John Gibson

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.

Ducks’ Ryan Miller eyeing Hasek on wins list, unsure of playing future

Ryan Miller will turn 40 in July, and while he can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer, he’s keeping his focus on hoping to complete the 2019-20 season. The Ducks goaltender told Sportsnet’s Gene Principe that he’s not sure if he’ll continue playing beyond this season, citing the uncertainly regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s a lot of talk here in California that schools are not going to be fully in session possibly into next year,” Miller said. “That changes the dynamic around the house and what needs to happen and what’s important.”

Anaheim had 11 games to play at the time of the NHL pause on March 12. Miller, who has 387 career wins between his time with the Sabres, Blues, Canucks, and Ducks, would like to catch Dominik Hasek (389) for 14th all-time.

“I was right there, I was really hoping I could catch Dominik,” Miller said. “That’d be something special to me because coming into Buffalo, following in his footsteps and expectations was quite a heavy thing at first, and I was happy I was able to learn how to kind of create my own space in Buffalo and play my own game and separate myself and be a different goaltender from his legacy. So definitely something that would have been fun to chase down, and I’m still hopeful that this year that can happen.”

Miller made his NHL debut with the Sabres in November 2002, two seasons after Hasek was dealt from Buffalo to the Red Wings.

After years as a starter, Miller has found a late-career role as a backup for John Gibson. In 71 appearances with the Ducks since 2017-18, he’s posted a .916 even strength save percentage and helped them to 29 wins in 57 starts.

“I fell off that pace a little while ago, and I’ve just been trying to chip away at [reaching 400 wins], becoming a backup in Anaheim,” he said. “Still having fun, still enjoying going to the rink, and still very competitive. This whole situation we’re all going through is definitely a curveball.

“I would love to have a chance to put the gear on and give it another chance, but like everybody else we’ll have to wait and see how it’s going to play out.”

As he waits the pause out, Miller is auctioning off equipment and autographed items to help families with children affected by the pandemic. FeedMore WNY, Buffalo PAL, and Second Harvest Food Bank of OC will benefit from the money raised.

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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.

A best on best mythical tournament: Players that missed the cut

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament. The first teams created were a 23-and-under, players in their prime and players 30-and-older.

While the other teams in this mythical competition secured the best players from each age bracket, there were still plenty of high-impact players available to form another super team. This roster was able to take a unique combination of characteristics from players of all ages and create a team that is very well-balanced. They have the star power to skate stride for stride with the other teams in the tournament, and the depth to not only survive a long series but potentially thrive.

Line Combinations

First line: J.T. MillerSteven StamkosVladimir Tarasenko

Thoughts: It was surprising to slide Miller onto the top line, but he has finally lived up to his potential playing with elite talent on the Vancouver Canucks. He is 17th in the league with 72 points this season and skating alongside two highly skilled players should only increase his offensive production. Tarasenko has missed most of the season with a shoulder injury but his body of work speaks for itself.

Second line: Anders LeeJohn TavaresPhil Kessel

Thoughts: Lee had his only 40-goal season playing alongside John Tavares two years ago with the New York Islanders and has remained one of the league’s best net-front presences since No. 91 signed with Toronto. Patrick Kane echoed Mathew Barzal’s suggestion that Lee was one of the best puck tippers in the entire NHL. Kessel should also add an element of speed and an ability to score to balance out this dangerous trio.

Third line: Elias PetterssonAleksander BarkovWilliam Nylander

Thoughts: All three of these players are on the cusp of being superstars and each one should have a sizeable chip on his shoulder. This tournament would be a perfect opportunity for these players to elevate their status from up-and-coming players to established stars. Barkov has the entire skillset to bring out the best in each of his linemates on both ends of the ice.

Fourth line: Ondrej PalatSean CouturierTom Wilson

Thoughts: Wilson was an interesting player to include in this tournament, but he has proven in the past that he possesses the offensive skill to go along with his tough style of play. Couturier has become one of the top shutdown centers in the league and will be a contender for the Selke trophy for years to come. All three individuals understand the commitment it takes to be sharp in their own end of the ice without diminishing their offensive abilities.

First D pairing: Quinn HughesShea Weber

Second D pairing: Ivan ProvorovErik Karlsson

Third D pairing: Miro HeiskanenBrent Burns

Thoughts: There is not much else you need on a blueline but the biggest question facing this collection of defensemen: is Hughes is ready to handle top line minutes against the high-scoring lines from the opposition? If not, Provorov and Heiskanen are more than capable of sliding up the lineup and the group has more than enough talent to compete against any combination of forwards.

