Carlyle out, Murray in as Ducks finally make coaching change

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Everyone saw this coming — we just didn’t know when.

After losing their seventh straight game on Saturday and 19th in their past 21, the Anaheim Ducks finally made the choice to remove Randy Carlyle from his post as head coach on Sunday.

The team’s executive vice-president and general manager Bob Murray will assume the controls behind the bench with an interim title attached. Murray said the team will begin its search for Carlyle’s successor after their season is put out of its misery in April.

“We thank Randy for everything he has done for the organization,” Murray said in a release from the club on Sunday. “Leading the team to a Stanley Cup and three conference final appearances, he has accomplished so much in Anaheim. Difficult decisions need to be made when times are tough, and our play has clearly been unacceptable. We have a tradition of success in Anaheim and we need to get back to that.”

The Ducks got dusted by the surging Philadelphia Flyers 6-2 on Saturday, just another link in a chain of embarrassing losses during their recent seven-game skid.

Just look at some of these scores:

  • 4-0 loss to Ottawa
  • 4-1 loss to Montreal
  • 6-1 loss to Toronto
  • 9-3 loss to Winnipeg
  • 5-1 loss to St. Louis
  • 3-0 loss to New York Islanders

And this doesn’t even begin to delve into the team’s franchise record 12-game losing streak earlier this season. The Ducks managed a brief reprieve with back to back wins against the Minnesota Wild and New Jersey Devils before returning to regular, losing proceedings.

Carlyle was given a vote of confidence during that 12-game slide after showing signs of life in a 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets in January.

As LeBrun notes in the tweet above, former Edmonton Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins is considered the frontrunner to replace Carlyle. He’s already coaching the team’s future with San Diego of the American Hockey League, so the move makes sense from that angle.

Eakins wasn’t a world beater in Edmonton, however, and you wonder if Murray wouldn’t rather kick the tires with Joel Quenneville first than hand an unproven NHL head coach the reins.

Anaheim’s season only got worse last week when John Gibson got injured, forcing him to not dress in Saturday’s laugher.

Gibson has been the sole bright spot in Anaheim, despite all of the losing and deserves to be in the conversation for the Vezina.

But his grip on that trophy has lessened over the past couple of months, but it hasn’t really been any fault of his own. He has given the Ducks plenty of opportunities to win, only to watch the team in front of him fall apart on most nights. He got lit up for six goals in the first period last week against the Winnipeg Jets. The team in front of him did little to stop the onslaught. And that’s just one example of many during this horrid stretch.

The Ducks have just 127 goals for this season, lowest amongst NHL teams. They’ve given up the third-most number of shots and tied for the third-most goals allowed. And yet the Ducks are somehow still only six points out of a playoff spot.

Given their current play, however, that six points is akin to scaling Mount Everest without crampons. It just isn’t happening.

Carlyle leaves the Ducks (for the second time) as their winningest coach with 384 wins and led the team to the playoffs in seven of eight full seasons with the team, including the 2007 Stanley Cup. In his second tour of duty as bench boss in Orange County, Carlyle was 111-74-35. He’s bound to find a new home eventually.

You have to believe that Murray’s job will be in the crosshairs as the team moves forward. He’s been in his role for over a decade now and the Ducks have only reached the Western Conference Final under Murray’s guidance since winning the Cup under Brian Burke.

The team still has two more seasons of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry making a combined $17-million-plus and another three years of Ryan Kesler making close to $7 million. That’s a quarter of their salary cap and they need to find money for Jakob Silfverberg this offseason (unless he’s shipped out at the trade deadline). Gibson’s new contract kicks in next year, too, with another $4 million being added to his AAV.

All of this has happened while other teams in the Pacific Division have strengthened their rosters. From Erik Karlsson going to the San Jose Sharks to Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny heading to Vegas. The emergence of the Calgary Flames has also taken the Ducks down a notch and it’s looking like the Central Division will be sending five teams to the playoffs to the Pacific’s three. It’s a tough conference as it is, and having a few contracts handcuffing the additions of better talent isn’t helping.

And the problem is you can’t really blow it up. Who’s going to want any of those contracts?


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

NHL Trade Deadline 2019: Four playoff bubble teams that need to sell

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With the 2019 NHL trade deadline coming up on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET, we already have a pretty good idea as to who the clear buyers and sellers are.

We know Tampa Bay, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Vegas, Calgary, Nashville, Boston, Washington, San Jose and a few others (New York Islanders? Montreal Canadiens?) at the top of the standings will be buying.

We also know the teams at the bottom of the standings will be selling — teams like Detroit, Ottawa, New Jersey, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other clear rebuilding teams. We already looked at a couple of those teams in depth a little. (Chicago here; Los Angeles here).

