Bob Murray

Injuries keep mounting for Ducks

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Even though they picked up a big 7-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night the Anaheim Ducks have been in a little bit of a funk over the past couple of weeks, losing four of their past six games.

Adding to the struggles is the fact the injury list is starting to grow a bit.

The team was already playing without forward Ondrej Kase and defender Hampus Lindholm, and on Wednesday general manager Bob Murray announced that another one of their top defenders, Josh Manson, is going to be sidelined for the next 5-10 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

Murray also added updates on Kase (jaw injury) and Lindholm (lower-body) saying that both will remain out of the lineup on a day-to-day basis.

Lindholm skated on Wednesday and is expected to be a full participant in practice on Thursday.

None of the three played in Tuesday’s win against the Jets, and while it seems likely that Kase and Lindholm will be back soon, the news on Manson is obviously a lot more dire. He was injured in the Ducks’ 2-1 loss to the Stars this past week and exited after playing just five minutes.

The Ducks did just acquire Erik Gudbranson from the Pittsburgh Penguins and he will no doubt get some additional minutes and a larger role as long as Manson and Lindholm are sidelined.

They also have one of the league’s best goaltending duos in John Gibson and Ryan Miller to lean on.

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.

Kesler, Eaves will miss Ducks’ entire 2019-20 season

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The Anaheim Ducks announced sad (if not exactly surprising) news on Friday, as they confirmed that both Patrick Eaves and Ryan Kesler will miss the entirety of the upcoming 2019-20 season.

Each 35-year-old forward is dealing with lingering health issues.

In the case of Eaves, it appears that the winger continues to deal with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which affects the nervous and immune system. Eaves’ struggles were first documented in October 2017, and while he’s courageously managed to play in the NHL since then, Eaves has ultimately only played in nine games during the past two seasons (two in 2017-18; seven in 2018-19). Back in March, Ducks GM Bob Murray stated that, with both Eaves and Kesler, the first goal was for both to be able to live a “normal life.” Here’s hoping that Eaves can indeed do so, even if it’s fair to wonder if his playing days are over even beyond 2019-20.

Kesler’s longer-term future also remains a question.

The cantankerous center has accrued a lot of wear-and-tear from deep playoff runs with the Canucks and Ducks, and that’s really caught up with him during the last few seasons, with hip issues being his most prominent (but likely not only) physical concern.

Kesler went from generating 22 goals and 58 points while averaging 21:18 TOI per game in a full 82 games in 2016-17 to a tough couple of seasons. In 2017-18, Kesler played in 44 games, managing 14 points and seeing his ice time slip to 18:02. Last season represented even lower lows, with Kesler producing just six points in 60 games with a 16:30 TOI average. His possession stats plummeted as well, which had to sting the 2011 Selke winner.

Simply put, it seemed like Kesler played far from 100 percent, and might have created a lot of long-term pain for whatever short-term gains the Ducks received.

While Eaves’ $3.15 million cap hit will clear off of the Ducks’ cap after 2019-20, Kesler’s $6.875M last for three more seasons (ending after 2021-22). Kesler’s contract goes from a no-movement clause to a modified no-trade clause, yet the biggest obstacle to potentially moving that cap hit is probably the structure. His per-year salary is pretty close to his cap hit at $6.675M for each of the next three seasons isn’t that far from the $6.875M AAV. In other words, there’s not a ton of incentive for a budget-conscious team to take on Kesler’s cap hit, as the salary nearly matches it.

Then again, the Ducks might find themselves becoming one of those bottom-feeding teams, depending upon how 2019-20 goes.

Either way, this Kesler situation is another reminder of the perils that come with handing aging players long-term contracts, particularly gritty ones who may be that much more likely to suffer serious injuries, as Kesler has.

It’s a tough situation for the Ducks, but here’s hoping both forwards at least enjoy a return to the sort of health that can let them enjoy quality lives, on or (most likely) off the ice.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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 should accept short-term pain for long-term gains

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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.

