Adam Henrique

Ducks’ offensive woes extend to rare 2-year playoff drought

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — The last time the Anaheim Ducks missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, they went all the way to their franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final just one year later.

Not many observers expect the current Ducks to duplicate the feats of those beloved 2002-03 Mighty Ducks after they complete another long offseason made even longer by the coronavirus pandemic.

These Ducks are still in full rebuilding mode after winning just 29 of their 71 games this season, including a Western Conference-worst 24 non-shootout victories. The Ducks were in sixth place in the Pacific Division standings primarily on the sturdy strength of goalies John Gibson and Ryan Miller, who bailed out their teammates all winter long.

Just three years after the Ducks reached the conference finals for the second time in three seasons, a long road back to Cup contention appears to loom in Orange County. Anaheim got largely disappointing performances from its collection of forwards – a star-free group outside captain Ryan Getzlaf – and the blue line was inconsistent while coach Dallas Eakins worked young talent into the lineup amid injuries and trade departures.

But during a second straight season without a playoff appearance – matching their total playoff-less seasons over the previous 13 years combined – Eakins and general manager Bob Murray saw signs of the team they want the Ducks to become. They’ll have an extra-long offseason to contemplate the next steps to get there.

”While we would have preferred to conclude our season normally and play 82 games, it became obvious over time that was not practical,” Murray said this week. ”We remain excited about our future and can’t wait for the 2020-21 season.”

SELDOM SCORING

Perhaps appropriately for a team with a long-standing reputation as an intimidating, defense-first organization, the Ducks’ biggest problems during their two-year playoff drought have been all about offense. Eakins was hired last summer to implement a speed-based system designed to produce more scoring opportunities, but it’s just not happening yet.

One season after Anaheim finished last in the NHL in goals, its minus-39 goal differential this season was the conference’s worst. Anaheim scored two or fewer regulation goals in a whopping 39 of its 71 games. Only Adam Henrique (26 goals) and Jakob Silfverberg (21) found the net with any frequency.

The Ducks’ problems ranged from Rickard Rakell‘s two-year regression to the disappointing numbers from youngsters who weren’t ready to produce at the highest level. Murray also curiously gave up on Ondrej Kase and Daniel Sprong in February, trading two young forwards with clear NHL-caliber scoring ability when they didn’t produce enough for his liking.

IN THE CREASE

Gibson and Miller didn’t post impressive statistics, but anybody who watched these Ducks knew their most valuable players were between the pipes. Gibson’s game has grown and matured even while his team has regressed, and the 39-year-old Miller still shows no drop-off in his abilities. If Miller decides to return for another NHL season, he’ll have the chance to pass Dominik Hasek on the NHL’s career victories list – and the Ducks won’t have to worry about this vital position for another year.

DROP THE BALLS

The Ducks have an 8.5% chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL’s complicated draft lottery. Anaheim hasn’t had a top-five draft pick since 2005, when it snagged Bobby Ryan with the second overall choice. Murray and his scouting department have a long history of finding impressive talent outside the first round, but they’ll likely have the opportunity to choose a game-changing star this summer for the first time. The Ducks also have Boston’s first-round pick from their trade of Kase.

DARK BLUE LINE

Anaheim’s collection of defensemen appears to be thoroughly average, and none seems likely to get much better. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are solid pros, but they’re likely past the points in their development where they could become stars. The Ducks could use an injection of game-changing talent on the blue line.

GETTING BUCKETS

Linemates Henrique and Silfverberg bucked their team’s offensive struggles with a pair of impressive seasons, and they’ll be a foundation of the rebuilding effort. Henrique was particularly productive, leading the roster with 43 points. They’re both locked into long-term contracts.

GETZ BACK

The 35-year-old Getzlaf will head into the final season of his contract later this year when he begins his 16th season with Anaheim. The playmaker still racked up 29 assists this season despite finishing the year on a line with Danton Heinen and Sonny Milano, two 24-year-old recent additions with a combined 59 career NHL goals. It’s a long way down from his heyday with Corey Perry, but Getzlaf appears eager to keep working on the Ducks’ rebuilding project.

What’s the long-term outlook for the Ducks?

Ducks
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Anaheim Ducks.

Pending free agents

The core

The face of the franchise at this point is still John Gibson, and while his numbers took a bit of a hit this season he is still one of the league’s elite goalies. As long as the Ducks have him as their foundation there is always the chance that he can give them a chance.

Is it unfair to put so much on one player to carry a team? Of course it is, but right now he is the reason for hope.

