Hampus Lindholm

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.

No ice, big problem: Nothing mimics skating for NHL players

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Taking ice away from NHL players has caused some to resort to desperate measures.

New York Islanders captain Anders Lee bought a Peloton. Anaheim defenseman Josh Manson wants a pair of roller blades. League leading scorer Leon Draisaitl of Edmonton stickhandles around his dog.

Whatever works.

”You’re kind of going back to that ‘Rocky’ mentality where you’re doing push-ups and sit-ups and punching the cow,” Columbus forward Nick Foligno said.

NHL players are running, biking and trying to stay in shape in case the season resumes after being put on pause because of the coronavirus pandemic. While many athletes can replicate the workouts and movement of their sports – NBA players are missing the gym – hockey players have no way to truly replace skating while rinks are closed.

”I don’t think too many people have access to rinks or anything like that, and that’s a huge hurdle for a player,” Washington defenseman John Carlson said. ”It doesn’t matter how hard you train, the on-ice stuff is different and we’re going to have to pick it up pretty quick when things turn around here.”

While there remains plenty of uncertainty over whether the NHL will play again this season, players are proceeding as though they will. Aside from a few exceptions, most haven’t skated since before play stopped March 12, and self-quarantine guidelines will keep them off the ice for at least another week and likely longer.

This is nowhere near normal for athletes used to spending the spring gearing up for the intensity and brutal grind of the NHL playoffs.

”I can just do my workouts and just try to stick as close to a routine as you can,” New Jersey defenseman P.K. Subban said. ”It’s hard because you’re anticipating the season coming back, but at the same token it’s so much time. And when you’re not skating, there’s nothing you can do that’s going to mimic skating.”

Little things have to fill the void for now. Team trainers are sending out customized plans to players with home gym setups. Running has replaced practicing. Biking might be the only way to simulate the high intensity of a shift – sort of.

”That all helps and it’s great, but there’s absolutely nothing you can do to prepare for the ins and outs of a shift and the physicality of it,” Boston defenseman Torey Krug said. ”Not only are you trying to mimic the skating motion, but there’s no way you can train for going into the corner with a guy who’s 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and trying to out-battle him and get the puck and skate away from him.”

Draisaitl’s Edmonton teammate Connor McDavid is staying strong by lifting his dog, Lenny, and Lee takes his dogs for a run to keep his heart rate up. Philadelphia’s Scott Laughton does yoga with his girlfriend on occasion, which is one way to keep his mind and body sharp.

Manson said he doesn’t want to risk going to a store to get roller blades. Anaheim teammate Hampus Lindholm has taken his blades for a spin or two during quarantine, but he and others around the league are quick to point out it doesn’t require the same balance or train the same muscles as ice skating.

”You don’t get the buildup of lactic acid and having to deal with your groins and your hip motion when you’re digging into the ice and trying to stop and start, and that’s a big part of it,” Krug said.

Minnesota’s Zach Parise tries to stay sharp playing 1-on-1 in the basement with his 6-year-old son, Jax. He also bought a bike because he is not much of a runner.

Resigned to life off the ice for some time, players – especially those with young families – are typically getting workouts done early in the day like it’s a morning skate. There are no games to prepare for at night, but they know there will be at some point.

”You just try to do what you can, make it fun,” Foligno said. ”It’s our job. We’re pros and athletes for a reason, so it’s something we have to make sure we continue to do and be ready if called upon.”

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks

Getty Images

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.

WATCH LIVE: Predators visit Ducks on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Nashville Predators 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.

Anaheim has lost three straight games and six of their last eight (2-5-1). They currently sit in last place in the Western Conference, 10 points outside the 2nd Wild Card. They saw their run of six-straight playoff appearances snapped last season, and are in jeopardy of missing out on the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1999-00 to 2001-02 (three straight seasons). In their last game at Arizona, the Ducks dropped a 2-1 lead, allowing three goals in the third period to lose 4-2.

For a second straight season, the Ducks are at the bottom of the scoring charts in the NHL. After finishing last in the league last season (2.39 goals/game), they are currently 30th in the league in scoring (2.49 goals/game – only DET is averaging fewer).

Speaking on Thursday, GM David Poile said that while he is not planning on firing head coach Peter Laviolette, there may be changes ahead if the Predators do not improve as the trade deadline approaches in February.

“I met with [Laviolette] this morning,” he said. “We had a long talk about lots of different situations going forward. I’m not contemplating making any coaching change at this time… We’ve really got some soul searching to do right now. I have to do some real thinking about where we’re going for the rest of this year… Right now, we’re not in the playoffs and I’m open for business, if you will… I guess the point I’m saying today is, sitting here outside of the playoffs, we have for the last several years been buyers at the trading deadline. If we don’t improve here shortly, we might be a seller for the first time in a number of years. I’m hoping that’s not the case, but as I said, I am open for business and I’m certainly going to be willing to listen to different teams’ thought processes on any of our players at this point.”

Ryan Ellis was placed on Injured Reserve on Friday after the defenseman took an elbow to the head from Dallas’ Corey Perry less than three minutes into the Winter Classic. Ellis needed help leaving the ice and did not return to the game, while Perry was handed a five-game suspension for elbowing. Ellis is tied for second on Nashville with 28 points and has averaged 23:24 TOI per game this season. Alexandre Carrier was called up from the AHL on Friday, with Jarred Tinordi, who was recalled from Milwaukee on Dec 26, expected to see some time in the lineup.

With his defensive partner Ryan Ellis sidelined, even more pressure will be on captain Roman Josi to produce. Josi, who signed an 8-year, $72.472M contract in October, leads the Predators in points (14G-27A, 41 points) and is averaging 25:36 TOI per game this season (fourth in NHL). Josi enters Saturday’s game against Los Angeles riding a career-long eight-game point streak (7G-8A, 15 points), which includes five multi-point games. Only one defenseman in franchise history has ever had a 9-game point streak (Shea Weber in 2010-11). Josi was selected to the All-Star Game this season, the 3rd selection of his career (second straight).

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks
WHERE: Honda Center
WHEN: Sunday, Jan. 5, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Predators-Ducks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PREDATORS
Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson
Calle JarnkrokKyle TurrisMikael Granlund
Rocco GrimaldiNick BoninoCraig Smith
Yakov TreninColin BlackwellAustin Watson

Roman Josi – Yannick Weber
Jarred Tinordi – Mattias Ekholm
Dan HamhuisMatt Irwin

Starting goalie: Juuse Saros

DUCKS
Adam HenriqueRyan GetzlafSam Carrick
Max Jones – Sam SteelOndrej Kase
Max Comtois – Isac Lundestrom – Jakob Silfverberg
Nicolas DeslauriersDevin ShoreCarter Rowney

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson
Cam FowlerErik Gudbranson
Jacob LarssonKorbinian Holzer

Starting goalie: John Gibson

Alex Faust and analyst Brian Hayward will call the action from Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.