Getty Images

Three questions facing Anaheim Ducks

2 Comments

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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.

Will they be able to improve shot suppression?

Anaheim’s goaltenders know what busy nights look like. Night after night they’ve been facing a ton of rubber from opponents and thanks to the play of the backstops like Frederik Andersen and John Gibson and their offensive weapons, they’ve been able to come out on the winning end of most games. 

The number of shots the Ducks have allowed has increased in each of the last three seasons. From 27.5/game in 2015-16 to 29.6/game (Randy Carlyle’s first season back in charge) to a whopping 33.1/game last season. You probably won’t be surprised to read that in Carlyle’s two full seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs they allowed 32.3 and 35.9 shots per game, respectively. Be prepared, John Gibson and Ryan Miller.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

Not much was done this off-season by general manager Bob Murray to help in that area. Andrej Sustr and Luke Schenn were brought in to help the defense. Prospects Marcus Pettersson and Jacob Larsson could lend a hand in the back, but the blue line will again rely heaviest on Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour.

What will be affected most by Murray’s “change” promise?

The Ducks weren’t going to be in the free agent market looking to lure a big fish on a long-term contract. There are enough of those on the roster at the moment; so it was a quiet July on the signing new talent front. Instead, Murray focused on keeping the likes of Adam Henrique and Brandon Montour and working on new deals for RFAs Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie.

The only real big change so far was the firing of assistant coach Steve Konowalchuk after one season.

No big trade or any sort of roster hacking this summer for Murray, but that doesn’t mean the leash is a long one should the Ducks get off to a slow start.

“I think the players better look in the mirror pretty quick,” he told Eric Stephens of The Athletic in June. “Let’s put it this way. Come September, I’m starting with a real hard look at the leadership group. And we’ll work from that.”

Are Caryle and Murray sharing a hot seat?

Over the last four seasons the Ducks have made the Western Conference Final twice and exited in the first round twice. The playoff loss at the hands of the San Jose Sharks in April was the first time the franchise had been swept in a series since 1999. Carlyle and Murray have presided over much success since they reunited two years ago, but this season they’ll need their youth step up and make themselves known in order to help keep the team competitive going forward.

Murray’s been the GM since 2008 and has a contract through the 2019-20 season. Ownership has stuck by his side through the ups and downs of the last decade, but is another disappointing season one that could finally force a change?

————

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.

Goaltending remains biggest question for much-improved Blues

Getty
9 Comments

Sometimes it feels like the St. Louis Blues have faced questions in net for about as long as water’s been wet.

In signing Jake Allen to a four-year, $17.4 million contract a little more than two years ago, the Blues hoped that they might finally have a true No. 1 goalie after bouncing around from Jaroslav Halak to Ryan Miller to Brian Elliott. They even gave Martin Brodeur a brief shot during the twilight games of his career.

(No, you weren’t hallucinating. Brodeur really did play for the Blues.)

Instead, Allen’s been a liability, to the point that he briefly more-or-less lost the 2017-18 starting job to Carter Hutton.

Interestingly, both of the Blues goalies cross their fingers for a rebound next season. The transition from Hutton to Chad Johnson is disastrous on paper if you only judge the netminders by their 2017-18 numbers, yet the bigger picture argues that Johnson can be one of the more reliable backups. Despite a horrendous .891 save percentage from last season, Johnson still has a career average save percentage of .910.

You can’t ask for much better than that from your No. 2, but the Blues still missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs even after Hutton played like a great starter for chunks of the past season. Simply put, the Blues need more from Allen.

Let’s consider some of the factors that might impact Allen.

  • To some extent, the 27-year-old (who turns 28 on Aug. 7) is who he is. Allen already has 219 regular-season and 22 playoff games under his belt. His career .913 save percentage is pretty mediocre, thus there’s a fear that the Blues will need to overcome Allen on more than a few occasions.
  • That said, he did generate a .920 save percentage over 47 games in 2015-16, and strong work during the 2016-17 postseason argues that Allen has a higher ceiling than many might assume.
  • No doubt, Allen’s 2017-18 was abysmal, as he went 27-25-3 with a backup-caliber .906 save percentage.

It’s frequently wise to dig a little deeper to try to figure out why a goalie might struggle. In Allen’s case last season, it came down to special teams situations. While he boasted a virtually identical even-strength save percentage in 2017-18 (.919) compared to 2016-17 (.918), his shorthanded save percentage plummeted from a career-high .901 to a career-low .834.

There’s a real worry with some goalies who simply can’t cut it in PK situations, whether that comes down to questionable lateral movement, struggles to see around screens, or any number of explanations. Even after considering those long-term concerns, it’s comforting to realize that last season might just be an aberration.

