Ryan Getzlaf

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.

Brian Burke, Mike O’Connell feud over claims about Joe Thornton trade talks

Burke, O'Connell feud over Thornton trade
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Hockey fans have fond memories of Brian Burke’s feud with Kevin Lowe, and now it seems we have a sequel. Burke and former Bruins GM Mike O’Connell are in a war of words over alleged Joe Thornton trade talks. The biggest winners? Us.

Consider it a very short three act play or … boxing match, maybe more appropriately?

Round 1: Burke recalls trying to bring Thornton to the Ducks, “babysitting” O’Connell

Burke provided refreshingly candid answers to fan questions during an April 2 Twitter Q&A. The thread is worth your time, as Burke discusses the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Phil Kessel, Roberto Luongo, and Gary Bettman.

But it was a two-part bit about Burke trying to bring Thornton to the Ducks that got the ball rolling.

Burke explained that he’s “still bitter” that the Ducks didn’t land Thornton, and believes he offered O’Connell a better deal than the Bruins ultimately received from the Sharks.

Most fascinatingly, Burke even gave specifics about what he was willing to offer. Now, one can speculate about who would have been in the Ducks top five in 2005. Would Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry possibly been available for Thornton?

But either way … wow.

As a reminder, the Bruins ended up receiving Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart for Thornton. As Bruins fans would like to forget, Thornton continued to be a star for the Sharks, including winning the 2005-06 Hart Trophy.

[PHT Time Machine: The Eric Lindros trade that didn’t happen.]

Round 2: O’Connell says Burke’s Thornton claims were a “fabrication”

Things got juicier between O’Connell and Burke on Tuesday.

O’Connell told The Athletic’s Joe McDonald (sub required) that Burke’s hypothetical offer didn’t happen, and that the details were a “fabrication.”

“The details surrounding this story are fabricated and I can confirm that no such offer was made to me as I never informed Anaheim of my intentions to trade Joe Thornton,” O’Connell said. “Unfortunately, certain personalities never let the truth get in the way of their ultimate goal, self-promotion.”

Whew! (Shakes hand to indicate serious heat emanating from this rivalry.)

Round 3: Feud sizzles to a new level as Burke counters

Not to be outdone, Burke responded to O’Connell’s claims in a fiery appearance on ESPN on Ice with Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski. Burke made a key point by noting that current Ducks GM Bob Murray was in Burke’s office when he made the offer(s).

Burke also revived memories of wanting to battle Kevin Lowe in a fabled barn over the Dustin Penner offer sheet, saying “I wish we were in the same room, if you’re calling me a liar.” You really need to hear the entire clip, which Wyshynski posted:

*Ponders putting on oven mitts, this is all too hot to handle*

So obviously, this is a he-said, Burkie-said situation. We can only take each hockey executive’s word for it, and one could even argue that Murray might feel loyal to Burke.

But, considering the specifics of Burke’s claims, it seems feasible that the Ducks made some sort of offer for Thornton.

Theories

Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle.

It’s also crucial to realize how much a person’s memory can be altered by time. This happened in 2005, and sometimes the seeds of trades are planted far before a deal is consummated. It’s possible that O’Connell flat-out doesn’t remember Burke’s offer(s).

Not only has time passed, but O’Connell also took a ton of heat for the trade. McDonald notes this anonymous reaction from a Bruins player at the time of the trade:

“Are you kidding me? We traded Joe Thornton for three guys who can’t tie their skates.”

The Bruins fired O’Connell in March of 2006, and the Thornton trade undoubtedly served as a catalyst. Such events can leave you a bit scarred, and maybe even prompt you to forget certain details. Maybe phrasing like “babysitting” bothered O’Connell, even if I took it to mean that Burke was checking up on the situation quite often.

Or maybe O’Connell is right in claiming that Burke is making those Thornton trade claims with the “ultimate goal” of “self-promotion?”

One thing’s clear: this is fun

We can only really guess, and perhaps spend this coronavirus quarantine time imagining “What if?” scenarios. Could Thornton have pushed the Ducks into mini-dynasty status, as this was during their Chris Pronger – Scott Niedermayer era? Would the Bruins have landed blue chips rather than “guys who can’t tie their skates?”

(That’s totally unfair to Primeau, Sturm, and Stuart, as they all had lengthy NHL careers. Though I admit I have not received definitive proof of how adept they are with laces.)

The one thing we do know is that Thornton landed with the Sharks and had a great run. And that O’Connell (currently director of pro development for the Los Angeles Kings) and Burke (Sportsnet personality) probably aren’t best buds.

Hey, it’s a lot more fun than talking about escrow though, right?

