It’s Vancouver Canucks Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Vancouver Canucks.

After a rough season under bench boss John Tortorella, the Vancouver Canucks went into the 2014-15 campaign hoping that new coach Willie Desjardins would prove to be a better fit for their organization.

He certainly got more out of their offense as the Canucks went from averaging 2.33 goals per game under Tortorella to 2.88 last season, which was good for eighth in the league. Their resurgence was thanks in no small part to the Sedin twins as their point totals jumped by more than 20 points each, bringing them up to 73 (Henrik) and 76 (Daniel) points in 2014-15. Newcomer Radim Vrbata also meshed well in Vancouver, recording 63 points including a team-leading 31 goals.

Fellow 2014 free agent signing Ryan Miller didn’t enjoy quite as smooth of a transition. While he did have a 15-3-0 record through Nov. 28, he was more of a mixed bag after that. Complicating matters, Miller suffered an knee injury in late February that kept him out of the lineup for most of the stretch run. That led to Eddie Lack opening the playoffs as Vancouver’s starting goaltender and while he was actually statistically superior to Miller in the regular season, the 27-year-old netminder ran into problems as the first round series against Calgary progressed.

Lack was replaced by Miller in Game 4, but it wasn’t enough as the Flames went on to eliminated Vancouver six games.

Off-season recap

Vancouver entered the summer with something of a goaltending logjam as in addition to Lack and Miller, Jacob Markstrom seemed deserving of a roster spot after a dominant season with the AHL’s Utica Comets. However, Canucks GM Jim Benning made the controversial decision to move Lack for a 2015 third-round pick (Guillaume Brisebois) and a 2016 seventh-round selection rather than trading the 35-year-old Miller.

In addition to that trade, Vancouver also sent defenseman Kevin Bieksa to Anaheim for a 2016 second-round pick and acquired Brandon Sutter and a 2016 third-rounder from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Nick Bonino, Alex Clendening, and a 2016 second-round selection.

Vancouver sees Sutter as a “foundation piece” and cemented its commitment to him by agreeing to a five-year, $21.875 million contract extension.

Ducks’ Biggest Question: Is their window already starting to close?

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In a young man’s league, is the Anaheim Ducks’ window to win the Stanley Cup already closing on them?

The Ducks have a dynamic one-two punch in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf while the presence of Ryan Kesler gives them a great anchor for their second line. But Getzlaf and Perry are 30 years old now while Kesler will be celebrating his 31st birthday on Aug. 31. To be clear, they’re still very much in their prime, but their long-term deals mean that the Ducks will be paying top dollar for them well into their 30s.

Starting with the 2016-17 campaign, Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler will be consuming approximately $23.8 million in combined cap space and that will persist through 2020-21. In other words, about a third of their cap by the standard of the 2015-16 ceiling will be consumed by just three players and while that’s not inherently a problem, it does mean that those three need to continue to be the team’s stars as the Ducks will have a hard time compensating with their remaining cap space if the trio starts to decline.

Of course, they might prove to be players that can excel into their late 30s, making the length of those contracts a non-issue, but we can’t know that will happen and with every passing year, the risk of diminished returns increases. So while Anaheim might end up being very competitive for the next five or even 10 years, they shouldn’t count on that being the case.

That means that there should be a sense of urgency for the Ducks going into the 2015-16 campaign even if their defense and Frederik Andersen remain relatively young. If they can win the Stanley Cup in the next couple of seasons, then paying for the potential long-term ramifications of Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler’s contracts will seem like a fair tradeoff given what the trio accomplished together. Otherwise, this era of the Ducks might be remember as one where they came close, but could never seal the deal.

Looking to make the leap: Nick Ritchie

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With their focus on competing for the Stanley Cup in 2015-16, the Anaheim Ducks haven’t left many openings for prospects to claim in training camp. Still, Nick Ritchie is someone worth keeping an eye on in September.

Taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, he’s arguably the team’s top forward prospect. Even when he was drafted he had the size to play in the NHL at 6-foot-3, 236 pounds, but he’s got more than just an imposing frame. Ritchie can play a skilled game too and is coming off of a campaign where he scored 29 goals and 62 points in 48 OHL contests. He added another 13 goals and 26 points in 14 playoff games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Going into training camp, he’ll likely be competing primarily with Jiri Sekac, Nicolas Kerdiles, and Stefan Noesen for a roster spot. All three of them have more experience than Ritchie, but arguably don’t match him in raw potential.