  • The Blues aren’t that far behind powers like the Maple Leafs when it comes to improving during the off-season. One of the delights of their bold moves to try to contend is that they landed a near-Selke-level two-way player in Ryan O'Reilly.
  • Some good and bad news is that the Blues generally carried on the tradition of playing strong defense and hogging the puck last season. At even-strength, they allowed the fifth-fewest “high-danger” chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The bright side is that the structure could very well give Allen a chance to enjoy a rejuvenation. The less optimistic take is that Allen has struggled at times even with a sturdy team in front of him.

  • Such digging doesn’t immediately dismiss Allen’s shorthanded struggles. Apparently the Blues allowed the fifth-fewest high-danger chances on the penalty kill, also according to Natural Stat Trick. It’s up to Allen more than anyone else to turn around those bad PK numbers, or at least it appears that way on paper.

***

Blues GM Doug Armstrong made quite a few moves that lead you to believe that St. Louis is swinging for the fences heading into 2018-19. If a letdown costs him his job, at least he’d be going out with a bang by making some attractive tweaks.

As wise as Armstrong often appears, so far, the organization making Allen “the guy” in net has really backfired.

Ultimately, his job and the Blues’ fate probably lands on Allen’s shoulders. Improvement seems plausible, yet we’ll need to wait and see if he’ll improve enough to allow the Blues to take advantage of all the weapons they added this summer.

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.

You can probably add Craig Anderson’s name to the available goalie market

Getty
7 Comments

After jettisoning Mike Hoffman earlier this week the Ottawa Senators may have a few more significant trades coming their way this offseason.

The big names at the top of that list include defenseman Erik Karlsson and forward Zack Smith.

Another name that could be on the way out of town: Starting goalie Craig Anderson, a potential move that only adds to a suddenly increasing goalie market.

Earlier on Friday there were multiple reports that the Senators were working with Anderson to facilitate a trade. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported the team was working with Anderson’s agent to find the veteran goalie a new home, while The Athletic’s Chris Stevenson reported that Anderson had expressed a desire to move on. Meanwhile, Anderson’s agent told Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun that “Ottawa has never asked for me help. They’re going to do whatever they can to improve their team. If that means they’ll trade Craig Anderson, they’ll trade Craig Anderson.”

So there is all of that.

While the unrestricted free agent market for potential starting goalies looked thin at the start of the season the goalie market has improved quite a bit over the past few days.

First, it seems quite likely that the Washington Capitals are going to trade Philipp Grubauer as he attempts to get out of Braden Holtby‘s shadow and become a starter. The Capitals are expecting to get a late first or early second round draft pick. He might be the most intriguing option available given his age and the fact he has played exceptionally well when given an opportunity with the Capitals.

Robin Lehner is also going to be available after the Buffalo Sabres confirmed that they will not be giving him a restricted free agent qualifying offer, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. Lehner is coming off of a down year for the Sabres in 2017-18 but was one of the few bright spots for the team in 2015-16 and 2016-17 with a .922 save percentage in 80 appearances. He turns 27 later this summer and would not cost any assets to acquire in a trade.

[Related: Time for the Sabres to upgrade in goal]

And then there is Anderson. For most of his career Anderson has been one of the more productive starting goalies in the league and has pretty consistently posted strong numbers. But like most of the Senators he is coming off of a brutal 2017-18 performance and will be 37 years old at the start of the season, making him the third oldest goalie in the league behind only Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Miller. He also is signed for two more years at more than $4 million per season. Along with the assets a team would have to give up in a trade (probably not a lot) that is a big price to commit to a goalie that has probably already played his best hockey.

Still, there are some options. And there are a lot of teams that will be in the market for a goalie — probably more than we are used to seeing at this time of year.

The New York Islanders should be desperate to fix their goalie situation and have a connection to Grubauer with Trotz taking over as their new head coach.

The Sabres, by letting Lehner hit the open market, will also be in need of a new starter unless they really trust Linus Ullmark, which doesn’t seem likely.

The Senators, assuming they trade Anderson, would also need a new goaltender and you can’t count out the Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes, or Detroit Red Wings. The Chicago Blackhawks could also be in play for one of these guys if Corey Crawford — a player we still have no official update on —  isn’t ready to return for the start of the season.

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.

Significant changes could be coming to Ducks roster

Getty
4 Comments

After losing in the Western Conference Final to the Nashville Predators in 2017, many expected the Anaheim Ducks to go on another run this year. The Ducks had an up-and-down regular season, but did enough to finish second in the Pacific Division. Unfortunately for them, that’s as good as it got.

Once the playoffs kicked off, all they did was make a quick appearance. They had home-ice advantage going into their first-round series against the Sharks, but they still failed to win a single game during the series. They packed their bags for the summer after a 4-0 sweep at the hands of their California rivals.

Veteran teams that get swept in the first round are rarely spared of major changes the following off-season. So what changes might be coming in Anaheim this summer?

Corey Perry

When looking at the Ducks roster, the first name that jumps out as a possible trade candidate is Corey Perry.