Beyond him, the Ducks have a handful of long-term contracts on their books.

Defenseman Cam Fowler is signed through the 2025-26 season. Forwards Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg are signed through 2023-24, while Rickard Rakell, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are all signed through the 2021-22 season.

Ryan Getzlaf, one of the franchise icons, still has one more year after this one at $8.25 million.

Long-term needs

Offense, offense, and more offense.

Even when the Ducks were still a contender as recently as a couple of years ago they were still only a middle-of-the-pack team offensively. Over the past two years, though, they have plummeted to the bottom of the league.

Since the start of the 2018-19 season they are the second-lowest scoring team in the league (2.47 goals per game, ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings), second-worst in shots per game (again ahead of only Detroit) and third-worst on the power play (ahead of only Nashville and Detroit).

Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg are still good top-six options, and they do have some young players starting to break into the league (Sam Steel, Max Jones being at the top of the list) but they need to start taking big steps in the coming seasons.

For as promising as those young players may be, they still lack a young franchise player to serve as a long-term building block. Their best hope for acquiring that: Some draft lottery luck. The Ducks have two first-round picks this season (Bostons, plus their own pick which will be a lottery pick) and along with their own second-round pick will have three of the top-40 picks in the 2020 draft.

Long-term strength

For all of their current and long-term flaws, they still have an impact player at the one position that can make a meaningful difference — goaltender.

Even though Gibson had a down year this season he is still one among the league’s best and is capable of single-handedly changing their short-term outlook.

Since becoming Anaheim’s starter during the 2015-16 season his .919 save percentage ranks eighth in the NHL among 55 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games.

They have him signed long-term at $6.4 million per season. Given how good Gibson has been, how dominant he can be when he is at at his best, and his age, that is a more than fair number for the Ducks to build around. The issue now is whether or not they have the players and resources to do that.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks
Ducks’ biggest surprises, disappointments so far

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Anaheim Ducks: This season’s biggest surprise, disappointment

Ducks
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Anaheim Ducks.

Biggest surprise so far

There are not many, but Adam Henrique would easily qualify.

He is not only the Ducks’ leading goal-scorer and point producer, he was also on track for a career year offensively with 26 goals and 43 points along with strong possession numbers in his 71 games. He has done most of that damage at even-strength while playing only around 16 minutes per game. By comparison, when he scored 30 goals during the 2015-16 season in New Jersey he did it while playing close to 20 minutes per game.

How efficient has his goal scoring been this season? Among the 334 forwards that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, Henrique ranks 27th in the league in goals per 60 minutes. That has him sandwiched directly between Connor McDavid and Artemi Panarin. In other words, at even-strength he has been one of the best goal-scorers in the league.

An impressive accomplishment in any context. Even more impressive while playing on an otherwise offensively starved hockey team.

Biggest disappointment so far

It is not any one particular player, but rather a collective group effort.

That group being all of their young forwards not really taking any sort of a meaningful step forward in their development. This isn’t to say that they should be written off, or that they still can’t become good NHL regulars, but the group of Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry, Max Comtois, and Sprong (before his trade to Washington) did not really make any sort of a meaningful impact this season offensively. That was going to be a must for the Ducks to be even remotely competitive.

Now, to be fair, all of them are age 22 or younger and have very brief NHL resumes. Not every rookie or young forward is going to step right into the NHL and succeed. But there had to be an expectation that somebody would make a big leap this season and take on a bigger role with the offense. It did not happen.

John Gibson still did not get much help

Entering this season Gibson had established himself as one of the league’s top goaltenders. A game-changer that could help elevate any team he plays on and give them a chance to win any given a game.

If there was a reason to believe this team as constructed could remain competitive, it would be the goaltending duo of him Gibson and Ryan Miller. It is an unfair expectation to put all of that expectation on just two players at one position, but it was the reality of the team’s situation right now. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they did not even really get that this season as Gibson went through the least productive seasons of his NHL career.

It is also hard to put a lot of the blame on him. The defense in front of him was mired by injuries all season and just didn’t perform at a level that was high enough to give their goaltenders any support. That in itself is a bit of a disappointment. That the Ducks have been blessed with one of the league’s most valuable assets (not only a franchise goalie, but an outstanding backup) and still were not able to be even remotely competitive.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks
Ducks’ long-term outlook

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Looking at the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim Ducks

Record: 29-33-9 (71 games), 6th place in Pacific Division; out of playoff spot
Leading scorer: Adam Henrique — 43 points (26 goals, 17 assists)

In-season roster moves

Season overview

Things looked somewhat promising at the beginning of the year when the Ducks won six out of their first eight games, but it quickly turned into another season of regression and disappointment after that.