Starting Goalie: Carey Price

Backup Goalie: John Gibson

Just Missed (again): Nicklas Backstrom, Brock Boeser, Tyler Seguin, Ryan Suter, Jonathan Toews

Captain: Shea Weber

Alternate captains: John Tavares, Steven Stamkos

Coach: We have not had this category for our other teams, but is there a better coach in the league to motivate players passed over than John Tortorella? He didn’t have much success with Team USA in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, but his performance behind the Blue Jackets’ bench this season has been superb after the departure of several key stars.

Analysis

Even though these players missed the cut for the initial rosters, this group of misfits is still a formidable team that could stand its ground against the competition. Whether its firepower, depth, size, speed, skill, toughness or any other critical characteristic a team needs to compete, this group of players is not lacking in any department. Without the restrictions of players fitting into a certain age bracket, this team has a strong mix of diverse skillsets.

One characteristic that stands out amongst this group is their size. Each line has a strong net-front presence and the ability to pin a team in their own zone for long stretches of time.

Despite the collection of prolific talent there are a few questions up front. Was Miller a one-hit wonder in Vancouver playing on the top line or can he replicate his production from this past season alongside Stamkos and Tarasenko? Will Tavares and Lee instantly find their chemistry?

Similarly to the 30-and-over team, can the third line win matchups against the top lines from the opposition? In addition, can the veterans on the blueline bring out the best in the three young lefties in the defensive group?

Even though there are plenty of questions and these players were pushed aside from the original rosters, this group has a legitimate shot to win the tournament.

Surprising omissions

Brock Boeser: It was a close call between him and Nylander for the third-line right-winger position, but the Canucks forward has not established himself as an elite winger just yet. In a few years this could be a very different discussion but at the current time, Nylander has been the more dynamic player.

Ryan Suter: A solid minutes-eating defenseman is an ingredient any roster could use during this tournament, but the other three left-handed shot defensemen were harder to omit. Suter’s veteran presence will be missed but Hughes, Provorov, and Heiskanen have developed into elite defenseman faster than anticipated.

Jonathan Toews: The captain of the Chicago Blackhawks has justifiably developed a reputation as one of the top two-way centermen in the NHL. He was within striking distance of crossing the 70-point mark for the second consecutive season. Toews was a very tough player to leave off the roster, but Couturier and Barkov are just a cut above.


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

What’s the long-term outlook for the 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.

Anaheim Ducks: This season’s biggest surprise, disappointment

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.

Biggest surprise so far

There are not many, but Adam Henrique would easily qualify.

He is not only the Ducks’ leading goal-scorer and point producer, he was also on track for a career year offensively with 26 goals and 43 points along with strong possession numbers in his 71 games. He has done most of that damage at even-strength while playing only around 16 minutes per game. By comparison, when he scored 30 goals during the 2015-16 season in New Jersey he did it while playing close to 20 minutes per game.

How efficient has his goal scoring been this season? Among the 334 forwards that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, Henrique ranks 27th in the league in goals per 60 minutes. That has him sandwiched directly between Connor McDavid and Artemi Panarin. In other words, at even-strength he has been one of the best goal-scorers in the league.

An impressive accomplishment in any context. Even more impressive while playing on an otherwise offensively starved hockey team.

Biggest disappointment so far

It is not any one particular player, but rather a collective group effort.

That group being all of their young forwards not really taking any sort of a meaningful step forward in their development. This isn’t to say that they should be written off, or that they still can’t become good NHL regulars, but the group of Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry, Max Comtois, and Sprong (before his trade to Washington) did not really make any sort of a meaningful impact this season offensively. That was going to be a must for the Ducks to be even remotely competitive.

Now, to be fair, all of them are age 22 or younger and have very brief NHL resumes. Not every rookie or young forward is going to step right into the NHL and succeed. But there had to be an expectation that somebody would make a big leap this season and take on a bigger role with the offense. It did not happen.

John Gibson still did not get much help

Entering this season Gibson had established himself as one of the league’s top goaltenders. A game-changer that could help elevate any team he plays on and give them a chance to win any given a game.

If there was a reason to believe this team as constructed could remain competitive, it would be the goaltending duo of him Gibson and Ryan Miller. It is an unfair expectation to put all of that expectation on just two players at one position, but it was the reality of the team’s situation right now. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they did not even really get that this season as Gibson went through the least productive seasons of his NHL career.

It is also hard to put a lot of the blame on him. The defense in front of him was mired by injuries all season and just didn’t perform at a level that was high enough to give their goaltenders any support. That in itself is a bit of a disappointment. That the Ducks have been blessed with one of the league’s most valuable assets (not only a franchise goalie, but an outstanding backup) and still were not able to be even remotely competitive.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks
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.