The Anaheim Ducks’ future may very well hinge on one x-factor among all others: GM Bob Murray’s self-awareness.

When a team has self-awareness, you can go from dour to hopeful with rocket speed, like the Rangers have. If you’re delusional, you can get stuck in hockey quicksand, like the troubled Wild.

Whether Murray wants to admit it or not, the Ducks seem headed toward that fork in the road in 2019-20.

[MORE: Three Questions | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | 2018-19 in review]

The road’s been bumpy up to this turning point, too. Randy Carlyle and Corey Perry are both out after a terrible 2018-19 season, and the Sharks summarily swept the Ducks in Round 1 to end 2017-18, so things have been dark for the Ducks for quite some time.

Despite all of the red flags waving around, one could picture Murray talking himself into this season being radically different.

  • What if Dallas Eakins fixes that broken Carlyle system, and seamlessly integrates young forwards like Sam Steel and Troy Terry?
  • Players like John Gibson, Ryan Getzlaf, and Cam Fowler could enjoy better injury luck.
  • Beyond the top three of the Sharks, Flames, and Golden Knights, the Pacific Division is pretty crummy. Why not us?

If you take an honest look at this Ducks team, though, ask yourself: what’s a realistic ceiling for this team?

When Ryan Getzlaf leads your team in scoring with 48 points despite being limited to 67 games played, and you basically flushed months of brilliant work from John Gibson down the toilet, you probably shouldn’t print those 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs tickets just yet.

GM Bob Murray’s perception of this Ducks team isn’t just Anaheim’s biggest X-factor for 2019-20, as the tug-of-war between seeking a playoff run and setting up this team for a better future could affect this team years down the line.

After all, Murray’s already dug a bit of a hole assuming that the Ducks have another run or two left.

Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique are fine players, but at 28 and 29 respectively, each having five years remaining at about a combined $11M is pretty unnerving. The Silfverberg extension happened during this past, disastrous season, so there’s reason to worry that Murray might still need convincing that at least a soft rebuild or pivot is necessary.

The Ducks have some anchors in Silfverberg and Henrique, which contrasts with the Rangers, who had contracts teams wanted, including Mats Zuccarello.

That said, Murray could push things in the right direction if he’s realistic about this team’s rather limited potential.

For one thing, while the Ducks have unearthed solid talent even while lacking many high-end picks during their contending years, it seems like a lack of blue-chippers is catching up with them. Trevor Zegras (ninth overall in 2019) is a strong start, but the Ducks need more cornerstone pieces to build around.

If the Ducks can show some discipline in absorbing growing pains, they may very well turn things around.

Ideally, the Ducks would allow Eakins some breathing room to work with, and encourage a focus on getting younger players like Sam Steel and Troy Terry more minutes, even if that could push a mediocre team into becoming a cellar dweller. Not only would you get a better idea of what you have in Steel and Terry (and Eakins), but you’d also probably end up with better lottery odds to land someone like Alexis Lafreniere.

With Perry bought out, Ryan Kesler eyeing possible retirement, and Ryan Getzlaf looking understandably creaky lately, the Ducks probably don’t have much of a choice. As great as John Gibson can be — and I’d wager he was the best goalie in the world for stretches of last season — the Ducks still looked mediocre last season, even when he was standing on his head.

Yes, it would be painful to suffer through another abysmal season in 2019-20, but the Ducks have been willing to do painful things, like buying out Corey Perry. Besides, the pain could last a whole lot longer if Murray chooses to ignore the symptoms.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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 likely to ask for too much from Getzlaf (again)

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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.

The aging process is cruel to just about everyone, aside from your rare duck like Paul Rudd.

If Ryan Getzlaf needed a reminder, the Anaheim Ducks’ 2018-19 season dropped that memo on his desk. Not only did the Ducks miss the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12, but they missed the mark by a mile.

Changes came, and they were harsh. The Second Randy Carlyle Era mercifully ended, giving way for new head coach Dallas Eakins. Maybe most jarringly, Getzlaf’s former power forward partner in crime Corey Perry was bought out.

