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Three questions facing Anaheim Ducks

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.

Will they be able to improve shot suppression?

Anaheim’s goaltenders know what busy nights look like. Night after night they’ve been facing a ton of rubber from opponents and thanks to the play of the backstops like Frederik Andersen and John Gibson and their offensive weapons, they’ve been able to come out on the winning end of most games. 

The number of shots the Ducks have allowed has increased in each of the last three seasons. From 27.5/game in 2015-16 to 29.6/game (Randy Carlyle’s first season back in charge) to a whopping 33.1/game last season. You probably won’t be surprised to read that in Carlyle’s two full seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs they allowed 32.3 and 35.9 shots per game, respectively. Be prepared, John Gibson and Ryan Miller.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

Not much was done this off-season by general manager Bob Murray to help in that area. Andrej Sustr and Luke Schenn were brought in to help the defense. Prospects Marcus Pettersson and Jacob Larsson could lend a hand in the back, but the blue line will again rely heaviest on Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour.

What will be affected most by Murray’s “change” promise?

The Ducks weren’t going to be in the free agent market looking to lure a big fish on a long-term contract. There are enough of those on the roster at the moment; so it was a quiet July on the signing new talent front. Instead, Murray focused on keeping the likes of Adam Henrique and Brandon Montour and working on new deals for RFAs Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie.

The only real big change so far was the firing of assistant coach Steve Konowalchuk after one season.

No big trade or any sort of roster hacking this summer for Murray, but that doesn’t mean the leash is a long one should the Ducks get off to a slow start.

“I think the players better look in the mirror pretty quick,” he told Eric Stephens of The Athletic in June. “Let’s put it this way. Come September, I’m starting with a real hard look at the leadership group. And we’ll work from that.”

Are Caryle and Murray sharing a hot seat?

Over the last four seasons the Ducks have made the Western Conference Final twice and exited in the first round twice. The playoff loss at the hands of the San Jose Sharks in April was the first time the franchise had been swept in a series since 1999. Carlyle and Murray have presided over much success since they reunited two years ago, but this season they’ll need their youth step up and make themselves known in order to help keep the team competitive going forward.

Murray’s been the GM since 2008 and has a contract through the 2019-20 season. Ownership has stuck by his side through the ups and downs of the last decade, but is another disappointing season one that could finally force a change?

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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.

It’s Anaheim Ducks day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.

2017-18
44-25-13, 101 pts. (2nd, Pacific Division; 5th, Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-0 vs. San Jose Sharks, first round

IN:
Brian Gibbons
Andrej Sustr
Luke Schenn
Carter Rowney

OUT:
Francois Beauchemin
Reto Berra
Jared Boll
J.T. Brown
Derek Grant

RE-SIGNED:
Adam Henrique
Kale Kossila
Brandon Montour

A fifth straight 100-point season ended with a thud when the Ducks were swept out of the first round by the Sharks. That prompted general manager Bob Murray to say there would be changes before the 2018-19 campaign began, but as we arrive in the final month of summer, these Ducks have a pretty similar look to the Ducks of last season.

The biggest changes for the Ducks when the puck drops in October could be the return of Patrick Eaves and the absence of Ryan Kesler. Eaves missed all but two games last season dealing with post-viral syndrome. Kesler, meanwhile, played only 44 games and all four playoff games while battling through injury. In May, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that there was a chance the 33-year-old forward would sit out the entire ’18-19 season.

“I’m more confident that Patrick Eaves is going to play for the full season than I am of Ryan Kesler at the moment, although ‘Kes’ says he’s going to be fine,” Murray told season-ticket holders during an event last month via the Orange County Register.

[Under PressureBuilding Off a BreakthroughThree Questions]

Injuries down the middle early on forced Murray to trade defenseman Sami Vatanen to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Henrique. He would settle in nicely and find chemistry with linemates Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase. His addition would help an offense that needed some assistance as veterans Ryan Getzlaf (11 goals) and Corey Perry (49 points) were again among the team’s scoring leaders, but posted some of their lowest numbers of the past few seasons. Meanwhile, Rickard Rakell had another career season (34 goals, 69 points) and continued to show what a bargain ($3,789,444 AAV through 2021-22) he is around the NHL.

