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Examining the Ducks’ options with Corey Perry

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One way or another it appears as if Corey Perry‘s time with the Anaheim Ducks is coming to a close over the next few weeks. Over the weekend the Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun and Eric Stephens both reported extensively on the team’s willingness to move on from their long-time star winger and former league MVP in an effort to get younger.

It should be pretty obvious as to why the Ducks are looking to move on and make a change. The franchise as currently constructed has hit its ceiling with its current core, while Perry carries a substantial salary cap hit (more than $8.6 million per season over the next two seasons) for what has been steadily declining production over the past three seasons.

LeBrun reported that if the Ducks fail to find a taker in a trade they would consider buying him out during the league’s buyout window later this month. According to the buyout calculator over at Capfriendly, a buyout of Perry’s remaining contract would leave the Ducks on the hook for a $2 million salary cap hit in 2019-20, 2021-22 and 2022-23, with a $6 million cap hit in 2020-21. That would be a pretty drastic step to take with a franchise icon, but the Ducks aren’t currently getting $8.6 million worth of production out of Perry and it seems unlikely that he is ever going to return to that level.

He was limited to just 31 games this past season where he scored six goals and four assists. That came after a 2017-18 season where he managed 17 goals and 49 total points in 71 games, which came after a 19-goal, 53 point season the year before. For three years now his production has been cratering across the board, whether it’s his traditional box score numbers (goals, assists, points) or his underlying numbers that look at his possession and shot numbers. It is not just that he’s lost some of his fastball when it comes to his shot and ability to beat goalies, but he is also not able to generate anywhere near as many shots as he did when he was a consistent 35-40 goal scorer and one of the league’s elite power forwards.

To get a sense for just how far — and how quickly — his game has fallen off, just consider that since the start of the 2016-17 season he has the following league-wide ranks among forwards that have played at least 100 games (rankings are out of 405 forwards):

Goals per game: 147th
Points per game: 122nd
Shots per game: 87th
Even-strength goals: 188th
Corsi Percentage: 273rd

Compare that to where he was in the three years prior to that:

Goals per game: 4th
Points per game: 16th
Shots per game: 28th
Even-strength goals: 1st (tied with Alex Ovechkin)
Corsi Percentage: 126th

That is significant.

So, yeah, it is understandable as to why the Ducks would be looking to move on.

The Ducks have a significant chunk of money tied up in an aging core (including Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler, whose career seems to be in serious jeopardy) that saw its run of six consecutive playoff appearances end this past season. Even though the franchise is just two years removed from a trip to the Western Conference Finals the team has rapidly declined over the past two seasons and looks to be several steps below the rest of the Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference. They looked overwhelmed in their 2017-18 Round 1 sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, and despite getting an All-Star worthy performance from starting goalie John Gibson this past season the team was never really even close to being competitive. The potential for major changes existed even before the start of the season, and given how badly things went once the season began it is clear the time has come to turn the page.

For as great as Perry has been for the team during career, he is at this moment a natural starting point for those changes given the total package he provides (age, contract, production).

The problem is the Ducks probably do not have many good options when it comes to moving on.

Keeping him is not really ideal because they would still paying superstar money for a player that, when healthy, is probably giving them second-line (at best) production. For a team that is looking to get younger and does not always spend to the salary cap that is a tough contract to justify, especially when it is likely that the production is only going to keep declining over the next two years.

Even with that being said, buying him out should be an absolute last resort because even though there are some cap savings that come with that, they are still going to be on the hook for a significant portion of money over the next four years while getting nothing in return for it. And it is not like Perry is a zero value player. Somebody else could use him as he can still play and produce a little bit. It just not at an $8.6 million dollar level. That salary cap number is probably double what he would get on the open market right now as a free agent.

That leaves the trade market, which probably will not be easy or result in a satisfying return for Ducks fans (or Perry’s current Ducks teammates).

Given the size of his salary the next two years and the decline he is experiencing it might have the look of an unmovable contract, but there is really no such thing in the NHL. Every contract can be moved, you just have to find the right team that is willing to work with you. If the Ducks do find a trade partner the framework of a deal is probably going to look like another trade involving a similarly aging player where they either have to retain a significant portion of salary, and/or take on another team’s bad contract in return.

It is the same situation the Edmonton Oilers find themselves in with Milan Lucic and the same situation the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in with Patrick Marleau. It is the same situation the Los Angeles Kings found themselves in with Marian Gaborik a couple of years ago and the Ottawa Senators with Dion Phaneuf (who were eventually swapped for one another, while the Kings will ultimately find themselves in the same situation now that they have Phaneuf).

