John Gibson

AP

Ducks should accept short-term pain for long-term gains

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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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.

The Anaheim Ducks’ future may very well hinge on one x-factor among all others: GM Bob Murray’s self-awareness.

When a team has self-awareness, you can go from dour to hopeful with rocket speed, like the Rangers have. If you’re delusional, you can get stuck in hockey quicksand, like the troubled Wild.

Whether Murray wants to admit it or not, the Ducks seem headed toward that fork in the road in 2019-20.

[MORE: Three Questions | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | 2018-19 in review]

The road’s been bumpy up to this turning point, too. Randy Carlyle and Corey Perry are both out after a terrible 2018-19 season, and the Sharks summarily swept the Ducks in Round 1 to end 2017-18, so things have been dark for the Ducks for quite some time.

Despite all of the red flags waving around, one could picture Murray talking himself into this season being radically different.

  • What if Dallas Eakins fixes that broken Carlyle system, and seamlessly integrates young forwards like Sam Steel and Troy Terry?
  • Players like John Gibson, Ryan Getzlaf, and Cam Fowler could enjoy better injury luck.
  • Beyond the top three of the Sharks, Flames, and Golden Knights, the Pacific Division is pretty crummy. Why not us?

If you take an honest look at this Ducks team, though, ask yourself: what’s a realistic ceiling for this team?

When Ryan Getzlaf leads your team in scoring with 48 points despite being limited to 67 games played, and you basically flushed months of brilliant work from John Gibson down the toilet, you probably shouldn’t print those 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs tickets just yet.

GM Bob Murray’s perception of this Ducks team isn’t just Anaheim’s biggest X-factor for 2019-20, as the tug-of-war between seeking a playoff run and setting up this team for a better future could affect this team years down the line.

After all, Murray’s already dug a bit of a hole assuming that the Ducks have another run or two left.

Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique are fine players, but at 28 and 29 respectively, each having five years remaining at about a combined $11M is pretty unnerving. The Silfverberg extension happened during this past, disastrous season, so there’s reason to worry that Murray might still need convincing that at least a soft rebuild or pivot is necessary.

The Ducks have some anchors in Silfverberg and Henrique, which contrasts with the Rangers, who had contracts teams wanted, including Mats Zuccarello.

That said, Murray could push things in the right direction if he’s realistic about this team’s rather limited potential.

For one thing, while the Ducks have unearthed solid talent even while lacking many high-end picks during their contending years, it seems like a lack of blue-chippers is catching up with them. Trevor Zegras (ninth overall in 2019) is a strong start, but the Ducks need more cornerstone pieces to build around.

If the Ducks can show some discipline in absorbing growing pains, they may very well turn things around.

Ideally, the Ducks would allow Eakins some breathing room to work with, and encourage a focus on getting younger players like Sam Steel and Troy Terry more minutes, even if that could push a mediocre team into becoming a cellar dweller. Not only would you get a better idea of what you have in Steel and Terry (and Eakins), but you’d also probably end up with better lottery odds to land someone like Alexis Lafreniere.

With Perry bought out, Ryan Kesler eyeing possible retirement, and Ryan Getzlaf looking understandably creaky lately, the Ducks probably don’t have much of a choice. As great as John Gibson can be — and I’d wager he was the best goalie in the world for stretches of last season — the Ducks still looked mediocre last season, even when he was standing on his head.

Yes, it would be painful to suffer through another abysmal season in 2019-20, but the Ducks have been willing to do painful things, like buying out Corey Perry. Besides, the pain could last a whole lot longer if Murray chooses to ignore the symptoms.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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.

Ducks face questions on scoresheet, blue line, behind bench

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. 

Three questions for you to ponder regarding the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks…

1. Who is going to score? 

This is not the sort of question any team wants to answer. But when you finish the season with an NHL-low 196 goals and with just one player scoring 20 or more, it’s a question that demands an answer for the Ducks.

To illustrate how bad an issue scoring was last season, consider that Ryan Getzlaf was the team’s leading scorer with 48 points. Only one team — the Arizona Coyotes — had a player who led the team with fewer points (Clayton Keller, 47). Jakub Silfverberg’s 24 goals led the team, the third-fewest in the NHL to lead a team behind the Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings.