Josh Manson (37 points) and Brandon Montour (9 goals) made huge strides on the blue line, aiding Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm on the back end. Then there was John Gibson, who put himself into the Vezina Trophy conversation. With four shutouts and a .927 even strength save percentage, the 25-year-old has set himself up for a hefty pay raise should he continue his strong play. He’s set to become a restricted free agent next summer.

Prospect Pool

• Sam Steel, C, 20 – Regina (WHL) – 2016 first-round pick

In 54 games last season captaining the Pats, Steel led the team in scoring with 83 points and finished second with 33 goals. He led Regina to the Memorial Cup Final and would earn MVP honors with 13 points in five games. After being one of the final cuts for Canada’s World Junior Championship team two years ago, he made the roster for this past season’s tournament in Buffalo, scoring four goals and recording nine points in seven games.

Troy Terry, C, 20 – Denver (NCAA) – 2015 fifth-round pick

The 2018-18 season was an adventurous one for Terry. His college season with Denver was interrupted when he got the opportunity to represent the U.S. at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games. After he returned, he finished his collegiate career before joining the Ducks for two games. Averaging 1.3 points per game in his final two seasons with the Pioneers, Terry will battle for one of the final roster spots on the Ducks in training camp, but he may be better served playing regular minutes in the AHL at first.

• Max Jones, LW, 20 – Kingston (OHL) – 2016 first-round pick

Jones spent a third season back in junior in ’17-18 and while production dropped (24 points) after an injury-plagued year, he did curtail his time in the penalty box as he adjusted to a mid-season trade from London. He’ll get another shot to stick with the Ducks roster during training camp

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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.

Ducks add more to best thing they have going by signing Montour

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The Anaheim Ducks’ long-term outlook provides plenty of cause for concern, but worries morph into optimism when you consider the team’s bounty of young defensemen.

Consider that, for all of the teams who were lampooned as former players thrived in Vegas, the Ducks didn’t really absorb a lot of mockery as Shea Theodore looked great with the Golden Knights. If you’re being fair, it’s kind of tough to beat up on a franchise so well-stocked with defensemen.

(Granted, you can nitpick exposing Theodore instead of a lesser option, but the point generally remains.)

Anaheim’s defensemen aren’t just young and promising, either. Many of them are also signed on the dotted line for the near future, a trend that continues as the Ducks avoided salary arbitration with Brandon Montour. GM Bob Murray signed Montour to a two-year “bridge deal.” The team didn’t provide financial details, but the Athletic’s Eric Stephens reports that the cap hit is $3.388 million.

With help from always-handy Cap Friendly, take a look at the contract terms and ages for Ducks defensemen signed for at least two seasons:

Cam Fowler, 26, $6.5M through 2025-26
Hampus Lindholm, 24, $5.21M through 2021-22
Josh Manson, 26, $4.1M through 2021-22
• Montour, 24, $3.388M through 2019-20

Now, the individual contracts vary in quality (personally, Fowler’s risk factor is a little scary, while Lindholm stands as a phenomenal bargain), but the point remains that the Ducks are loaded with reasonable investments in defensemen who are reaching their primes or already there.

With Montour, it’s easy to anticipate bigger and better things.

After appearing in just 27 games as a rookie in 2016-17, Montour broke through with nine goals and 32 points in 80 contests last season. The former second-rounder (55th overall in 2014) averaged 20:28 TOI per night and enjoyed respectable possession stats during that breakthrough 2017-18 campaign.

If Montour sees even more opportunities going forward, his next contract could be awfully pricey. That’s especially true if he makes significant all-around strides. As is, he can be an effective point producer while flourishing as the sort of transition-driver teams crave in the modern NHL.

