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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.
2018-19 35-37-10, 80 pts. (6th in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference) Playoffs: Did not qualify
Hockey seasons don’t get much more disastrous as they did for the Ducks in 2018-19.
Even one of the best goalies in the NHL couldn’t stop the barrage of shots that came his way every night. With no defensive help to speak of, John Gibson was left to fend for himself on most nights. If there was one highlight of last season, it was his spectacular play at times, even in losses where his team gave up, it was Gibson who was putting in remarkable efforts only to be left in the shadows of another tick in the bad column.
It took until February for Bob Murray to finally pull the trigger on Randy Carlyle’s time as bench boss, a move that should have come much, much sooner.
Never had the Ducks gone on such a dismal stretch. A total of 21 games were played in the heart of the season and the Ducks managed just two wins, including a franchise-record 12-game losing streak following closely by a seven-game slump that mercifully ended with Carlyle’s firing.
The 12-game losing streak brought changes in the lineup as the Ducks tried to re-tool with the additions of Devin Shore, Derek Grant and Michael Del Zotto. Not superstars by any means, but when nothing is working, Murray had no choice by to throw a wrench into the room.
Of course, it didn’t work, with the subsequent seven-game losing streak as proof.
The Ducks ended the season with an NHL-low 196 goals, three fewer than the similarly abysmal Los Angeles Kings.
Goalscoring, of particular importance in the NHL, was simply non-existant on the roster. No player had over 25 and only one had over 20. No player hit the 50-point mark either, and only four had 40 points or more.
And Gibson felt the full brunt of the lackluster offense.
Among starters, Gibson saw the seventh most shots against per 60 minutes and yet somehow still managed a .929 save percentage in five-on-five situations.
No goalie in the NHL saw more high-danger shots against per 60 and yet Gibson’s .852 save percentage when facing hockey’s toughest shots to save was fourth-best. This year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Andrei Vasilevskiy, by comparison, was a .815 or 17th best.
Gibson saw the third-most rush attempts against per 60 and the closest average shot distance. The list goes on and on.
Gibson should have been in the Vezina running and likely would have won it on any other team not nicknamed the Kings or Senators.
It looks like Gibson is going to have to play as good, if not better, this season if the Ducks are not to be embarrassed again.
Anaheim hasn’t done much to improve their lack of offense and Del Zotto isn’t going to rectify that atrocious team defense, either. Instead, they will look to the farm for help, hoping the development has been sound in AHL San Diego. They lost Corey Perry after the team bought out their former talisman and they will be without Ryan Kesler, who is likely to miss the entire season after hip surgery.
It’s up to Dallas Eakins now.
His second stint as an NHL head coach couldn’t come under harsher circumstances, but he’s familiar with the kids coming up, having served as coach of their AHL affiliate since 2015 .
The Ducks do have promising futures in Max Comtois and Sam Steel up front and Brendan Guhle on the back end. It’s tough to ask them to turn around Anaheim’s fortunes this season, however.
Miller is the winningest U.S.-born goalie in NHL history with 378 career victories. The former Vancouver and Buffalo netminder has won 20 games over the past two seasons in Anaheim as John Gibson‘s backup.
Miller turns 39 years old next month, and he was cagey about his future after Anaheim missed the playoffs this year. The Ducks valued his steady veteran presence, and they apparently persuaded him to postpone retirement for another season under new coach Dallas Eakins.
Holzer is a veteran German defenseman who has played 99 games in Anaheim over the past four seasons.
Grant scored a career-best 24 points during the 2017-18 season for the Ducks, who then reacquired him in a trade last January after he signed a free-agent deal with Pittsburgh.
NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
With 10 games left to play in their season, Winnipeg leads Nashville in the Central and is in line for just the second division title in franchise history. The only time the franchise won their division was when they were the Atlanta Thrashers and won the Southeast Division in 2006-07.
Despite leading the division, Winnipeg has been a mediocre 12-11-2 over the last 25 games, with a minus-3 goal differential during that span.
More recently, however, the Jets have won three straight games, all by one goal, and look more like the team that reached the Western Conference Final last season. After defeating playoff contenders Boston and Calgary, Winnipeg snuck by Los Angeles on Monday 3-2. Kevin Hayes and Kyle Connor both scored, but the Jets blew their two-goal lead before Tyler Myers scored the eventual game-winner late in the second period.