We also know there are probably a few teams in the middle that might tinker with their roster a bit with a bigger picture move here or there. Maybe they even simply stay the course and do nothing. Teams like Vancouver, Carolina, and Buffalo.

Then there are a couple of teams that are still on the playoff bubble that have some big decisions to make.  Here, we take a look at four teams that are probably still considered on the playoff bubble that should resist the temptation to add and go into a seller mode.

[Related: PHT’s 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

1. Anaheim Ducks. The record is a mirage. It is not even a good record, but it is still a mirage. The standings say they are only three points out of a playoff spot, which might be manageable and doable under normal conditions in a normal season. But they are only three points out of a playoff spot because the bottom half of the Western Conference is as bad as it’s ever been, and because John Gibson and Ryan Miller carried them to more wins than they deserved early in the season.

Even with three-point gap they still have five teams ahead of them for a playoff spot. They are also only on pace for 78 points this season. That is awful, and the fact they are still “in it” is a testament to how bad the rest of the Western Conference is around them.

Not only are the Ducks arguably the worst team in the NHL right now — and seemingly getting worse by the day — they have three massive contracts tied up in players age 33 or older and only have five draft picks in the 2019 class. So they’re bad now and are probably going to be bad for the foreseeable future. Yes, Corey Perry has only played in two games played this season. Yes, Ryan Kesler has dealt with injuries recently. But let’s be honest about this mess and admit that this team isn’t a 33-year-old Corey Perry and a 34-year-old Ryan Kesler away from being good again.

There should be no one on this roster that is untouchable other than John Gibson.

Jakob Silfverberg is their big upcoming free agent and they should absolutely be looking to move him. Given their current salary cap situation they can’t afford another long-term deal on a player pushing 30 that probably won’t be an impact player.

Tear it down and start over.

2. Florida Panthers. For the second year in a row the Panthers began the season by falling flat on their face in the first two months before trying to put it all together for a second half push that will ultimately fall short.

The Panthers already started selling by sending Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to Pittsburgh in an effort to dump salary.

Those salary dumps did two things.

First, it added to the Panthers’ stockpile of draft picks and gives them nine picks in 2019. It also helped them clear future salary cap space to prepare themselves for a run at Sergei Bobrovsky and/or Artemi Panarin. Or any other free agent they have their sights set on.

That sell off should continue in the coming weeks. Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan, both acquired in the Pittsburgh trade, have no real long-term value to the Panthers beyond this season and could easily be flipped again as rentals at the deadline for additional picks. If they are going to take a run at Bobrovsky that means one of their goalies that is already under contract beyond this season (for several more seasons) is going to need to go.

The Panthers aren’t going to make up enough ground in the playoff race to be a factor this season, but they can position themselves to be players in the offseason and hopefully build around their of Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, and Jonathan Huberdeau.

3. Philadelphia Flyers. Goalies are weird, and projecting goalies long-term performance is not something you want to try to do based on less than 30 games at the NHL level because there is a good chance you are going to make yourself look like an idiot in the future by being horribly wrong. Having said that, I’m going to take a chance here and say Carter Hart might be the player. He might be the player the Flyers and their fans have been waiting for. He might be the player that actually sets them in net and positively impacts the franchise.

He might be. He could be. Maybe he is?

Heck, he has already helped change this season by arriving in the NHL and backstopping the team to an eight-game winning streak that has a chance to keep going with a couple of dog teams on the schedule over the next week.

That is all great news for the future of the Flyers. Perhaps even as soon as next season. But even with this current hot streak they are still five points out of a playoff spot and they still have three teams ahead of them. For as much ground as they have gained over the past two weeks that is still a difficult gap to overcome and they’re not going to keep winning forever.

When Chuck Fletcher took over as the new general manager I argued he needed to let this season play itself out, evaluate what he is, and then address what he still needs in the offseason. In other words, don’t come in and take a machete to the roster and don’t make some foolish short-term addition to the roster that tries to salvage the season. Let it play out.

With Hart emerging as the team’s starting goalie he could be a game-changer for them and it might be worth seeing what a core built around Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier can do with an actual living, breathing, solid NHL goalie. So a tear down probably isn’t in the cards.

What should be in the cards is dealing the upcoming unrestricted free agents on the roster (Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl specifically) if there is a market for them, and perhaps trying to dump an undesirable contract (Andrew MacDonald?).

The hot streak is probably (heavy emphasis on probably) too little, too late, but offers some encouragement for the very near future. There are pieces here to sell, but don’t blow it all up just yet.

4. Edmonton Oilers. They need to do something to fix this mess. But what is that something? The head coach and general manager are already gone There aren’t many options here that don’t result in another core player (likely Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Oscar Klefbom) getting shipped out. Given their history of those moves, that would probably be disastrous.