The problem with that option is it still leaves them in a situation where they are probably overpaying a declining player under the cap, which then forces them to ask the question: Why even make the trade? In that case it would depend on what else they can get in return. Perry would still probably be better and more valuable than whatever player the Ducks take on in return, which should result in additional assets thrown their way (a younger player, a decent draft pick, etc.).

The other option in a trade: Retain a significant chunk of salary over the next two years. They are still paying something under the cap for a player that isn’t playing for them, but if the Ducks are willing to eat some of that money it should — should being the key word — result in a better return. Perry may not have much value to another team at $8.6 million per season, but he might have some value at, hypothetically speaking, $5 or 6 million. It is cheaper long-term than a buyout, and it gives them something tangible in return to add to the organization.

None of this is an ideal way for the Ducks to part ways with a player that helped the team win a Stanley Cup, won an MVP award, and is one of the franchise’s all-time greats. It is simply the reality of playing in a salary cap league and spending significant money on players well beyond their 30th birthdays.

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.

 

Who should coach Sabres, Ducks, Oilers, Senators?

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When you look at the four conference finalists remaining in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you’ll notice a variety of coaching stories.

There’s quite a mix with a midseason replacement (Craig Berube for the Blues), a rookie breakthrough (Rod Brind’Amour for Carolina), someone who’s been effective with an established team (the Bruins’ Bruce Cassidy), and a veteran running a star-packed squad (Peter DeBoer with the Sharks). There are many ways to skin the cat, and that point becomes clearer when you zoom out to other success stories, such as Barry Trotz’s fantastic work with the New York Islanders.

With Joel Quenneville readying his sunscreen for Florida, Alain Vigneault leading a band of former head coaches in Philly, and Todd McLellan landing his second California gig with the Los Angeles Kings, you’d think that the game of musical chairs that is coaching hiring would be mostly done for the NHL, but that’s not really so. As of Tuesday, the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, and Ottawa Senators are still looking for new head coaches.

Let’s take a look at the decisions these four teams face, from a broader look at what type of coach they should look for, to a more concrete set of targets they should prioritize.

Anaheim Ducks should seek: An innovator

GM Bob Murray needs to face reality: “old-school” just isn’t working so well for the Ducks any longer.

This team ignored warning signs that Randy Carlyle’s work was behind the times, and those warts really sprouted up during a pretty disastrous 2018-19 season. If you look at the Ducks’ salary structure, you’ll see some troublingly aging core players like Ryan Getzlaf and the injured Ryan Kesler (both 34) and Corey Perry (33).

We’ve seen teams face a slump where they miss the playoffs before getting back on track, though, and there’s a chance the Ducks could join that group if thing swing back in their favor.

That’s especially true if John Gibson remains an all-world goaltender. Combine Gibson with a still-solid group of defensemen and decent forwards (Getzlaf’s getting old, but he can still move the needle), and maybe the Ducks’ outlook can go sunnier quickly.

Ducks targets:

  • Dallas Eakins – The breath of fresh air Anaheim needs could be right with the AHL’s affiliate, as Eakins seems forward-thinking when it comes to resting players and analytics. He’s also had success basically everywhere he’s been … except Edmonton. Even there, it’s not as if he had a lot of time to fix all the leaks for the Oilers.
  • Todd Nelson – Another briefly-former-Oilers coach who’s had success basically everywhere else he’s been. Nelson’s both reasonably young and well-traveled, making him a worthy consideration for multiple teams, really.
  • Sheldon KeefeIn Elliotte Friedman’s latest edition of “31 Thoughts“, he reported that Keefe wouldn’t leave the Toronto Marlies, unless it was for a better situation. Maybe the young coach wouldn’t view the Ducks as an upgrade, although you rarely see perfect teams making coaching searches, right?

The Ducks could also go for an older coach if they believe that bench boss would drive immediate results in a way that a fresher face wouldn’t … but personally, I’d lean toward youngsters.

Sabres should find: Structure

For years, there’s been an uncomfortable question lingering for Buffalo: is this team underachieving, or is the talent simply not there?

Either way, the optics haven’t been great, as the Sabres have often looked rudderless. They’ve really struggled to find stability since the lengthy Lindy Ruff era ended, and it sure feels like Buffalo needs to find this year’s version of Barry Trotz: an experienced coach who can install systems that won’t collapse under the pressure of competition.

Sabres’ best target:

  • Dave Tippett – At 57, Tippett has already coached two teams (the Stars and Coyotes) for a combined 1,114 regular-season games and 74 playoff contests. His squads have been structurally sound, and Tippett often found ways to get the most out of limited Coyotes rosters. He won a Jack Adams Award in 2009-10, and while he hasn’t had a head coaching job since 2016-17, Tippett remains focused on the game.