Ducks GM Bob Murray made it clear back in June that he wouldn’t rush Ritchie, per the Orange County Register, but he didn’t dismiss the possibility of him making the team anyways. Ultimately it will be a tough task for him to stick with the Ducks at the age of 19, but he might end up being a noteworthy complimentary player this season and much more than that down the road.

Under Pressure: Anaheim’s goaltenders

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While GM Bob Murray went and made upgrades to his blue line (Kevin Bieksa) and forward group (Chris Stewart, Carl Hagelin & Shawn Horcoff) during the offseason, one area of concern heading into the 2015-16 season is the Ducks’ goaltending situation.

Anaheim did acquire Anton Khudobin from the Carolina Hurricanes at the NHL Draft, but it’s hard to say the 29-year-old is the solution to the Ducks’ problem of inexperience in goal. Khudobin, who made 34 appearances with the Canes’ last season going 8-17-6, has never played a Stanley Cup playoff game.

Khudobin is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season.

Frederik Andersen, who was the Ducks’ starter in 2014-15, looked great in the playoffs against the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames, but against an experienced Blackhawks team, he faltered down the stretch.

The 25-year-old was 35-12-5 in 54 regular season games posting a 2.38 G.A.A. and a .914 save percentage. He appeared in all 16 playoff games posting an 11-5 record. After a sweep of the Jets and a five-game series win over the Flames, he struggled against the Blackhawks.

Andersen failed to register a save percentage higher than .875 in any of the last four games of the Western Conference Final – the Ducks won just one of those games.

Given that it was just his second full season in the league, it’s clear Andersen’s career is trending in the right direction, but with a core group of forwards that includes Ryan Getzlaf (30), Corey Perry (30) and Ryan Kesler (turning 31 on Aug. 31), do the Ducks have time to wait for the Dane to gain the necessary playoff experience to help them win a Stanley Cup?

Andersen is a restricted free agent next summer.

John Gibson is the third goaltender in the fold with the Ducks heading into the 2015-16 season.

The 22-year-old was the Ducks’ opening night starter last October dropping a 6-3 decision in his native Pittsburgh. Gibson was sidelined by a groin injury in early November allowing Andersen to take the reins.

Once healthy, Gibson found himself in the American Hockey League. He made 23 appearances with the Ducks last season posting a 13-8-0 record to go along with a 2.60 G.A.A. and a .914 save percentage. He also played 11 games with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals going 6-3-2.

“I’ve got to believe Gibby, now that he’s healthy, he wants to play,” said Boudreau during his year-end media availability. “He’s not used to sitting on the bench. And I think Freddie has gotten a taste of what it’s like to be No. 1 and he won’t let it up. I would venture to guess it would be a pretty good battle.”

Gibson is heading into the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent next summer.

With a combined 27 games of playoff experience under their belt, the Ducks goaltenders are under pressure heading into the 2015-16 season.

Anaheim Ducks ’15-16 Outlook

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The Anaheim Ducks are out to win the Stanley Cup now after falling just one win shy of beating the eventual champions in the Western Conference Final. They certainly have the core to go far, but do they have the depth?

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are one of the best offensive duos in the league while Ryan Kesler is a great two-way center that helped improve their second line in his first campaign with Anaheim in 2014-15. However, those three were the only members of the Ducks to record at least 40 points last season, which is part of the reason why Anaheim finished close to the middle of the pack with 2.78 goals per game.

There are reasons to hope for more in 2015-16 though, even if they did lose Matt Beleskey (22 goals) over the summer. The Ducks have added some capable secondary scorers Carl Hagelin, Shawn Horcoff, and Chris Stewart, but it’s Jakob Silfverberg that stands out the most among Anaheim’s forwards outside of its top-three. The 24-year-old had 39 points in the regular season, but he broke out in the playoffs with four goals and 14 assists in 16 contests. He meshed well with Kesler in the playoffs after Silfverberg only spent spent about a third of his five-on-five regular season minutes with the second-line center. If the two share the ice more frequently this season, it could result in a significantly improved second line.

Defensively, the Ducks will be anchored by newcomer Kevin Bieksa after losing Francois Beauchemin on the free agent market. That being said, it’s the team’s young defensive core of Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler that will go a long way towards determining if this is a successful campaign for Anaheim. They’ll also be leaning heavily on 25-year-old goaltender Frederik Andersen.

The hope is that their younger players have grown thanks to their lengthy playoff run. That needs to be true for the Ducks because while Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler are a vital part of their success, they’ve also already reached their peak. If Anaheim is to grow enough to get over the final hurdle standing between it and a championship, then that improvement will have to come from its talented youngsters.