When you add Montour to Fowler, Lindholm, and Manson, you see a defensive group that’s the envy of most of the league. It’s difficult to think of many more complete D corps beyond the truly brilliant, such as the Nashville Predators. Anaheim may also have some gems waiting in the pipeline, too.

That youthful, stacked group also stands in contrast to other elements of the Ducks’ roster.

On one hand, you have a potentially Vezina-caliber goalie in John Gibson. While injuries and a former crease battle with Frederik Andersen have limited the 25-year-old’s opportunities to prove he’s truly elite, he’s frequently looked that way when healthy.

Gibson’s contract is a good news/bad news situation, however. On the bright side, his $2.5M cap hit is a ludicrous bargain, particularly for a team with an internal budget like the Ducks. That said, his price could really inflate if he combines the quality of his work with the quantity of a workhorse goalie.

(If I were in Murray’s shoes, I’d dust off a barstool and try to sign Gibson to an extension earlier rather than later.)

Assuming Gibson signs to a fair-enough deal, the Ducks seem nicely equipped in their own zone. Things get a little wackier on the attack.

Both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are 33, and each player carries a cap hit exceeding $8M for three more seasons. Ryan Kesler might be described as “an even older” 33, making his $6.875M cap hit look frightening (considering that it runs through 2021-22, one more season than Getzlaf and Perry). Adam Henrique signed a risky extension, too, considering that he’s not exactly a spring chicken at 28.

Sure, there are some young forwards in the mix, with Rickard Rakell leading the pack. Anaheim also must strike new deals with 22-year-old forwards Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie.

Overall, though, it’s a strange dichotomy. Few teams have placed themselves in a better position when it comes to prime-age defensive depth, yet the Ducks also carry an aging core of forwards whose contracts could serve as monstrous anchors.

Then again, it’s better to excel in some areas than none, and the Ducks justify their goofy ‘D’ logo scheme by being masterful at identifying and retaining defense. Maybe to the point that they’ll stack up a few more key W’s.

More on the Ducks:
They’re bringing back the Mighty Ducks look as their third jersey.
Significant changes coming?

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.

Significant changes could be coming to Ducks roster

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After losing in the Western Conference Final to the Nashville Predators in 2017, many expected the Anaheim Ducks to go on another run this year. The Ducks had an up-and-down regular season, but did enough to finish second in the Pacific Division. Unfortunately for them, that’s as good as it got.

Once the playoffs kicked off, all they did was make a quick appearance. They had home-ice advantage going into their first-round series against the Sharks, but they still failed to win a single game during the series. They packed their bags for the summer after a 4-0 sweep at the hands of their California rivals.

Veteran teams that get swept in the first round are rarely spared of major changes the following off-season. So what changes might be coming in Anaheim this summer?

Corey Perry

When looking at the Ducks roster, the first name that jumps out as a possible trade candidate is Corey Perry.

Perry has won everything there is to win at the highest levels of hockey, but there’s no denying that his production has dried up over the last few years. Since 2013-14, his goal totals have been 43, 33, 34, 19 and 17. That’s a significant drop off for a guy who’s about to earn$8.625 per year for the next three years. If the Ducks can find a taker, they’d pull the trigger on a deal.

There’s a couple of issues though. First, he’s expensive. Second, we’ve already talked about his dip in production. And lastly, he also has a no-movement clause. Finding a team willing to take Perry and finding a squad he’s willing to go to won’t be easy for GM Bob Murray.

Oh, and by the way, Perry also added a zero points during Anaheim’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Sharks.

Taking a look at the 33-year-old’s advanced stats (via Natural Stat Trick), you can see the regression jump off the page. His CF% (47.46), FF% (46.70), SF% (46.70) and SF% (48.9) are some of the lowest numbers he’s posted in his career. This comes one year after he had already posted a bunch of new lows.

Ryan Kesler

Another veteran that might not be available for totally different reasons, is Ryan Kesler. The veteran has had injury troubles the last couple of years and his aching hips could cause him to miss all of 2018-19.

