Michael Del Zotto

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What’s the long-term outlook for the Ducks?

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.

Ducks goalie Ryan Miller at ease entering twilight of career

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — With a smile and a wave to the crowd, Anaheim Ducks goalie Ryan Miller left the ice in Buffalo a winner for perhaps one last time.

”Yeah, the fans in Buffalo have always been great,” Miller said, acknowledging the cheers he heard in being introduced as the starter, and the more that followed when named the game’s third star in a 3-2 win Sunday.

The 39-year-old goalie spent his first 11 seasons in Buffalo. He expressed a hint of regret in knowing he won’t be in town Thursday when the Sabres honor members of the 2000-09-decade teams as part of the franchise’s seasonlong 50th anniversary celebrations.

”I’m actually going to miss that group of guys who are going to be here in a few more days,” he said, referring to many of his former teammates.

”I’ve got a little FOMO,” he said, referring to the phrase of having a fear of missing out. ”There’s a lot of guys on that list I’d like to be back with them in Buffalo.”

Whether it was the familiar setting or the victory that moved the former Michigan State standout into a tie with Mike Vernon for 15th on the NHL list, Miller was in a reflective mood at the end of a five-game road trip.

”I guess when I look back, I never would’ve expected to be on a list like that or playing this long, so I try to appreciate the opportunities, and it’s been fun,” he said.

As to how much longer he intends to keep playing, Miller gave no hint. And it made no difference when reminded he’s only four wins shy of matching Dominik Hasek– the starter he eventually replaced in Buffalo – and how close he is to 400.

”Yeah, it’s a nice round number. But I’m going to have to play longer to see where we get to after the next couple of months,” he said. ”I still enjoy it. And I still think I can play some hockey. But I’m starting to evaluate more about how my body feels, and am I able to do it at a high level.”

Miller showed few signs of age in stopping 31 shots, including all 15 in the third period, to improve to 7-5-3 in a season in which the Ducks have fallen out of playoff contention and are retooling an aging roster.

First-year coach Dallas Eakins praised Miller for how he has handled the switch to a backup.

”There’s zero arrogance with him, there’s zero entitlement with him, and I think that could come real easy to somebody who’s been in the game as long as him,” Eakins said of the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner and goalie who played a significant role in helping the U.S. win a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Eakins credited Miller for the time he’s spent mentoring the team’s youngsters.

”That’s not something that was encouraged by me. He’s done that on his own,” Eakins said.

”We’ve leaned on him. He’s got great experience in the game, and he’s somebody that I personally listen to a lot,” he added. ”He’s had an amazing career, and one I hope for him that keeps going.”

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto hasn’t seen Miller lose a step despite long stretches between starts.

”Every opportunity he’s in net, we have a chance to win,” he said. ”He brings his best game, and that’s a credit to his work ethic.”

Miller hasn’t lost his desire. That was evident when he recalled Friday night’s 5-4 loss at Toronto in which he made 30 saves. John Tavares decided the outcome, scoring on a power play with seven seconds left in overtime.

Miller was looking forward to the challenge matching up against the likes of Auston Matthews and a Maple Leafs’ lineup of snipers in a shootout.

”Really would have liked to have done that, so that was disappointing,” Miller said, before reflecting on his win over Buffalo. ”So this is a nice bounce back.”

Kakko’s debut a big — and rare — night for Rangers

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It is the start of a new era for the New York Rangers on Thursday night as they unveil their new roster that was strengthened over the summer with the additions of veterans Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, as well as the drafting of Kaapo Kakko.

Those additions have rapidly accelerated the team’s rebuild and definitely increased the excitement around the team. It might be dangerous for expectations to get too high right away, because even with the improvements it is still a very flawed roster with its share of weaknesses. But the entertainment level is going to skyrocket and there is at least a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Out of all of the new additions, Kakko’s debut should be the most anticipated in New York because this is the type of player Rangers fans haven’t really had the opportunity to experience in a long time.

If ever.

For as exciting as the Panarin signing may have been, that sort of thing is nothing new for Rangers fans. Big free agent signings and big name acquisitions are what this team does and has always done for decades. It is their brand. Big names, big money, bright lights. If there is a big-name player available on the open market or for trade, it is a good bet the Rangers are going to at least have a seat at the table when it comes to trying to acquire them.

That strategy has not always worked, but it is what they do.

Kakko, though, is a very different type of player.

If this rebuild is going to work, he is going to have to be one of the biggest players at the center of it. A young, mega-talented player with superstar potential that was drafted by the team. This is the type of player — if all goes according to plan — championship teams need. And it is the type of player that does not come through Madison Square Garden very often.

Think about it: Who was the last big-time prospect to make their debut for the Rangers with this much fanfare and this sort of potential?

They have had a lot good young players come through their system over the years with varying degrees of success. Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh all come to mind. They were all, in their own way, excellent players that had a lot of success in New York. But none of them brought the type of potential and excitement that a player like Kakko does.

They had some highly touted prospects that ended up being, for lack of a better word, flops (Michael Del Zotto, Pavel Brendl, Jamie Lundmark, Dan Blackburn, etc.) but not even they carried those kinds of expectations.

They didn’t have superstar, franchise-shifting potential.

