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.
Gibson enters the final year of a deal that carries a $2.3 million cap hit. It was a nice three-year, $6.9 million contract signed in 2015 that was a “prove it” challenge as Frederik Andersen’s time was coming to an end in Anaheim.
Since inking that extension Gibson has made 147 starts, posted 14 shutouts and a .925 even strength save percentage. This past season he was in the Vezina Trophy conversation while helping the Ducks to a 101-point season. Set to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights next summer, he’s cemented his role as the team’s No. 1 between the pipes. But if he wants that big payday — think Connor Hellebuyck’s recent six-year, $37 million extension — he’ll have to perform at that level for another season.
Since 2015, Gibson’s taken on a bigger workload in each of the last three seasons. His minutes have risen — from 2,295 to 2,950 to 3,428 — and that experience has helped improve his game.
“It’s just like anybody,” Gibson said in March via the Orange County Register. “Whatever position you are, the more you play in this league and everything like that, I think you just feel more comfortable. I think that’s just how it is. Obviously you work on things here and there. But I think with just playing games and having another year under my belt, that just helps with success and helps you personally, confidence-wise. It just makes you feel more comfortable.”
Barring a major trade or two before opening night, the Ducks will look a lot similar to last season. The Pacific Division isn’t one of the best in the NHL, but it will be a competitive fight to claim one of the playoff spots next spring. Gibson was a huge reason why Anaheim was one of the league’s stingiest defenses in terms of goals allowed (2.55 per game). Plenty of shots got through to him (1,872), but he kept them in most games and was a deciding factor in many others.
He’s a year away from that big pay day. How much can Gibson build off of ’17-18 and continue it for 2018-19?
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.
44-25-13, 101 pts. (2nd, Pacific Division; 5th, Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-0 vs. San Jose Sharks, first round
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.
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.
• 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.
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.
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
Summer summary: Big-picture, the Ducks are the same: a team with an excellent goalie who has had bad injury luck (John Gibson), mostly creaky top forwards, and a veritable war chest of quality young defensemen. They didn’t even make Gibson their first goalie under a long-term and expensive contract in … ages? (Since Jonas Hiller? J.S. Giguere?) Gibson remains without an extension, entering the last year of his dirt-cheap $2.5 million per year bridge deal.
The defense got a little younger in saying goodbye to the likes of Kevin Bieksa for veteran-yet-28-year-old Luke Schenn, even if it didn’t really get much better (Andrej Sustr‘s nickname might as well be “blah”).
Beyond that, the Ducks really should try to sign Gibson to a team-friendly deal (in my opinion), and maybe extend Jakob Silfverberg as well.
Longer term, Anaheim needs to do some soul-searching. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler are all 33. Getzlaf and Perry both cost a ton for three more seasons, while Kesler’s contract runs one more year (through 2021-22). For a franchise that can be a little tight with cash, tough questions must be asked about whether this core can really contend.
If the answer is “No, we can’t compete with these guys,” then Murray would be wise to swallow a bitter pill and blow things up. Otherwise, the Ducks risk wasting money and being mediocre.
Where they stand? In the short term, there are some reasons to be optimistic.
This team dealt with some serious injury issues in 2017-18, yet Gibson and others kept them afloat, sometimes with ridiculously understaffed roster talent. If Murray’s going glass-half-full, he could picture a better season.
On the other hand, the speculation isn’t rosy for Kesler, and Perry looked pretty long in the tooth last season. If, say, the Oilers and Flames get their acts together, the Coyotes climb, and the Central remains deadly, the Ducks might get squeezed out.
This franchise has been able to find diamonds in the rough and work things out before, but right now, the outlook is a bit dreary.
Summer summary: Aside from maybe reaching for Barrett Hayton with the fifth pick, the Coyotes have enjoyed another pretty excellent off-season.
Maybe most importantly, they signed Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a contract that will essentially cover his prime, and it came cheaper than other stars like Drew Doughty. That could end up being a gem, but even if it was smack-dab in where he’s valued, it was huge not to lose a face-of-the-franchise.
More to do? Nothing too pressing. GM John Chayka should merely consider the cost-benefit analysis of possibly extending some players who will see their rookie contracts expire after 2018-19.
The biggest name, and maybe the guy with the biggest risk-reward question, is Jakob Chychrun. The 16th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft (who many expected to go higher) has experienced a stunted development so far, in part because of injuries. It’s tough to tell what the Coyotes really have here, although that’s the incentive to doing something early: if he ends up being a gem, Arizona might be able to land a bargain.
