Jacob Larsson

Ducks expect return to playoff form after disappointing year

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Cam Fowler are the only Ducks left from the last early summer in Anaheim.

The Ducks’ six-year streak of Stanley Cup playoff appearances has ended, but their veterans are determined to make sure this disappointment leads Anaheim right back to the postseason.

”It’s the worst thing to have to go out every night and know you’re not competing for a playoff spot,” Getzlaf said after the Ducks finished their worst regular season since 2012 with a 5-2 win over rival Los Angeles. ”We’ve got to build off of that.”

Before it all fell apart during a profound winter slump, the Ducks had won five Pacific Division titles and reached two Western Conference finals in a six-year span of consistent excellence. Anaheim clearly had more talent than its 35-37-10 record suggested, yet none of it mattered during a 5-21-4 midseason stretch that proved too large to overcome.

”This whole year has just been a roller coaster of emotions and new experiences,” said forward Jakob Silfverberg, who led the Ducks and hit a new career high with 24 goals.

The Ducks got off to another solid start to their season: After they beat Pittsburgh on Dec. 17, they sat comfortably in second place in the Pacific, just three points off the Western Conference lead.

Anaheim also finished strongly, racking up an NHL-best 23 points from its final 17 games (11-5-1).

In between was some of the worst hockey played by this franchise in the past 15 years.

Anaheim’s misery included a 12-game skid, a separate seven-game losing streak, seven shutout losses and individual defeats by scores of 6-2, 6-1, 9-3 and 7-4.

Coach Randy Carlyle was fired during that drought, and general manager Bob Murray moved behind the bench to examine his franchise up-close. With a few tweaks of their system and a fresh start, the Ducks returned to playing postseason-worthy hockey under Murray, including a 7-2-1 finish with the playoffs out of reach.

”The wins and losses down the stretch don’t mean a whole lot at this point,” Getzlaf said. ”But getting back to the way we wanted to play … in training camp next year, the guys in this room that are back will have a good idea of what we need.”

Barring major trades – which Murray has been historically reluctant to make – the Ducks could return with most of this season’s core, including stellar goalie John Gibson and a solid group of players near their prime including Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell, Adam Henrique, Ondrej Kase, Fowler and Hampus Lindholm.

The Ducks’ productive farm system also has another burgeoning crop of young talent, much of which got a chance to play late in this lost season. Forwards Troy Terry, Sam Steel and Max Jones all appear NHL-ready, along with defenseman Jacob Larsson and young trade acquisition Daniel Sprong.

Getzlaf and Perry are under contract for three more high-priced seasons apiece, and both contributed decently through injuries this season. But the Ducks must figure out what to do with Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves, two well-paid veteran forwards who have five months of rest and rehabilitation coming up after their careers were ground to a halt by health woes.

Murray also must replace himself as the Ducks’ coach. Dallas Eakins, the former Edmonton coach currently finishing his fourth year in charge of the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego, is thought to be the favorite.

The Ducks’ 5-1-1 finish to the season culminated with a comfortable win over their biggest rivals in a sold-out Honda Center. The players and their fans all expect to have much more to celebrate next spring.

”We’ve been playing pretty good lately, and we’ve been feeling pretty good in this room,” Silfverberg said. ”So I wouldn’t say it’s a shame, but it’s tough that it ends here. … We’ve had a good team all year. We had a team to compete against all the teams in this league, and if we play to our level, we can beat anyone. We have a bright future here, and we’re going to set our standards high for next year. We’re going to be a team that’s pushing hard for the playoffs.”

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WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks visit Ducks on NBCSN

The NBCSN Wednesday night doubleheader continues with the Anaheim Ducks hosting the Chicago Blackhawks at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

Not that long ago, the Blackhawks and Ducks ranked among the biggest heavyweights in the West, if not the NHL.

For the Blackhawks, their hopes are now fading. The Ducks, meanwhile, are fighting to maintain their spot.

[WATCH LIVE – 10:30 P.M. ET]

It hasn’t always been pretty with Anaheim, but the Ducks are picking up steam. Remarkably, they ended a five-game road trip by rattling off four consecutive wins, and now they begin a four-game homestand. The Ducks are currently in playoff position (second in the Pacific with 33 standings points), and making the most of this stretch could really cement their position.

With that in mind, they’ll need to take care of business against the Blackhawks. Chicago isn’t the team it once was, yet with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Corey Crawford on their roster, the Blackhawks can’t be taken lightly.

[EXTENDED PREVIEW]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks
Where: Honda Center
When: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks – Ducks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

BLACKHAWKS

Brandon Saad / Jonathan Toews / Brendan Perlini
Dominik Kahun / David Kampf / Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincat / Dylan Strome / Alexandre Fortin
Chris Kunitz / Artem Anisimov / Marcus Kruger

Duncan Keith / Henri Jokiharju
Brandon Manning / Brent Seabrook
Gustav Forsling / Jan Rutta

Starting Goalie: Corey Crawford

DUCKS

Rickard Rakell / Ryan Getzlaf / Pontus Aberg
Nick Ritchie / Adam Henrique / Daniel Sprong
Andrew Cogliano / Ryan Kesler / Jakob Silfverberg
Kiefer Sherwood / Carter Rowney / Ondrej Kase

Brandon Montour / Hampus Lindholm
Jacob Larsson / Josh Manson
Josh Mahura / Jake Dotchin

Starting goalie: John Gibson

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

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.

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.