First, the Rangers are almost never in a position to get such a player in the draft. Those players typically go within the first couple of picks and the Rangers have, historically, never really been in that spot.

When they selected Kakko No. 2 overall this year it marked just the third time in franchise history they used a top-two pick in draft, and the first time since 1966 when they selected defender Brad Park.

It was the first time they picked in the top-five since 1999 when they selected Brendl with the fourth overall pick, and it was only their sixth top-five pick ever.

The Rangers also haven’t really introduced a lot of young players to their lineup over the years and expected them to play major roles. Since the start of the 1990 season they have only had 11 different players make their NHL debut between the ages of 18 and 20 and go on to play a full season with the team.

You probably have to go back to Alexei Kovalev’s debut during the 1992-93 season to find a rookie debut that came with this much excitement in New York, with maybe an argument to be made for Henrik Lundqvist in 2005-06, but even that comes with the benefit of extreme hindsight and knowing what type of player Lundqvist turned into. Remember, when he made his debut he was already 23 years old and opened his rookie season as the backup to veteran Kevin Weekes.

Given their lack of depth down the middle and on defense, as well as the age of Lundqvist and the uncertainty behind him at the position, this is probably going to be another tough year for the Rangers. But it is still going to be a team worth watching every night and one that has a chance to build something special beyond this season.

The presence of Kakko in the organization is a big reason why all of that excitement now exists.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Ducks hope to rebuild on fly, return to playoff contention

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — After the Anaheim Ducks’ six-year playoff run ended with a resounding thud last spring, they added almost no significant outside talent to their roster.

If the Ducks hope to return to their usual heights this season, they’ll probably have to do it from within. That migration starts behind the bench, where coach Dallas Eakins is moving up from their AHL affiliate in San Diego to the big leagues.

The former Edmonton coach proved his acumen over the last four years while guiding many young players who will get prominent roles this season in Anaheim. Even after last season’s faceplant, the Ducks’ organizational depth is enviable, and they’re counting on new blood to refresh the veteran core of this longtime Stanley Cup contender.

”You can already see it and feel it around the room that guys are ready to go, and guys are ready to turn that page,” said forward Adam Henrique, a rare offensive bright spot last season. ”(Eakins) is great. It’s a lot of fun coming to the rink. He’s here to work.”

So are the youngsters gunning for major roles in Anaheim: Forwards Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry and Max Comtois are all 21 or younger. The Ducks need scoring after finishing last in the league in goals, and Eakins believes he has already coached the players who can help.

”This has always been an organization that’s hard to score against, and we don’t want to lose that,” Eakins said. ”We want that to be our identity. But if we don’t score, we can’t win, either. I’m a big believer that you can teach people how to score. It’s all about possession. We were near the bottom on shots last year, but telling players, ‘Hey, we need to shoot the puck more,’ is probably not a good plan. You’ve got to have the puck first.”

Anaheim is moving into the future after a bittersweet severing of its past. An era ended last June when the Ducks bought out Corey Perry‘s contract, ending his 14-year tenure alongside captain Ryan Getzlaf in parallel careers that started when the Ducks were still Mighty.

Perry scored just six goals in 31 games last year, but he was far from the only problem. Ryan Kesler will miss the upcoming season after struggling to return from major hip problems, and his career could be over even though he’s only halfway through his six-year, $41.5 million contract.

What’s more, a blue line that was once flush with elite homegrown talent is hoping for strong seasons from recently acquired defensemen Brendan Guhle, Michael Del Zotto or Chris Wideman.

But optimism currently runs high for the Ducks, who moved into a gorgeous new training complex in Irvine during the offseason.

Anaheim also has no problems in net. John Gibson is coming off another outstanding season despite his team’s woes, proving the Ducks were wise to lock him into a long-term contract, while they persuaded 39-year-old Ryan Miller to return as Gibson’s backup.

WHO’S HERE: Eakins, D Chris Wideman, D Michael Del Zotto, LW Nicolas Deslauriers.

WHO’S NOT: Perry, D Jaycob Megna, D Andy Welinski, C Ben Street, D Jake Dotchin.

KEY PLAYERS: Getzlaf’s connection with Eakins will be a key, and the captain appears to be completely on board. The Ducks badly need a bounce-back season from Rickard Rakell, who slipped from 67 goals over the previous two seasons to just 18 last year. Daniel Sprong, 22, is a candidate for a breakthrough after showing ample promise while scoring 14 goals last year. And with trade rumors finally dying down around Ondrej Kase, the Czech forward is positioned to build on the tantalizing promise he showed in 2017-18 before injuries largely ruined last season.

OUTLOOK: Anaheim has plenty of intriguing talent at all ages and experience levels. Eakins was considered a can’t-miss future star behind the bench when he took over the Oilers in 2013. If he proves to be a true difference-maker in his second shot at the NHL, the results should show up immediately.

PREDICTION: The Ducks are coming off their longest offseason since 2012 after going 35-37-10, and they’ve made no significant additions except behind the bench. Eakins will attempt to get improved results out of largely the same players – but the Ducks have more talent than they showed in their 5-21-4 collapse midway through last season, when they quit on Randy Carlyle. While it’s easy to categorize this as a rebuilding year, Anaheim hasn’t missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 2002. These written-off Ducks can muster a top-four finish in the Pacific Division, and maybe more.

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