The Oilers look like a team that is on track to miss the playoffs, again, and there is no rental or addition they can possibly make in the next three weeks that is going to change that.

So they need to sell. Sell whatever they can that isn’t named McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins or Klefbom.

Some of that will be difficult because there isn’t much here beyond those four that has a lot of value. But the one name that stands out is Alex Chiasson. He joined the Oilers for nothing on a PTO, earned a spot on the roster, and has had a surprisingly decent season that has already seem him set a career high in goals scored.

A very Oilers-like move would be to look at a 28-year-old winger having a career season that is driven by an unsustainably high 25 percent shooting percentage and thinking, “he’s going to repeat this! Let’s sign him!”

The sensible move is to sell high, cash in what they can, and try to pick up a future asset for a player that was a pleasant surprise for you.

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 best, most jaw-dropping saves of 2018 (PHT Year in Review)

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Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and more as we remember 2018.

Goalies. They’re a hockey team’s last refuge.

They’re tasked with what seems impossible at times. Saving hard, rubber pucks flying at blistering, dangerous speeds. The pads and other equipment are only getting smaller yet these brave souls choose to stand in harm’s way.

It’s admirable, above all else.

Goalies are the most important part of a hockey team. Most of the saves they make throughout the course of a season are routine. Flick the right pad out here, throw the glove the hand there.

But some… go above and beyond the call of duty. Some saves shouldn’t be saves at all. They defy logic. Sometimes physics, too. And we’re left only to watch in amazement and marvel at the replays.

And so while we approach the end of 2018, we look back at some of the most incredible saves of the past year.

There’s no particular order for these. Many of them are equally incredible in their own right and deserve to lauded as such.

The first we will see here is Marc-Andre Fleury being, well, Marc-Andre Fleury. Claude Giroux should have scored. He didn’t because of MAF.

Some saves are not only incredible but should be given a primary assist because, without them, the chance to score would simply vanish.

Colorado Avalanche goalie Jonathan Bernier‘s paddle save on Ryan Kesler was tremendous in and of itself, and then it led to a goal by Nathan MacKinnon.

Goalies often have to make quick saves in succession.

A couple of quick shots or perhaps a shot and a save off the ensuing rebound.

Things like that.

In November, Carolina Hurricanes puck stopper Scott Darling robbed Anthony Mantha of a hat trick and then Mike Green of a game winner back to back in overtime.

November was a good month for saves that can’t be explained.

Calvin Peterson isn’t a household name (probably not even to Los Angeles Kings fans), but his save on Loui Eriksson was so dirty that he changed all that with one twist of his body and flash of his glove.

The two-pad stack is a thing of beauty.

Throughout the history of the NHL, there have been some insane variations of it all with the same ending: a jaw-dropping save and a dejected shooter.

Henrik Lundqvist appears here as the perpetrator. Evan Rodrigues is the poor victim.

David Pastrnak has a knack (get it?) for scoring goals.

He’s carving out a nice career doing so thus far.

But in the Stanley Cup Playoffs he had a sure goal snatched off the goal line by the paddle of Freddie Andersen.

Highway robbery in the worst degree.

Braden Holtby produced some magic last season, but arguably his best save of his career came in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

With the Caps down one game in the series and leading 3-2 in the game, Holtby came to the rescue after a bad bounce of the stanchion at T-Mobile Arena.

Alex Tuch‘s look of horror said it all.

Alex Ovechkin‘s relief did, too.

Of all the best saves this season, none was more important — and arguably better looking — than the one Holtby delivered in Game 2.

* * * * *

Of course, the NHL is only one breeding ground for great saves. There are leagues across the world that produce the same quality.

The first save was good. The second was stellar. The third was just embarrassing for the team on offense:

I’ve said it before (probably above) and I’ll say it again, paddle saves are the best saves.

Here’s a beauty from the BCHL:

Some goalies don’t get a save-of-the-year candidate in their career.

Kyle Keyser of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals got two in four days.

Paddles, man.

Paddles.

PHT’s Sean Leahy did a whole post on this save.

Again with the paddle. But holy moly, this is bananas.

No Russian translation required.

And don’t forget to watch the Top 18 saves of the season from NBC Sports.

More PHT Year in Review:
• Bloopers
Moments

Goals
Players

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

Ducks’ injury problems could derail hot streak

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The Anaheim Ducks have really been heating up lately, grabbing six wins in their last seven games. A painfully familiar problem could derail all of that promise, however, as injuries are once again mounting.

The Ducks provided two unfortunate updates on Tuesday:

***

Ryan Miller: The superb backup suffered an MCL sprain during Sunday’s wild 6-5 shootout win against the Devils. His recovery window is estimated at six weeks, while they’ll evaluate the veteran goalie once more in two weeks.

