Are Ducks moving in the right direction under Eakins?

Are Ducks moving in the right direction under Eakins?
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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 or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ferguson stops 47 shots, Senators top reeling Penguins 2-1

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH – Drake Batherson‘s power-play goal from in front with 2:09 left in regulation lifted the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 win over the reeling Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night.

The Penguins finally beat Ottawa goaltender Dylan Ferguson on a Rickard Rakell goal with 5:21 to play, but a hooking penalty by Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel gave the Senators the man advantage and Batherson responded with his 21st goal of the season.

Ferguson, making his first NHL start and first appearance in the league in more than five years, made 47 saves to send Pittsburgh to its fourth straight loss. Thomas Chabot scored his 10th goal of the season for Ottawa as the Senators snapped a five-game slide.

The Penguins fell behind Florida in the race for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Tristan Jarry played well but couldn’t get in the way of Batherson’s jam shot from just outside the crease.

Ferguson began the night having played nine minutes at the NHL level as a teenager for Vegas early in the Golden Knights’ debut season in 2017-18. He has bounced around various levels of the minors ever since and was in the process of being sent down to the ECHL by the AHL’s Toronto Marlies earlier this month when the Senators signed him to a two-way deal.

Something clicked. He played well enough in six games for Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Belleville to receive a call-up on Sunday. Just over 24 hours later, the Senators made the now 24-year-old Ferguson the sixth goaltender they’ve used this season when they gave him the nod against the struggling Penguins.

Ferguson looked like he belonged from the opening faceoff. He made a series of sharp saves early, including a couple of stops from in close against Jake Guentzel and a flashy glove save on a slap shot by Malkin.

Jarry, a two-time All-Star who has struggled to find any sort of consistency since returning from an extended stay on the injured list, took a step forward, turning aside multiple odd-man rushes and a breakaway by Brady Tkachuk in the second period.

The lone goal Jarry allowed came 16:46 into the first when Chabot took a feed from Claude Giroux and rather than fire a shot from high in the slot skated down to the right circle and beat Jarry to the far post.

Jarry was solid the rest of the way, though he spent most of the game watching Ferguson dazzle at the other end before Rakell broke through with just over 5 minutes to go.


Senators: Travel to Boston on Tuesday to face the NHL-leading Bruins.

Penguins: Start a difficult back-to-back on the road on Wednesday when they visit the Avalanche in Denver.

Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in pregame warmups, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

“In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

“As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

“Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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NEW YORK — Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

“When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

“Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

“This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

“We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

“It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

“It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.

Coyotes sign Shane Doan’s son to entry-level contract

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh Doan is following his father’s footsteps into professional hockey.

The Arizona Coyotes signed the 21-year-old forward to a three-year entry-level contract, beginning with the 2023-24 NHL season. He will report to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL and play his first game against the Calgary Wranglers.

Doan’s father, Shane, played 21 seasons with the franchise, many of those as captain, and followed it from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996. Shane Doan now serves as Arizona’s chief hockey development officer.

The Coyotes drafted Josh Doan in the second round of the 2021, but he opted to play for the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils.

Josh Doan set school records for goals (12) and assists (25) as a freshman last season. He had 16 goals and 22 assists in 39 games with Arizona State this season.

The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder also played two seasons for the Chicago Steel of the USHL.