At the time of the season suspension the Ducks were in sixth place in the Pacific Division and on track for their worst overall record since the 2003-04 season.

They rank among the bottom-five in goals scored, goals against, power play percentage, penalty kill percentage, and shots on goal per game. It is going to be their second straight season without the postseason and the third consecutive year with a decrease in total points. Ryan Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg, and Rickard Rakell proved to still be productive players, but none of them made a significant impact that could help carry the offense. Most concerning is that none of their young forwards took a meaningful step forward offensively.

Along with a lack of offense, they have also been hit hard by injuries, especially on defense. Not one of their defensemen has played in more than 60 games this season, while Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Josh Manson (their top-three blue-liners) combined to miss 49 man-games due to injury.

Put those two things together, along with a down year (by his standards) season from starting goalie John Gibson and it is the recipe for a long season.

Highlight of the season so far

This is an easy one. Nicolas Deslauriers recording a natural hat trick against the Ottawa Senators. Before this game he had just four goals in 58 games this season and only 28 goals in 375 career games.

MORE:
Ducks’ biggest surprises, disappointments so far
Ducks’ long-term outlook

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Connor McDavid does not miss a beat in return

Connor McDavid shines in return The Buzzer
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Three Stars

1. William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights

What matters more: a hat trick, or a two-goal, two-assist night? Maybe the tiebreaker can be who ends up the winner.

I’m going with that, and thus handing Sunday’s top star to Karlsson. “Wild Bill” broke a 20-game goal drought with the third hat trick of his NHL career. The Ducks almost ended up spoiling his big night (more on that here, and in a moment), but Vegas held strong. Now the Golden Knights are on a six-game winning streak.

For all we know, a Karlsson hot streak could be the difference between Vegas winning the Pacific Division or not.

2. Adam Henrique and Nick RitchieAnaheim Ducks

Both Henrique and Ritchie authored those two-goal, two-assist nights discussed in the first star section.

Henrique provided the greatest dramatics, as his two goals unexpectedly sent Sunday’s Golden Knights – Ducks game to OT.

Henrique now has 23 goals and 37 points in 62 games this season. It would be tempting to call the 30-year-old a possible trade deadline target, but his $5.825M AAV extends to 2023-24, so I’m not sure teams really want to take that type of risk.

3. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers managed remarkably well without number 97, but it must have been exhilarating to get him back. Perhaps it even gave Oilers GM Ken Holland the extra push to trade for Mike Green later on Sunday?

Either way, it was a promising return by McDavid. The all-world player scored a goal and two assists, pushing his 2019-20 totals to 31 goals and 84 points in just 56 games. It’s pretty staggering that players are skilled enough to generate such numbers in a very clamped-down NHL (even if games are slightly higher scoring lately).

Anders Lee (2G, 1A), Jordan Binnington (32 out of 33 saves) and Anton Khudobin (31 out of 32) rank as other players worthy of honorable mentions. When in doubt, go with McDavid, especially during a return from injury.

Highlight of the Night (yes, from a great return by Connor McDavid)

Is it wrong to describe this as “vintage McDavid?” McDavid celebrated his return with a triumphant, very “McDavid” goal:

Factoids

  • The Blues have only allowed two goals total over the last four games, all wins. That’s only the eighth time they’ve managed to allow two or fewer over a four-game span during their history. Remarkably, they last pulled off the feat in February 2019. (NHL PR)
  • Speaking of the Blues, they will face the Wild in the 2021 Winter Classic.
  • If Calgary makes it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, chalk it up to being scrappy. They’re an NHL-best 14-4-1 on the road since Nov. 23. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • The Canadiens traded Ilya Kovalchuk to the Capitals, while the Oilers snagged Mike Green from the Red Wings. Zach Bogosian signed with the Lightning.
  • For better or worse, the Stars continue to play with a small margin for error. They’re tied with the Blue Jackets for the most wins in one-goal games this season with 18. (NHL PR)
  • Sabres goalie Jonas Johansson earned his first NHL win. (Sabres)

Scores

WSH 5 – PIT 3
BUF 2 – WIN 1
DAL 2 – CHI 1
NYI 4 – SJS 1
CGY 4 – DET 2
STL 4 – MIN 1
VGK 6 – ANA 5 (OT)
EDM 4 – LAK 2

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.