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.

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

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Anaheim 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.

Anaheim Ducks

Record: 29-33-9 (71 games), 6th place in Pacific Division; out of playoff spot
Leading scorer: Adam Henrique — 43 points (26 goals, 17 assists)

In-season roster moves

Season overview

Things looked somewhat promising at the beginning of the year when the Ducks won six out of their first eight games, but it quickly turned into another season of regression and disappointment after that.

At the time of the season suspension the Ducks were in sixth place in the Pacific Division and on track for their worst overall record since the 2003-04 season.

They rank among the bottom-five in goals scored, goals against, power play percentage, penalty kill percentage, and shots on goal per game. It is going to be their second straight season without the postseason and the third consecutive year with a decrease in total points. Ryan Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg, and Rickard Rakell proved to still be productive players, but none of them made a significant impact that could help carry the offense. Most concerning is that none of their young forwards took a meaningful step forward offensively.

Along with a lack of offense, they have also been hit hard by injuries, especially on defense. Not one of their defensemen has played in more than 60 games this season, while Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Josh Manson (their top-three blue-liners) combined to miss 49 man-games due to injury.

Put those two things together, along with a down year (by his standards) season from starting goalie John Gibson and it is the recipe for a long season.

Highlight of the season so far

This is an easy one. Nicolas Deslauriers recording a natural hat trick against the Ottawa Senators. Before this game he had just four goals in 58 games this season and only 28 goals in 375 career games.

MORE:
Ducks’ biggest surprises, disappointments so far
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.

The Buzzer: Draisaitl carries Oilers again; Rinne shines for Predators

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. If the Draisaitl MVP train wasn’t already rolling along, it certainly is now. He scored a goal, assisted on the overtime game-winner on Sunday, and had another three-point game for the Oilers as he opened up a 13-point lead in the NHL scoring race. He is now on a 132-point pace for the season and is showing that he can absolutely drive the Oilers offense without Connor McDavid next to him.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators. The goaltending has not always been there for the Predators this season. It was there for them on Sunday afternoon in a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. Rinne stopped 38 out of 39 shots for the Predators to help them climb to within a single point of a playoff spot in the Western Conference with still several games in hand. Improved play from Rinne down the stretch could be a season-changer for the Predators. Read more about the Predators’ win on Sunday right here.

3. Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins. He thought he had a hat trick in the Penguins’ 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings, but his first goal was later awarded to Sam Lafferty. So he has to settle for a two-goal, three-point, plus-three day for the Penguins. He has not always looked his sharpest this season — he still brings the energy and physical play — but he is still on close to a 30-goal pace this season. With Sunday’s win the Penguins are now just one point behind the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division with still one game in hand. Read more about the Penguins’ win here.

Other notable performances from Sunday

  • Charlie McAvoy could not find the back of the net for the first few months of the season, and now he has three goals over his past few games. He opened the scoring in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Rangers on Sunday. Read more about the Bruins’ win right here.
  • On a day where the Devils traded away two key veterans (read about that here and here) Mackenzie Blackwood shined in net, turning aside 52 out of 55 shots in a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Highlights of the Day

The Anaheim Ducks are playing spoiler roll right now and handed the Vancouver Canucks a tough 5-1 loss on Sunday. It was highlighted by this play by Ryan Getzlaf to set up Derek Grant.

Turris scores the winner with just under three minutes to play in regulation.

Artem Anisimov helps the Ottawa Senators pull off the upset win over the Dallas Stars with an overtime goal.

Celebration of the day

Jack Eichel tells the Toronto fans in Buffalo to take a seat. The Sabres scored three goals in 1:31 (including one from Eichel) to get a 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs. Kyle Okposo also scored a goal during that stretch to record his 500th career NHL point.

Factoids

  • Connor Hellebucyk stopped 31 shots to help the Winnipeg Jets get a huge win over the Chicago Blackhawks. It is his 25th win of the season, putting him in second place in the NHL. [NHL PR]
  • Rasmus Dahlin now has the second most points in NHL history for a defenseman before their 20th birthday. [Sabres PR]
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk‘s goal just 12 seconds into Saturday’s game is the third fastest goal to start a game in Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise history. [NHL PR]

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Detroit Red Wings 1
Boston Bruins 3, New York Rangers 1
Edmonton Oilers 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3 (OT)
Anaheim Ducks 5, Vancouver Canucks 1
Nashville Predators 2, St. Louis Blues 1
Ottawa Senators 4, Dallas Stars 3 (OT)
New Jersey Devils 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (SO)
Buffalo Sabres 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Winnipeg Jets 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2

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.