Anaheim is in 14th place in the West and is all but assured to miss the playoffs, which will snap a streak of six straight seasons. That was tied for the second longest active streak in the league with Minnesota, who is still very much alive in the playoff hunt.
Despite their place in the standings, the Ducks have won back-to-back games and six of their last nine games overall. Five of those six wins have come against teams in the playoff hunt.
The Ducks are 9-9-0 since firing Randy Carlyle and replacing him with GM Bob Murray.
Success at a championship level in professional sports is not only a rare and short-lived thing, it also tends to be quickly and easily forgotten when the winning stops. Or at least when it slows down. So with that in mind we really need to talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins because this is a team that seems to be quickly trending in the wrong direction.
Just two years ago they were doing something that had not been done in the NHL in two full decades by winning their second consecutive Stanley Cup, capping off an incredible run of hockey that was driven by a core of superstar players and a series of roster moves that worked out to near perfection. The acquisitions of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin, and a host of call-ups from the AHL were all home runs (or close to it), resulting in a stable, successful roster with very little turnover from 2016 to 2017. Other than the additions of Jake Guentzel (call-up) and Ron Hainsey (trade), it was mostly the same team.
But following the 2017 championship the salary cap, free agency, and what has seemingly been a curious change in direction from the recipe that produced back-to-back championships has stripped the team of most of its depth, and the front office has badly struggled to replace it. The result has been two years of constant roster shuffling that has left the team on the playoff bubble and facing a daunting stretch run that includes six games against the teams they are competing with for a playoff spot (three against Columbus, two against Carolina, one against Montreal) and a number of games against some top-tier teams. Those head-to-head matchups will go a long way toward making or breaking their season, which is a stunning thing to be saying about this team with this core in late February.
The move was not well received by … well … anyone.
The focus of the criticism has been centered around what Gudbranson can actually bring to the table. Objectively speaking, his career performance has not lived up to the status of a former top-five draft pick. His underlying numbers are among the worst in the league at his position, and the eye test isn’t any more forgiving.
There is legitimate cause for concern with him as a player.
But focusing on Gudbranson misses the bigger problem in Pittsburgh right now, and that problem is that over the past two years nearly every single roster transaction the team has made has been a failure.
We know this is true because they keep having to make more trades to undo all of the roster transactions in an effort to correct them.
The cost the Penguins paid to actually get Gudbranson from Vancouver is irrelevant. I don’t know of any other way to put this without sounding like a jerk — so I will just say it and sound like a jerk — but Tanner Pearson is a mostly forgettable, run-of-the-mill NHL player. He might score 15-20 goals for your team, he might finish with 40 points, and within a year of him being on your roster you will probably forget he was ever on your roster until you go down a Hockey-Reference rabbit hole and say, “oh, hey, remember that guy?”
But the Penguins had just acquired that guy two months earlier in exchange for Carl Hagelin, a move that in hindsight looks like it was only done to shake up a core that had maybe gotten too comfortable with itself. Hagelin had his flaws as a player, but he was a huge part of the team’s identity, a popular player in the locker room, a player who won championships with the team, and a player who could still play a capable shut down role and bring the type of defensive conscious so many of the team’s forwards currently lack.
That is not nothing. He was also an expiring contract after this season. Put it all together and that means within a span of two months the Penguins turned a somewhat useful player that was still a part of their identity and what would have been $4M in salary cap space next season into a player whose potential contributions are suspect at best, detrimental at worst, who will be taking up every penny of that salary cap space in each of the next two seasons.
Pearson’s arrival and almost immediate departure was the eighthtime since the start of the 2017-18 offseason that the Penguins acquired an NHL player and then jettisoned them within a year.
Ryan Reaves, acquired on June 23, 2017 — traded on February 23, 2018
Matt Hunwick, signed on July 1, 2017 — traded on June 27, 2018
Antti Niemi, signed on July 1, 2017 — waived on October 24, 2017
Riley Sheahan, acquired on October 1, 2017 — traded on February 1, 2019
Derick Brassard, acquired on February 23, 2018 — traded on February 1, 2019
Derek Grant, signed on July 19, 2018 — traded on January 17, 2019
Tanner Pearson, acquired on November 14, 2018 — traded on February 25, 2019
It is not unfair to look at that list and that series of transactions and come to the conclusion that there is a problem somewhere in the organization, whether it is with the pro scouting, or with the coaching staff, or with the final decision-making, or with what they are looking for in players. Something is clearly off here. What other conclusion can you possibly come to?