You can safely assume that both all three of those teams missed the playoffs. Scoring, at the end of the day, is paramount, and the Ducks need a lot more of it this season if they are to compete and avoid franchise-record losing streaks.

Some of that could come in the form of a bounceback year for Rikard Rakell, who managed just 18 last year after hitting the 30-goal plateau in each of the previous two seasons.

But without any big-name scoring acquisitions this offseason, the team will be looking at some promising prospects to get the job done.

Sam Steel will be one of those guys. He could play as high as the team’s top-line centre, which should give him a couple of good wingers to play with. In 22 games last season — and on a very poor team — he scored six times and added five assists.

Troy Terry will be another. The winger saw 32 games with the Ducks last year, scoring four times on 25 shots and adding nine assists. There could contributions from Max Comtois and Isac Lundestrom as well, depending on how training camp battles play out.

What’s certain is someone needs to step up.

2. What impact will the arrival of Dallas Eakins have? 

Anaheim’s biggest move this offseason came at the position that stands behind all the players during the games.

Eakins will give it another go in his second stint as a head coach in the NHL after one and a half very poor seasons with the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

His coaching record in the NHL is 36-63-14, otherwise known as pretty abysmal. And now he’s been handed the keys to another bad team and is being told to make something out of nothing.

Eakins has run a winning machine in San Diego of the American Hockey League over the past four seasons and has overseen some of Anaheim’s next stars, which is a healthy boon.

[MORE DUCKS: X-Factor | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | 2018-19 Summary]

Eakins has promised that the guys he’s groomed — Steel, Lundestrom, Brendan Guhle, et al — will have to battle for spots in training camp, but given last year’s team and the lack of reinforcements this summer, they shouldn’t be particularly hard to win.

Eakins had a couple of good runs with the Toronto Marlies before the Oilers hired him, so his AHL success hasn’t translated in the big league as of yet.

He’s got a mountainous task in front of him once again.

3. Can a team devoid of team defense last season band together in the upcoming one? 

Here’s a common statement uttered by people around the NHL last season: “John Gibson needs some help.”

Gibson deserved to be on the ballot for the Vezina this season, and not just for a pity add for enduring the type of hanged-out-to-dry year that he did. Gibson rose above all that to post some ludicrous numbers despite the hand he was dealt in 2018-19.

But surely, as good as Gibson is, he can’t endure another round of it without showing some cracks in the armor.

It remains to be seen what kind of defensive system Eakins will deploy. In his only full season in Edmonton, the team gave up an NHL high 267 goals, including 204 at even-strength — also the most in the league that year.

One would think that a buy-in under Randy Carlyle’s old regime was a longshot given how poorly the season went. When Bob Murray took over in February, there wasn’t much to play for. Having Eakins there could re-invigorate the team with a new message and a new way to play.

That has to be the hope, for Gibson and the rest of the team.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s Anaheim Ducks Day at PHT

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

IN
Nicolas Deslauriers
Michael Del Zotto
Anthony Stolarz

OUT
Corey Perry
Pontus Aberg
Adam Cracknell
Andrej Sustr
Chad Johnson
Jake Dotchin
Andy Welinski
Jaycob Megna

RE-SIGNED
Justin Kloos
Chase De Leo

HIRED
Head coach – Dallas Eakins

2018-19 SEASON SUMMARY

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.

[MORE DUCKS: Three Questions | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | X-Factor]

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.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Will coaching change be enough to give Ducks’ goalies some help?

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Since becoming the Anaheim Ducks’ starter, John Gibson has become one of the best goalies in the NHL.

For the first part of the 2018-19 season he was almost single-handedly carrying the team and helping to keep it at least somewhat competitive. He was not only in the Vezina Trophy discussion, but as long as the Ducks were winning he was a legitimate MVP contender. But for as good as Gibson performed, the entire thing was a house of cards that was always on the verge of an ugly collapse.

The Ducks couldn’t score, they couldn’t defend, they forced Gibson to take on a ridiculous workload in terms of shots and scoring chances against.

Eventually, everything fell apart.

Once Gibson started to wear down and could no longer steal games on a nightly basis, the team turned into one of the worst in the league despite having a top-10 goaltending duo. That is a shocking accomplishment because teams that get the level of goaltending the Ducks received from the Gibson-Ryan Miller duo usually make the playoffs.