Where they stand? The Coyotes improved by pretty significant steps this summer. The questions are: how much better did they get, and how much farther do they need to go to really be a factor in the Pacific?
From here, the Coyotes boast modern-style pieces (and versatility) on defense, an interesting goalie duo (with Antti Raanta being the most promising, of course), and a very young offense that seems intriguing but maybe lacks the high-end weapons to really stand out.
The thing is, teams heavy with young players can sometimes make bigger leaps than expected. The Coyotes are being aggressive in trying to make that happen, sooner rather than later.
Summer summary: In 2017-18, the Flames ranked among the most puzzling NHL teams, boasting high-end talent that never really put it together. Management clearly saw reasons to make some pretty dramatic changes.
To start, Glen Gulutzan has been replaced by former Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters. It’s an open question if Peters – whose Hurricanes never made the playoffs – will rank as an upgrade, or a significant one in that.
That wasn’t the only bold move for Calgary, as the Flames handed James Neal a five-year contract that carries a $5.75M cap hit.
Whether you’re hot or cold on the Flames’ off-season, you can’t accuse them of doing nothing.
More to do? The Flames already warped the postscript of the Hamilton trade by giving Lindholm a meaty extension. They figure to complicate the viewpoint again whenever they hammer out a contract with Noah Hanifin, a 21-year-old RFA.
Considering that Hanifin can say “I’m a high first-rounder and you traded Dougie Hamilton for me,” it wouldn’t be surprising if the speedy blueliner eats up much of the Flames’ estimated $5.39M in cap space.
GM Brad Treliving also must consider extending pugnacious forward Matthew Tkachuk, whose rookie contract only has one year left.
Where they stand? Even though many (raises hand) view the Hamilton trade as a downgrade for Calgary, the Flames still seem like a formidable team on paper.
Tkachuk’s line tends to hog the puck and befuddle defenses. The Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan duo is deadly, and could be even more dangerous if Neal and/or Lindholm really click with them. These off-season additions may finally help Calgary provide those lines with some supporting punch, Hanifin may very well break through, and Mark Giordano hopefully still has it as a Norris-level defenseman.
Still, there are reasons to worry. The Flames seem like they’re once again going to ask a lot of Mike Smith, who’s already 36. Giordano may hit the wall in a big way at 34. Hanifin might merely be solid instead of very good.
In this era of parity, it’s rare to see a team that could just as easily contend as miss the playoffs altogether … although maybe that’s the trademark of the Pacific Division as a whole?
Summer summary: The Oilers could do worse than unveil a big banner that merely states “We didn’t make a bad trade!”
Edmonton’s moves were the definition of marginal, while they made a sensible-by-consensus pick by selecting Evan Bouchard with the 10th overall selection. A team with the best hockey player in the world shouldn’t get points for merely not shooting itself in the face – giving Connor McDavid more help would have been ideal – but you have to grade Peter Chiarelli & Co. on a curve at this point. So they didn’t fail, that’s nice.
More to do? Darnell Nurse, RFA defenseman and the seventh pick from 2013, still needs a contract. Getting that situation right (ideally with a cheap AAV and solid term, rather than a bridge deal) would brighten the outlook of a mostly tepid summer for Edmonton.
Again, the not-doing might be best for Chia. He didn’t stretch too far to exacerbate the Milan Lucic mistake. Despite rumors, affordable, solid defenseman Oscar Klefbom wasn’t recklessly moved, either. Not trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was probably the wiser choice (again, because Chiarelli), too.
Management needs to think long and hard about the future of their goaltending position. Cam Talbot had a rough season, and he’s entering a contract year. If he’s still the guy, he’d be a heck of a lot cheaper to sign today than if he bounces back. If not, why didn’t the Oilers take a flier on someone who might be a better answer?
Oh, because the Oilers actually decided to do the “potato vs. GM” bit? Not going to mash them up for that, honestly.
Where they stand? Do they have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? If so, pencil them in for “plausibly competent.”
It’s still a little disconcerting that management is asleep at the wheel, with Chiarelli and Todd McLellan possibly in place to make the wrong adjustments, or few adjustments at all.
Certain situations might improve just by default. A rebound season for Talbot is feasible. Lucic being OK isn’t that outrageous, even if the climb might be short.
That said, this team missed the postseason by a mile, and didn’t really get better. Not great, yet maybe not “#FreeConnor” territory just yet.
Los Angeles Kings
Summer summary: It happened about a decade later than they probably would have preferred, but the Kings finally landed Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk, 35, ranks as one of the more intriguing wild cards of the off-season. How close is he to the world-class sniper who left the NHL with exactly as many points as games played (816)? If he has much left, we’ll probably see it, as Anze Kopitar essentially worked miracles with mediocre linemates last season.
The Kings also convinced Drew Doughty to sign an eight-year, $88M contract extension that begins in 2019-20. Los Angeles is clearly hoping that Father Time ends up being friendly.
More to do? Nope, not really. For better or worse, the Kings’ most significant players are pretty locked-in.
Where they stand? To a slight surprise, the Kings made a run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, though being summarily swept by Vegas is a bullet point for those who don’t expect them to rank as true contenders.
The Kovalchuk addition is intriguing, and possibly a real boon. Los Angeles is expected to put him in “Ovechkin’s office,” which is a more conducive place for production than what Kovalchuk often did: massive power-play minutes, but patrolling the point for the most part.
It’s also worth noting that Jeff Carter‘s 2017-18 was derailed by injuries, so if both of those situations go well, the scrappy Kings suddenly boast two of the better (albeit older) snipers you’ll find.
Personally, this seems like a bubble team, as long as the aging curve doesn’t equate to gravity pulling the Kings down in a more drastic way.
San Jose Sharks
Summer summary: 2018 will stand as “The Summer of What Could Have Been?” for San Jose. They missed out on Kovalchuk and John Tavares, instead settling for quite a few re-ups with current players such as Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture. They also convinced Joe Thornton to stick around for another year.
GM Doug Wilson wasn’t just snoozing in a tanning bed, though, as he essentially laundered the Mike Hoffman trade, getting rid of Mikkel Boedker‘s heinous contract and grabbing some assets for his trouble.
More to do? This summer’s to-do list is checked off (though they might need more time for “Be sad about Tavares”), but some future-focused questions remain. The biggest: what to do with Joe Pavelski?
Pavelski’s in the last year of his deal and is, somehow, already 34. Maybe the Sharks ride this out and sign him short-term, go with a long-term deal, or part ways sooner rather than later. It’s not necessarily an easy decision, but one way or another, a choice is looming.
Where they stand? The Sharks feel like they’re in a similar place as their California neighbors/rivals: there’s talent here, some of it frighteningly aging, and there are some sunny best-case scenarios.
On the other hand, this is a team that’s no longer dominating the regular season, and expectations are generally more muted. Could they go on another run, like when they fell to Pittsburgh in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final? Sure, but they could just as easily fizzle out early in the playoffs, or even really flame out and miss them altogether.
Summer summary: The Sedins are officially gone, the Canucks made the smart move in drafting college-bound defenseman Quinn Hughes, and the team decided to keep Jim Benning as GM for reasons. (Trevor Linden’s had enough, though.)
Benning continues to confound in free agency, handing matching four-year, $12M head-scratchers to Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. Such moves would already be questionable for a team expecting them to be “playoff warriors,” but as a team with a skill deficit that remains huge, that’s some bad stuff.
At least they’re starting to gather some nice prospects.
More to do? Not much, although well-coiffed sniper Brock Boeser‘s entering a contract year. Maybe sign him to an extension during an early low-note in the regular season to give fans a boost?
Where they stand? They’re bad, and the ideal scenario is probably to be bad enough to try to pair Quinn Hughes with his brother Jack Hughes. Come on, admit that it would be really cool for the Canucks to quickly transition from the Sedin twins to the Hughes brothers. Philadelphia might need to re-brand to “The Other City of Brotherly Love” at that rate.
Vegas Golden Knights
Summer summary: Credit Vegas with showing restraint in not overreacting to an unlikely playoff run, although the counter-argument is that a risky extension for Marc-Andre Fleury counts exactly as not showing restraint.
GKGMGM (Golden Knights GM George McPhee) decided to allow James Neal and David Perron to walk in free agency. That’s mostly prudent considering the actual makeup of the team, although I wonder if McPhee realized how affordable (four years, $4M AAV) Perron would end up being.