Perry has won everything there is to win at the highest levels of hockey, but there’s no denying that his production has dried up over the last few years. Since 2013-14, his goal totals have been 43, 33, 34, 19 and 17. That’s a significant drop off for a guy who’s about to earn$8.625 per year for the next three years. If the Ducks can find a taker, they’d pull the trigger on a deal.

There’s a couple of issues though. First, he’s expensive. Second, we’ve already talked about his dip in production. And lastly, he also has a no-movement clause. Finding a team willing to take Perry and finding a squad he’s willing to go to won’t be easy for GM Bob Murray.

Oh, and by the way, Perry also added a zero points during Anaheim’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Sharks.

Taking a look at the 33-year-old’s advanced stats (via Natural Stat Trick), you can see the regression jump off the page. His CF% (47.46), FF% (46.70), SF% (46.70) and SF% (48.9) are some of the lowest numbers he’s posted in his career. This comes one year after he had already posted a bunch of new lows.

Ryan Kesler

Another veteran that might not be available for totally different reasons, is Ryan Kesler. The veteran has had injury troubles the last couple of years and his aching hips could cause him to miss all of 2018-19.

The Ducks only had him for 44 games in 2017-18, but it’s clear that he’s an important part of their team. He’s able to contribute offensively while playing a sound defensive game, too.

Again, unlike the Perry situation, this one is injury related, but it still affects their depth down the middle in a negative way.

Depth forwards

As of right now, the Ducks only have nine forwards under contract if you count Troy Terry, who played two regular season games at the end of last season. Depth players like Derek Grant, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly, Jason Chimera and J.T. Brown are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie are restricted free agents and both are expected back.

Murray has the benefit of being able to add some fresh new bodies to his lineup. There’s no need to bring back many (if any) of those depth forwards, so they could look at signing quality depth once the market opens.

As of right now, Anaheim has $65 million committed to next year’s team (the cap is expected to be between $78 million and $82 million next season). They’ll have a little wiggle room, but it’s important to note that Kase, Ritchie and defenseman Brandon Montour will all need to get raises this summer. Also, Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg and John Gibson will all need new contracts next off-season, so the Ducks can’t spend foolishly right now.

Defense

There probably won’t be too many changes on the back end in terms of veterans coming in and out of the lineup, as the Ducks already traded Sami Vatanen in-season. Expect them to roll with Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Montour and Korbinian Holzer. The biggest changes might come in the form of rookies Jacob Larsson and Marcus Pettersson, who could be ready to take on a regular shift with the Ducks next season. Both are highly-regarded prospects that should be around for many years to come.

One familiar face that will likely be gone is Kevin Bieksa, whose two-year, $8 million contract has finally come to an end. He served as a healthy scratch a few times last season, so don’t expect them to bring him back into the fold for another stint.

Goaltending 

Things probably won’t be much different between the pipes. Both Gibson and veteran backup Ryan Miller have one year remaining on their current contracts. Gibson will be an RFA next summer, while Miller will be free to test the open market if he chooses to do so.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Sharks advance after sweep of hapless Ducks

20 Comments

Few figured the San Jose Sharks would have had it this easy against the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim came roaring into the postseason, winners of five straight and eight of their past 10 as they worked their way into second place in the Pacific Division

Perhaps they just ran out of gas or, perhaps, the Sharks are quite good at Duck Hunt. Either way, the Sharks made quick work of their California rivals, recording the sweep after a 2-1 win on Wednesday in Game 4.

The truth is the Sharks were far and away the better team in the series and the Ducks — outside of John Gibson — were horribly inept offensively and couldn’t handle the Sharks’ offensive attack, or solve Martin Jones.

After being shutout in Game 1, the Ducks lost a close 3-2 decision in Game 2 only to follow that up with an incredibly embarrassing effort in an 8-1 loss in Game 3.

In Game 4, and on the cusp of being swept, the Ducks managed just a single goal as they went crashing out of the playoffs.

That’s four goals in four games.

Poor John Gibson. The Ducks’ No. 1 faced a combined 69 shots in Games 1 and 2 and then 24 in Game 3 before being pulled, mercifully, in favor of Ryan Miller. In Game 4, Gibson faced a further 24 shots and once again received next to no run support.

The Ducks’ veteran core of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry combined for four points in the series. Perry was shutout entirely and the trio failed to combine for a single goal.

The Sharks were very much the opposite.

Captain Joe Pavelski had a goal and four assists. Logan Couture had two goals and five points. Evander Kane, acquired at the trade deadline, scored three times and added an assist.

And then there was Marcus Sorensen, who in 32 regular season games only scored five times but had three goals and an assist in four games in the series.

Jones got all the run support Gibson didn’t and was equally as good, turning aside 131 of the 135 shots he faced during the four game.

The Sharks will play the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round after Vegas swept the Los Angeles Kings in four games on Tuesday.


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