How bad was it for the Ducks? They were one of only three teams in the top-15 in save percentage this past season that did not make the playoffs.

The only other teams in the top-15 that missed were the Montreal Canadiens, who were just two points back in a far better and more competitive Eastern Conference, and the Arizona Coyotes who were four points back in the Western Conference and the first team on the outside looking in.

The Ducks not only missed, they were 10 points short with FIVE teams between them and a playoff spot. Again, almost impossibly bad.

It is a testament to just how bad the rest of the team performed in front of the goalies, and it continued a disturbing trend from the 2018 playoffs when the Ducks looked completely overmatched against the San Jose Sharks in a four-game sweep. It was clear the team was badly flawed and was falling behind in a faster, more skilled NHL.

The problem for the Ducks right now is that so far this offseason the team has remained mostly the same.

They bought out the remainder of Corey Perry‘s contract, will be without Ryan Kesler, and have really not done anything else to change a roster that has not been anywhere near good enough the past two seasons.

That means it is going to be another sink-or-swim season for the Ducks based on how far the goaltending duo of Gibson and Miller can carry them.

It is a tough situation because the Ducks have made an absolutely massive commitment to Gibson as he enters the first year of an eight-year, $51.2 million contract.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

That is a huge investment in a goalie, and for the time being, the Ducks have not really done anything to support him. Even if you have the best goalie in the league — or just one of the best — it is nearly impossible to win based only on that. Great goalies can help, they can mask a lot of flaws, and they can even carry a mediocre or bad team to the playoffs if they have a historically great season (think Carey Price during the 2014-15 season). But that still puts a ton of pressure on the goalie, and it is nearly impossible to ride that all the way to a championship.

There is, however, one small cause for optimism.

A lot of the Ducks’ problems defensively last season seemed to be based around their system and structure in the early part of the season under then-coach Randy Carlyle.

Under Carlyle the Ducks were one of the worst teams in the league when it came to suppressing shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances during 5-on-5 play.

They were 29th or worse when it came to shots on goal against, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances, and 26th in total shot attempts against. This is something that always happened with Carlyle coached teams and they would always go as far as their goaltending could take them. In recent years, Gibson masked a lot of those flaws by playing at an elite level and helped get the Ducks in the playoffs. He was able to do it for half of a season this year before finally playing like a mortal instead of a goaltending deity.

But after Carlyle was replaced by general manager Bob Murray, the Ducks showed some massive improvement defensively, shaving multiple shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances per 60 minutes off of their totals.

They went from 26th to seventh in shots on goal against, from 29th to 19th in shot attempts, from 30th to 17th in scoring chances against, and from 29th to 17th in high-danger scoring chances against.

Still not great, but definitely better. Much better. So much better that even though Gibson’s overall performance regressed, the Ducks still managed to win games and collect points at a significantly better rate than they did earlier in the season. They were 14-11-1 from Feb. 10 until the end of the season under Murray.

That is a 91.3 point pace over 82 games. That would have been a playoff point total in the Western Conference this past season.

Under Carlyle, it was a 74.6 point pace. That would have been one of the four worst records in the league.

Coaching changes are very rarely a cure-all. It is still a talent-driven league, and if you do not have talent you are probably not going to win very much. But there are always exceptions and outliers, and sometimes a coaching change is a necessity and can help dramatically improve a team.

New Ducks coach Dallas Eakins has an incredibly short NHL head coaching resume so we don’t have much to go by when it comes to what he will do What we do have to go by came in Edmonton where it has become abundantly clear over the past 15 years that the problems go far beyond the head coach (because they have all failed there). The Ducks are still short on talent at forward and defense, but it should still be able to perform better than it did a year ago. And with a goalie as dominant as Gibson can be (with a great backup behind him) there is no excuse for them to be as far out of the playoff picture as they were.

The Ducks don’t need to be the 1995 Devils defensively to compete.

They just need to not be the worst shot suppression team in the league.

If Eakins can figure out a way to build on the momentum the Ducks showed over the final two months of the 2018-19 season, they might actually have a fighting chance.

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.

Anaheim Ducks re-sign goalie Ryan Miller for another season

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Veteran goalie Ryan Miller has re-signed for another season with the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim also gave one-year contract extensions to defenseman Korbinian Holzer and forward Derek Grant on Thursday.

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.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports