opponents created plenty of chances from prime scoring areas last season:

Ducks defense 2020-21 Hockey Viz
via Hockey Viz

The 2021-22 Ducks showed improvement both in quantity of chances allowed and, in some cases, quality:

2021-22 Ducks defense
via Hockey Viz

Naturally, the Ducks still want to make life easier for John Gibson and other goalies, particularly in front of the net. But there are enough signs of progress to give Dallas Eakins at least another shot.

(Eventually, improving won’t be enough on its own, however, and the Ducks will want to contend.)

What worked for the 2021-22 Ducks

When it comes to the “new” players for Ducks fans to get excited about, three names crop up: Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry, and Jamie Drysdale. Based on this season, it’s easiest to get excited about Terry and Zegras.

Every now and then, a player with strong underlying numbers skyrockets to more mainstream acceptance. Sometimes, it’s as dramatic as Sean Couturier‘s rise to Selke status. For the 2021-22 Ducks, we saw that with Troy Terry.

This was a player who carried signs of promise, and then exploded this season. Consider how he dominates the Ducks’ rankings in stats like Evolving Hockey’s GAR and XGAR. (This chart is XGAR, or Expected Goals Above Replacement.)

Ducks 2021-22 xGAR
via Evolving Hockey

And, no, Troy Terry doesn’t just shine compared to other Anaheim Ducks. His xGAR places him in the 98.6th percentile, just behind the likes of Leon Draisaitl and a hair ahead of Kirill Kaprizov. Yeah.

That above chart also gives you a taste of Trevor Zegras, and a side benefit of his brilliance: he’s found exciting synergy with Sonny Milano.

The Zegras – Milano combination is about more than that alley-oop, but can you find a more fun way to accentuate that connection?

Overall, Zegras has some room to grow. At 21, he certainly could. Really, though, even if he doesn’t … Trevor Zegras is the sort of player who makes the game more fun. The only concern would be if the Ducks sign him to a contract he can’t live up to.

Can their rise line up with John Gibson’s prime?

Allow me to start with a more esoteric worry. What if the Ducks’ rebuild doesn’t line up with John Gibson’s remaining elite years?

Overall, the Ducks are making a brilliant bet in Gibson. He’s still just 28, and his contract carries a strong chance of being a bargain ($6.4 million cap hit through 2016-17) for most of its life.

That said, you can quibble with a few things. While he’s shown plenty of signs of being the elite goalie he was not long ago, he’s put up save percentages of .903 or lower the past three seasons. Hockey Reference’s version of quality starts put him below 50% for the past three seasons, too.

No doubt, the Ducks’ defensive struggles don’t help matters for Gibson. It’s probably tough to focus at an elite level when your team is out of the playoff mix, often quite early.

It’s also fair to wonder if Gibson’s built for a heavy workload. This season, he’s played 51 games, and he’s never appeared in more than 60. Injuries have been an issue at times.

Could injuries and age sap Gibson’s potential just when the Ducks get things together? It’s possible.

Ducks should also keep an eye on Drysdale’s development

Truly, it’s remarkable that Jamie Drysdale was a few games short of 100 games played when he turned 20 on April 8. You just don’t see many defensemen make such a quick and sustained jump to the NHL level.

Overall, it’s easy to accept some growing pains. Unfortunately, elements of Drysdale’s game display just that. He struggles enough in his own end that it’s fair to ask if the Ducks rushed Drysdale to the big time.

2021-22: not the best time to be in the same neighborhood as Darren Helm. Sorry, Darren Helm. (via Evolving Hockey)

To be clear: none of this is condemning Drysdale. He’s not doomed to be a deeply flawed player in his own zone.

That said, the Ducks should still monitor his development. Does he just need to keep growing? Would it be better to shelter him to an extreme (he’s starting 58.3% of his shifts in the offensive zone, but maybe he should be deployed even more favorably)?

Anaheim management should ask these questions, and more.

A fruitful push for a rebuild, but still more work to do

In the grand scheme of things, the Ducks look more promising because of progress in 2021-22, and the maturity to focus their trade deadline toward the future.

A team that already sported a top-5 prospect pool bolstered its futures in a big way. They own two first-rounders in 2022, and piled up four extra second-round picks over the next three drafts. Such futures can deepen that prospect pool, or be traded away for more immediate help.

Asking tough questions about the 2021-22 season means a lot for the Ducks’ rebuild for several reasons. One key consideration is gauging how much young players are worth.

Troy Terry, 24, sees his $1.45M cap hit dissolve after 2022-23; he’ll be an RFA with arbitration rights. The rookie contracts of Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale expire after next season, too. Sonny Milano, 25, is a pending RFA with arbitration rights this offseason.

[What Went Wrong for the Devils]

Should the Ducks extend all of Zegras, Terry, and Drysdale this summer? If so, should they lean toward term, or buy time with “bridge” deals? Might it be awkward but necessary to pick and choose who gets more years?

In a rebuild, it’s important to find young talent, develop those players, and make smart trades. That’s just part of the process, though. You also need to lock young players up to value contracts, and surround them with other talented players to take advantage of those windows of value.

Wisely, the Ducks didn’t panic and give Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell, and others the sort of contracts that could hurt them in the long run. After 2021-22, the Ducks have a lot of work to do, but they’ve made shrewd moves where other teams dropped the ball/puck.


A month-by-month look at the Ducks’ record in 2021-22

Ducks Oct. 12-Nov.12: 8-4-3 (.633 point percentage, 19 points in 15 games. Sixth-most points in NHL)

Ducks Nov. 13-Dec.12: 8-5-2 (.600%, 18 points in 15 GP, 13th points)

Ducks Dec. 13-Jan.12: 3-4-2 (.444, 8 points in 9 GP, 21st in points)

Ducks Jan. 13-Feb.12: 4-4-2 (.500, 10 points in 10 GP, 26th in points)

Ducks: Feb. 13-March 12: 4-7-1 (.375, 9 points in 12 GP, 28th in points)

Ducks: March 13-April 12: 2-9-2 (.231, 6 points in 13 GP, last in points)


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.

LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

Kris Letang Penguins
Getty Images
0 Comments

PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

“I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

“He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

“I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

“First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

“The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

“It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

“It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

“Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

“I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

“On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

“It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

“(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

“It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.

Deal for Coyotes’ proposed arena approved by Tempe council

David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year.

The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

The $2.1 billion project would include a 16,000-seat arena, practice rink, 1,600 apartments, two hotels and a theater. Approval of the project was the final step before it goes to referendum on May 16.

The team is currently playing at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, by far the NHL’s smallest arena.

The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since the city of Glendale pulled out of a multimillion-dollar lease at Gila River Arena. Arizona had been playing on an annual lease until Glendale said it would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.