The Ducks only had him for 44 games in 2017-18, but it’s clear that he’s an important part of their team. He’s able to contribute offensively while playing a sound defensive game, too.

Again, unlike the Perry situation, this one is injury related, but it still affects their depth down the middle in a negative way.

Depth forwards

As of right now, the Ducks only have nine forwards under contract if you count Troy Terry, who played two regular season games at the end of last season. Depth players like Derek Grant, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly, Jason Chimera and J.T. Brown are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie are restricted free agents and both are expected back.

Murray has the benefit of being able to add some fresh new bodies to his lineup. There’s no need to bring back many (if any) of those depth forwards, so they could look at signing quality depth once the market opens.

As of right now, Anaheim has $65 million committed to next year’s team (the cap is expected to be between $78 million and $82 million next season). They’ll have a little wiggle room, but it’s important to note that Kase, Ritchie and defenseman Brandon Montour will all need to get raises this summer. Also, Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg and John Gibson will all need new contracts next off-season, so the Ducks can’t spend foolishly right now.

Defense

There probably won’t be too many changes on the back end in terms of veterans coming in and out of the lineup, as the Ducks already traded Sami Vatanen in-season. Expect them to roll with Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Montour and Korbinian Holzer. The biggest changes might come in the form of rookies Jacob Larsson and Marcus Pettersson, who could be ready to take on a regular shift with the Ducks next season. Both are highly-regarded prospects that should be around for many years to come.

One familiar face that will likely be gone is Kevin Bieksa, whose two-year, $8 million contract has finally come to an end. He served as a healthy scratch a few times last season, so don’t expect them to bring him back into the fold for another stint.

Goaltending 

Things probably won’t be much different between the pipes. Both Gibson and veteran backup Ryan Miller have one year remaining on their current contracts. Gibson will be an RFA next summer, while Miller will be free to test the open market if he chooses to do so.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Pastrnak’s emergence; Sharks can’t get complacent

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Not having Cam Fowler has been a significant issue for the Ducks through the first two games of their first-round series against the Sharks. (OC Register)

• San Jose owns a 2-0 lead over the Ducks, so avoiding complacency is their biggest challenge heading into Game 3. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• A lot of people believe Brad Marchand is the most dangerous player in the NHL, but Nazem Kadri is giving him a run for his money. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• During a dominant Game 2 performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs, David Pastrnak showed that he’s ready for prime time. (Bruins Daily)

• The city of Humboldt has been changed forever by a bus crash on a Friday afternoon. The lives lost on that day will never be forgotten, but the people there will have to find a way to continue living. (SI.com)

• ‘Hawks captain Jonathan Toews not only donated game-worn jerseys to the Humboldt Broncos, he also went to visit them. (Chicago Sun-Times)

• Now that Ken Hitchcock has retired, the Stars should look internally for their next head coaching candidate. (Defending Big D)

• There’s no way the Canucks will be able to replace what Daniel and Henrik Sedin did for them, but they need their young players to start contributing offensively now that the twins are gone. (Vancourier)

• The Hockey News ranked each fan base’s level of misery. It’s safe to say that fans of the Blues and Sabres have been tortured the most. Life’s good if you’re a Penguins fan though. (The Hockey News)

• Now that Ilya Kovalchuk has turned 35 years old, he’s officially an unrestricted free agent. He still can’t sign with anyone until July 1st. (The Score)

• ESPN looks at which teams have the most playoff experience on their roster and how that can or can’t help them going forward. (ESPN)

• Black Aces rarely get to participate (on the ice) in their team’s playoff run, but that doesn’t mean that the title is meaningless to them. (Eliteprospects.com)

Kyle Okposo‘s on-ice performance has been disappointing since he joined the Sabres. He knows that he’ll have to spend a lot of time in the gym this summer. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• College hockey referee Dan Dreger was on the hook for a portion of his medical bills after taking a slap shot to the face that caused a lot of damage. (Grand Forks Herald)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.