A team that just two years ago was winning with speed, skill, and puck-moving defense keeps trying to find grit and toughness and keeps making itself slower and less mobile.
The one transaction that was made during this stretch that hasn’t yet been undone, the signing of Jack Johnson, might be the most damaging of the bunch and it’s probably only a matter of when, and not if, that ends in a buyout or a trade.
This much roster turnover and shuffling of players can not be a sustainable way to run a franchise, mostly because it doesn’t even take into account the collateral damage that has come with working to “fix” those trades. They lost Conor Sheary, Hagelin, Ian Cole, and Oskar Sundqvist as part of those transactions, and have also given up a boat load of draft picks and a top prospect (goalie Filip Gustavsson) along the way.
As of now, they have gained Jared McCann, Nick Bjugstad, and Gudbranson out of it all, with the latter two taking up more than $8M in salary cap space over the next couple of years for a team that is already pressed against the salary cap because of their superstars. Will they be worth it? And what other trades will have to be made and what other assets will be given up if (or when) they are not? Because if recent history is any indicator there is almost no chance they finish their current contracts wearing Penguins uniforms.
Maybe they don’t make this latest trade for Gudbranson if the injury situation isn’t what it is. But even with that it’s bizarre to try and plug a short-term hole by acquiring a player with this on-ice track record with this much term and this much money left on their deal. There are other ways to plug a hole without tying up significant cap space in future years.
And quite honestly, if Gudbranson’s play doesn’t show dramatic improvement upon his arrival in Pittsburgh there is an argument to be made they would have been better off just staying with what they had. They might have been better off had they simply done nothing since the start of last offseason because at least then they might have more salary cap space, more assets to deal from, and it’s hard to imagine their spot in the standings being any worse because as of now they are only going as far as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a healthy Letang can carry them.
Rutherford has built three Cup winning teams in the NHL, and that is not only a big part of his story as an executive, it commands respect. It will probably be enough to someday get him a call to the Hall of Fame (how many three-time Cup winning general managers are not in?)
But it doesn’t leave him above criticism when it is warranted.
Based on where the Penguins are and the series of moves that have been made over the past two years the criticism is definitely warranted because his team looks like it doesn’t know what it is, where it is going, or how it should get there.
Well, that was fun. The 2019 NHL trade deadline is over and 20 deals involving 32 players were made on Monday featuring plenty of buyers and sellers. There were a number of of trades in the weeks and days leading up to the deadline, which has some teams strengthening for a Stanley Cup run and others eyeing the future as they hope they are in the midst of building a contender.
As the dust settles, let’s take a look at some winners and losers from the 2019 NHL trade deadline.
WINNER: Columbus Blue Jackets fans
Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky have given no indication they’ll re-sign and made it clear they want to test the market on July 1 as unrestricted free agents. So with that news GM Jarmo Kekalainen didn’t throw away the season and deal them off for futures. He kept them and loaded up to make a playoff run. Adding Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate deals with the Senators showed that they’re all-in to make some noise in the postseason. They also picked up Adam McQuaid for depth on defense and Keith Kinkaid for some insurance in net. For a franchise that’s yet to win a playoff round, good for them. The value in creating some excitement in the market is greater than whatever futures some team would throw their way in exchange for a couple of rentals.
With Kekalainen’s flurry of moves before the deadline, the Blue Jackets currently only own two picks in June’s NHL draft: Round 3 and Round 7 (originally Calgary’s). They could add to that if they end up dealing Panarin’s and/or Bobrovsky’s negotiating rights, but for now the prospect cupboard won’t see many additions when the league gathers in Vancouver. They also don’t have a second- or third-round pick in 2020.
WINNER: Nashville’s power play
The Predators’ power play has been atrocious this season, checking in at an NHL-worst 12.6 percent. The unit was at 21.6 percent last season and in the high teens from 2015-17. Simmonds’ addition will help that and the team’s second line. Since 2013, the 30-year-old forward has scored 74 power play goals and recorded 119 points with the man advantage.