There are other options, with Friedman reporting that another former Oilers coach Ralph Krueger possibly being the frontrunner but … frankly, I just really like the fit for Buffalo. Maybe Tippett wouldn’t view the Sabres the same way, though.

(UPDATE: The Sabres have decided to hire Ralph Krueger.)

Oilers need: An exorcist

Just kidding. Plus, you could argue the same for the Senators, and to an extent, the Sabres.

My impression is that the Oilers could use optimism and positive, forward energy as much as anything else. It says a lot about their organizational dysfunction that you can almost forget that they have Connor McDavid, as well as some other key pieces.

Yes, the roster has issues, but maybe a more offensive-minded coach could get things going in a more modern direction, rather than trying to squeeze every drop of defensive potential out of this mix, as both Ken Hitchcock and Todd McLellan generally aimed to do? Considering how grim the atmosphere seemed to be, these players may benefit from a pat on the back after being barked at for some time.

Oilers’ options:

  • Sheldon Keefe – Would Keefe value having McDavid and Leon Draisaitl enough to risk leaving the Marlies for the Oilers? If so, what better way for Edmonton to show that its not some “old boys club” than to hire such a young head coach?
  • Todd Nelson– Ken Holland observed Nelson’s success with the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate for years, so maybe that would inspire Holland to allow Nelson to get another, more “real” shot with Edmonton this time around?
  • Scott Sandelin/Nate Leaman – I’d be surprised if the Oilers went bold with Keefe or either of these two NCAA coaches, but I also think they’re worth mentioning. Rather than going for a retread in the form of a former head coach (who’s had more legitimate chances than a Nelson or an Eakins), why not see if one of these coaches has a higher ceiling?

Tippett seems to be a rising choice for Edmonton, and the Oilers could certainly go in worse directions. It feels a bit more of the same, though, as bringing in Hitchcock. Maybe Nelson would be the best compromise between bringing in fresher ideas and appeasing … well, that old boys club?

Senators should look for: An optimist … and a stopgap

In the above cases, teams are hoping to finally take big steps forward, or in the case of the Ducks, to reverse a downward spiral.

Honestly, the Ottawa Senators are better off tanking in 2019-20, and probably for a year or two beyond that. They purged a ton of talent by trading away Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Mike Hoffman, and others in recent seasons, and it’s tough to imagine overachieving doing much for the team’s bigger picture outlook beyond messing up their draft lottery odds.

With how dark things have been for the Senators, they could use a positive presence, preferably a coach who’s patient enough to help develop the Brady Tkachuks of the world. Put some smiles on some faces … just don’t win too much.

Ottawa’s options:

  • Marc Crawford – Becoming something of a coaching journeyman’s likely given Crawford some perspective. He served as interim head coach, so he already has some knowledge of the players and franchise, which can’t be underrated when you consider how … polarizing owner Eugene Melnyk can be.
  • Troy Mann– Carries much of the appeal of Crawford, as he’s coached the Senators’ AHL affiliate. He’d probably be cheap as a first-time NHL head coach too, which is, erm, appealing to Melnyk.
  • Scott Sandelin/Nate Leaman – A more sensible scenario for an NCAA coach to take over. Expectations would be low, so Sandelin or Leaman would get some time to acclimate to the NHL. Theoretically, at least. Might be a tough sell for either one to leave successful programs to try to fix the Senators, though.
  • Lane Lambert – Plenty of experience (and potential?) as Barry Trotz’s assistant, and hey, if you’re going to be bad, at least distract yourself with his amusing hair. (Note: Sportsnet’s John Shannon reports that the Ducks have also shown interest in Lambert.)

***

None of these situations feel like easy or obvious fixes, and the best options might not be listed above. Then again, things didn’t seem very optimistic for the Islanders when Trotz took over, or for Berube when the Blues were ranked last during this season, and those scenarios ended up being wild successes.

Who would you go after if you were running those teams?

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 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.”

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

The Buzzer: Blue Jackets clinch with Panarin’s help

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Three stars

1. Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets

Panarin scored one of the filthier goals you’ll see to give the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead in the third period.

From there, he nearly scored on a couple of occasions in overtime after the New York Rangers tied the game 2-2 with six seconds left in the third. And in the shootout, Panarin fired the winner, a pinpoint accurate shot that went bar down.

2. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Another two goals helped the Blackhawks to a dominant 6-1 win against the playoff-bound Dallas Stars.

Kane’s had an incredible season (along to with Jonathan Toews, whose two assists helped him set a new career-high in that category).

3. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

He’s likely going to get robbed of the Vezina, so here’s a star for an incredible season.

Gibson has endured a season without a defense or much scoring in front of him and still has 26 wins, an impressive save percentage and unreal underlying statistics that have him ranked with the best in the league.