The Golden Knights didn’t just rack up losses, though, as they convinced steady center Paul Stastny to sign a very fair three-year deal. Hockey fans also get to find out if Daniel Carr and Curtis McKenzie ended up being the next diamonds in the rough (er, aces up the sleeve?) in Vegas.
More to do? Vegas still faces some challenging negotiations in locking up RFAs William Karlsson and Shea Theodore. Karlsson’s arbitration hearing is set for Aug. 4, so we’ll see if they hammer out a deal between this moment and the deadline for a verdict.
The Golden Knights also may consider signing some extensions beyond the scary (if understandable?) one for MAF. Nate Schmidt, Alex Tuch, and Deryk Engelland all enter contract years in 2018-19.
Granted, with the maybe-unsustainable success Vegas enjoyed, they might be better off letting some of those guys settle down a bit first.
Where they stand? Uh oh, this is a trap, isn’t it?
You’d have to be a bold gambler to expect the Golden Knights to make another deep run, as they did in their infant season by falling in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Vegas rode some positive forces, most clearly Fleury playing at a level in both the playoffs and regular season that we’ve rarely seen since Tim Thomas was on good terms with his Boston Bruins teammates.
Fleury’s almost certain to stumble to at least human levels, and that could bring Vegas down with him. There are also plenty of players capable of regression following career years.
On the other hand, there is talent here. The Karlsson trio, particularly Jonathan Marchessault, sure seemed pretty legit, even if they might eventually be better cast as a very, very good second line. This remains as soundly built an expansion team as the NHL’s ever seen, and maybe the best in contemporary professional sports.
Will they once again contend? It’s fearful to doubt them yet another time, but probably not. Could they make the playoffs? That’s not outrageous, yet that may come down to a favorite/most-reviled factor in Vegas: luck.
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.
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.
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.
When you’re mining nostalgia, there’s a risk of making us old, crusty types grumble about messing with our memories. One of the biggest ways to do that is to fall short when it comes to mixing the old with the new.
(But really, the biggest hurdle comes from our own faulty memories. That’s a discussion for a totally different blog, though.)
The Anaheim Ducks seem to realize that a significant chunk of their fans – and hockey fans who might buy sweaters even if they can’t stand Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf – prefer the goofy, yet lovable, “Mighty Ducks” logo. Between the charm of those looks and the bland, corporate font vibe they have going on right now, it’s pretty easy to understand the appeal.
The team’s press release mentions that Guy Hebert, the goalie many associate with the team’s early days when they’re not thinking about Paul Kariya, was on hand to model the hybrid retro-new duds. As a reminder, here’s one of the uniforms Hebert sported back in the team’s duckling stages.
The Ducks’ press release does a good job of capturing the vague “something’s not quite right” feeling about these third jerseys. Their hearts seem to be in the right place, yet there’s just enough “meh” to make this more of a double than a home run.
Anchored in black, the third jersey features the original “Mighty Ducks” crest with eggplant and jade striping from the Ducks iconic look of its inaugural 1993-94 season. Linking the team’s past and present, the jersey incorporates new into old with a touch of the Ducks current orange coloring represented in the crossed hockey sticks of the team’s original mark. Anaheim’s current jersey number and letter styling is used in the new third sweater, providing a cohesive look to the team’s 2018-19 uniform kits, while the interior collar denotes the franchise’s 25th silver season. The first of its kind to subtly incorporate each of the seven colors (Eggplant, Jade, Anaheim Ducks Orange, Anaheim Ducks Gold, Anaheim Ducks Silver, White and Black) the Ducks have worn throughout the club’s 25-year tenure, the jersey also features silver as a primary accent color in both the triangle of the crest and yoke, paying tribute to the team’s generational milestone.
As someone whose artistic abilities peaked at “doodles during high school lectures,” maybe I’m not the person to ask here, but I’d argue that it’s pretty tough to “subtly incorporate” seven colors.
While comparisons to the Sharks’ look rank as some of the better jokes related to this reveal, the unveiling actually reminds me a bit of the Los Angeles Kings. You see, they decided to evoke the Wayne Gretzky silver-and-black look:
… Yet, at the same time, tinkering in a way that makes grumbly folks like me grumble. In the Kings’ case, the grumbling came from tweaking the logo.
Each nostalgia-themed jersey got a lot right, and if you asked a focus group to pick favorites, they might go with the new looks. That’s the thing, though. When you’re milking hazy memories, you bring out people’s fussy sides.