Not only does the 28-year-old blue liner go from one of the worst teams in the league to the defending Stanley Cup champions who are chasing a Metropolitan Division title, neither side wasted any time extending their relationship. Not long as the trade was announced, the Capitals signed Jensen to a four-year, $10M extension.
No one wanted any of the pieces they may have been dangling, leaving interim GM Keith Gretzky with lots of work to do in the off-season.
Edmonton media has been talking up Alex Chiasson lately for some reason, thinking he could fetch a draft pick. The 28-year-old forward has one goal since Christmas and is still shooting 19.8 percent, which shows you how bad the regression monster has been affecting him since starting the season off strong with 16 goals in his first 30 games.
WINNER AND LOSER: Ottawa Senators
We knew that Pierre Dorion was going to be active and in sell mode with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Mark Stone on the market. Now that all three are gone, the Senators brought in a combined package of:
NHL players: Oscar Lindberg, Anthony Duclair Prospects: Vitaly Abramoff, Jonathan Davidsson, Erik Brannstrom Draft picks: Two 2020 second-round picks, 2021 second-round pick, 2019 and 2020 conditional picks
The Stone deal leaves something to be desired, especially since Dorion was unable to get a first-round pick for him.
These moves, however, leave the Senators with a little over $35M in cap space for next season, per Cap Friendly. They won’t spend to the limit just yet, but they will have to at least get to the projected floor of $58M, so they’ll be active before next season. Maybe that includes taking on a dead contract like, say, David Clarkson’s, which is a $5.25M cap hit through the end of the 2019-20 season.
While the draft picks and prospects could turn into something good in the future, right now there is no confidence from the fan base that the future holds anything positive for the team. The inability to extend Duchene, Dzingel or Stone did not sit well with fans and adds to their lack of belief that Eugene Melnyk will spearhead some huge spending spree in a couple of years as he said he plans to do.
Much like Jensen, Stone moves from a bottom team to a Cup contender and gets an extension to boot. Because of tagging issues, the contract won’t be official until March 1, but it will be eight years with an average annual value of $9.5M and a full no-move clause. Stone told TSN that an “ownership commitment to winning” was a big reason why he agreed to the extension with Vegas, which should tell you everything about why he never ended up putting pen to paper on a deal with the Senators.
LOSER: Those hoping for a big move from the Flames
As the Jets, Predators, Sharks, and Golden Knights loaded up, the Flames stayed quiet, only making a depth move on defense by picking up Oscar Fantenberg from the Kings and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020. GM Brad Treliving had a maximum price in mind that he would pay to add a big name like Mark Stone. What Ottawa and other sellers were looking for was apparently too rich for his blood.
Treliving wasn’t going to part with prospect Juuso Valimaki, and is pleased to go into battle with his current lineup.
“Today, there is no mourning,” said Treliving Monday afternoon. “The hearse is not driving by, and none of us are climbing in. We’re pretty excited about our team. The fact that we wake up and I’m going to have a cold beer right now and still have guys like Valimaki in our organization, that’s a pretty good day. “So let’s all put it in perspective. We have a good hockey team.”
Owner of a modified no-trade clause, Staal said repeatedly he did not want to leave Minnesota. He wasn’t dealt and will be staying for at least two more seasons after inking a two-year, $6.5M extension.
This has nothing to do with the deal, as it was a good addition by GM Jim Nill. But the Stars only got to enjoy Zuccarello for barely 40 minutes before he blocked a shot and suffered a broken arm that will keep him out of the lineup for at least four weeks.
Knowing their newest acquisition is out at least a month, Nill didn’t go out and add any pieces on Monday, making it a quiet day in Big D.
The rebuild could take a turn this summer as GM Jeff Gorton will have five picks in the first two rounds of the 2019 draft to play with. He has said he’ll try to use those to acquire players who can step in and make an impact next season. Right now they could have over $20M in cap space this off-season.
There wasn’t much of a goalie market this trade deadline, and Howard, who can walk as a UFA this summer, stayed put. The price Detroit was seeking was reportedly high, but now GM Ken Holland will turn his sights into trying to re-sign the 34-year-old.