Gibson made 37 assists for the Ducks in a 5-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. The Ducks finished 11-5-1 in their final 17 games. Gibson had seven wins in his last nine starts.

Highlights of the night

Sam Steel continues to shine:

Panarin’s shootout winner:

Bob’s best:

Kane’s wrister:

Factoids

Scores

Blue Jackets 3, Rangers 2 (SO)
Blackhawks 6, Stars 1
Duck 5, Kings 2


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

John Gibson deserves to be Vezina candidate, if not the winner

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If there’s one travesty come June when the NHL’s awards are handed out, it’s that John Gibson won’t be up on stage receiving the Vezina Trophy for the NHL’s best goaltender.

Yes. John Gibson. An NHL goaltender on one of the worst teams in the league, a team that’s fighting for the right to pick first overall rather than raise a second Stanley Cup banner in Anaheim.

It might seem like insanity. Maybe it is.

The Vezina’s three finalists will probably look something like this: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ben Bishop and Frederik Andersen.

Vasilevskiy, of course, because he’s an incredible goaltender playing on perhaps the best regular-season team in NHL history in the Tampa Bay Lightning. There’s a solid case to be made for a guy with six shutouts, a .927 save percentage and 37 wins entering Friday.

Bishop, because he leads the league with a .933 save percentage and has given a low-scoring Dallas Stars team every opportunity to be in the playoff position they’re in.

Andersen, because despite the milk carton defense in Toronto, has put together an impressive season sans help from his Maple Leafs teammates.

Their numbers are the shiny ones you see when you Google goalie statistics. Their names are atop the rankings of basic goaltending statistics.

They’re all elite goalies, don’t get me wrong, and this is taking nothing away from what they’ve accomplished.

But what John Gibson has done trumps them all.

Gibson’s numbers, on a surface level, look pedestrian. He’s posted a .915 save percentage and a 2.89 goals-against average in 56 appearances this season. There are several guys ahead of him in that category and likely where the wheels begin to fall off in his Vezina case.

Are the NHL’s 31 general managers, who vote on the Vezina, going to dig much deeper? Probably not, and that’s where Gibson’s case comes to a screeching halt.

Here’s some truth: Gibson has saved more goals above the league average than any other goalie in the NHL this season. His goals-saved above average is 17.8, nearly a full goal and a half above Jaroslav Halak and more than a goal and a half more than Bishop. Andersen? Gibson’s got him beat by over 10 goals. Vasilevskiy? 16.

More truth: Among the 37 goalies this season that have played 1,500 minutes or more, Gibson ranks lowest with an expected save percentage of .913 in 5v5 situations when you factor in the type of shot quality he’s faced. His adjusted save percentage when look at the difference in his actual save percentage of .927 and the expect numbers, you arrive a 1.37, fourth best in the NHL, meaning that Gibson is well above the average of what he should be given the quality of shots he’s faced.

Speaking of quality and the number of shots faced, Gibson has seen more high-danger shots fired his way (299) than any other goalie in the league, and despite this, he’s managed a .823 save percentage, good for ninth best — higher than Andersen and Vasilevskiy. Bishop (.854, 207 shots against) is third, but has seen 92 less high-danger shots.

One more thing: Gibson has seen the fifth-most shots against per 60 minutes played, just slightly behind Andersen, both of whom are well ahead of Bishop and Vasilevskiy.

All these numbers aren’t just for show. They’re important statistics that show just how incredible Gibson’s season has been with the Ducks.

Recency bias won’t help his cause. People will say his season was front-loaded as the Ducks surprised a lot of people with their playoff positioning early on. Does Andersen get the same treatment? Does Vasilevskiy get dinged for the fact he’s blessed by an offensive and defensive juggernaut in front of him?

But don’t blame Gibson because his back broke from carrying the team so hard. Without him, the lowest scoring team in the NHL might be giving the 1974-75 Washington Capitals a run for their money for worst record ever.

Look, all four of these goalies deserve Vezina recognition. There are others, too. Robin Lehner on Long Island, Pekka Rinne in country music’s capital, Marc-Andre Fleury in Sin City.

The point of this exercise is this: often we write off great players on bad teams. Connor McDavid not deserving the Hart Trophy because he plays for the Edmonton Oilers is just one example. The problem with this mindset is we miss the exceptional that gets neglected because of it.

People will brush off a season like Gibson is having, saying his surface statistics are nothing to write home about and will continue along their merry way.

And that’s a shame, because if the Vezina is truly an award for the best goalie in NHL, then Gibson deserves to be, at the very least, in the room in Las Vegas later this June, if not on the stage saying his thank yous.

(Stats courtesy of Corsica)

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