As you can note from this breakdown from Anaheim’s five-game winning streak, much of the Ducks’ success came from an impeccable goalie duo of Miller and John Gibson. Gibson is the Vezina-level workhorse, but don’t count out Miller’s contributions. He’s continued a so-far-phenomenal run with the Ducks, managing a .922 save percentage in 10 games this season (with four goals allowed against New Jersey hurting his numbers more than a bit).

Anaheim did get at least one bit of good luck here, relatively speaking. The Ducks were able to pluck an experienced goalie in Chad Johnson off of waivers, as they took him off of the St. Louis Blues’ hands. His former Bengals WR namesake celebrated the occasion:

Johnson’s off to a lousy start in 2018-19 (.884 save percentage in 10 games), and really struggled with the Calgary Flames last season. Even so, his .909 career save percentage is still pretty good for a journeyman backup, especially since the Ducks didn’t need to cough up any assets to give him a try.

None of this makes Miller’s loss good news, yet there’s at least a chance that Johnson could hold down the fort whenever Gibson needs a breather.

***

Rickard Rakell: the Ducks didn’t provide a timetable for the winger’s return, labeling his injury as a sprained ankle.

The Athletic’s Eric Stephens reports that Rakell was wearing a protective boot this weekend:

Despite being out since Dec. 5, Rakell stands as the Ducks’ second-highest scorer (20 points in 30 games), trailing only Ryan Getzlaf.

While that 6-5 shootout win against the Devils shows that Anaheim can fill the net from time to time (pauses for own-goal jokes), they’ve generally been scoring just enough to win lately. With that in mind, Rakell’s injury really stings, especially if Nick Ritchie and Pontus Aberg start to cool off.

***

To review, Miller and Rakell join a growing list of injured Ducks. Corey Perry and Cam Fowler are recovering from significant issues that required surgeries. Patrick Eaves is also dealing with injury/health issues, and it’s fair to wonder how often Ryan Kesler is truly at full-strength.

At the moment, the Ducks are ranked third in the Pacific Division with 37 points in 32 games, as the Sharks have the same 16-11-5 record but own an edge in ROW (16 to 13). They’ll close their current homestand out on Wednesday, then head out on the road for six straight away games, mostly against Eastern Conference teams:

Wed, Dec. 12: vs. Dallas
Sat, Dec. 15: @ Columbus
Mon, Dec. 17: @ Pittsburgh
Tue, Dec. 18: @ Rangers
Thu, Dec. 20: @ Boston
Sat, Dec. 22: @ Buffalo
Thu, Dec. 27: @ San Jose

It hasn’t always been pretty for the Ducks, but credit them for fighting through injuries. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll need to keep doing so.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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 sign GM Bob Murray to two-year extension

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The Anaheim Ducks have committed to general manager Bob Murray for a few more seasons.

The team announced on Saturday that it has signed Murray to a two-year contract extension that will now run through the end of the 2021-22 season.

“Bob has created a winning organization with his commitment and expertise,” said Ducks’ CEO Michael Schulman in a statement released by the team. “We are very pleased to be in a position where expectations are high virtually every season, thanks in large part to Bob and his staff. We passionately share a common goal – bringing another Stanley Cup to Orange County.”

Murray has been the Ducks’ general manager since early in the 2008 season and during his time has guided them to eight playoff appearances and two trips to the Western Conference Final.

He was an assistant general manager when the team won its first Stanley Cup during the 2006-07 season.

Currently, the Ducks sit in second-place in the Pacific Division three points behind the Calgary Flames.

[Related: Ducks’ winning streak: luck, skill, Gibson?]

They are also a team that seems to be at a bit of a crossroads and where they go next is a bit of a mystery. Are they still a team that has a chance to seriously compete for a championship in the coming years? Or are they an aging team nearing a time where they have to start looking toward the future? The on-ice results in terms of the standings have been fine this season, but they’ve also been bailed out pretty consistently by their two goalies, John Gibson and Ryan Miller, and that may not be a long-term recipe for success given the way the rest of the team has played. They are one of the worst possession teams in the league and have also been outscored by 14 goals on the season, the fifth-worst goal differential in the league and by far the worst of any team currently in a playoff position. Not many teams make the playoffs with a goal differential that bad, so something is going to have to give there. Injuries have certainly played a role in some of those struggles, but the team has definitely been dependent goaltending and some good luck going their way this season.

Overall the roster on paper — when healthy — looks pretty good and has some talent, but they also have a lot of aging stars on big contracts, specifically Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler, all of whom are signed for at least the next three seasons at a combined salary cap hit of just under $24 million per season.

Whatever direction they decide to go in over the coming seasons, the Ducks have committed to Murray being the person in charge of it.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.