On one hand, you have Eakins saying the right things about bringing along the Ducks’ younger forwards, many of whom he got to know while coaching an AHL affiliate that was as successful as the Ducks were flailing.

“Ryan Getzlaf is our captain and he’s been an excellent one, but we’re looking for people to step up and to help him with that,” Eakins said. “Whether you’re an older guy or a younger guy, someone has helped you along the way, made a positive influence on you, and I believe it’s for everybody to chip in on that.”

On the other hand, a mere glance up and down the Ducks’ roster makes it tough to deny that Anaheim will be leaning heavily on a 34-year-old who’s been leaned on far too much during a rugged NHL career.

[MORE DUCKS: X-Factor | Three Questions | 2018-19 Summary]

Getzlaf was limited to 67 games played in 2018-19, and it says a lot about both Getzlaf and the Ducks that he still managed to lead the team in scoring with 48 points. This came after only playing in 56 games in 2017-18, and missing at least five games in each season from 2013-14 through 2016-17.

All signs point to Getzlaf entering a stage where he takes more of a supporting role, much like Joe Thornton settled into with San Jose.

With all due respect to promising prospects like Sam Steel and Troy Terry, it doesn’t seem like the Ducks have the Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl-type players to ease Getzlaf’s burden, unless Anaheim is embracing a rebuild (abbreviated or full) more than they’re letting on.

With an average of 19:28 TOI per game, Getzlaf ranked 38th among NHL forwards last season. That’s more average ice time than Hertl, John Tavares, and Sean Monahan. That’s simply not a wise course to take with a big center as beat up as Getzlaf seems to be.

Again, Eakins emphasizing youth is a promising sign, but the Ducks’ other actions make you wonder if GM Bob Murray will blink if those young players struggle early on.

Honestly? The early results make you wonder if Murray sees the team’s potential clearly.

For one thing, it’s possible that the Ducks might have been better off just waiting out Corey Perry’s bloated final two years, rather than gaining marginal savings while spreading things out — oddly — for four years:

Cap hit over the life of Perry’s buyout:
2019-20: $2,625,000
2020-21: $6,625,000
2021-22: $2,000,000
2022-23: $2,000,000

That first season of savings might just be worth it … for a contender. Along with the Perry buyout, you have the Ducks extending Jakob Silfverberg, a 28-year-old whose prime window may close just as the Ducks might get back on track. Such moves inspire concerns about Bob Murray keeping his expectations realistic for 2019-20.

Really, with Getzlaf himself only having two years left under contract, the Ducks should probably be doing some soul-searching about his future, beyond “Can Getzlaf drag us to the playoffs this time around?”

Such thoughts are painful, but if the Ducks place too much weight on their captain’s shoulders yet again, 2019-20’s pain could feel unpleasantly familiar, as Anaheim risks a replay of the agony of 2018-19 … for themselves, and for Getzlaf in particular.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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.

Will coaching change be enough to give Ducks’ goalies some help?

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Since becoming the Anaheim Ducks’ starter, John Gibson has become one of the best goalies in the NHL.

For the first part of the 2018-19 season he was almost single-handedly carrying the team and helping to keep it at least somewhat competitive. He was not only in the Vezina Trophy discussion, but as long as the Ducks were winning he was a legitimate MVP contender. But for as good as Gibson performed, the entire thing was a house of cards that was always on the verge of an ugly collapse.

The Ducks couldn’t score, they couldn’t defend, they forced Gibson to take on a ridiculous workload in terms of shots and scoring chances against.

Eventually, everything fell apart.

Once Gibson started to wear down and could no longer steal games on a nightly basis, the team turned into one of the worst in the league despite having a top-10 goaltending duo. That is a shocking accomplishment because teams that get the level of goaltending the Ducks received from the Gibson-Ryan Miller duo usually make the playoffs.

How bad was it for the Ducks? They were one of only three teams in the top-15 in save percentage this past season that did not make the playoffs.

The only other teams in the top-15 that missed were the Montreal Canadiens, who were just two points back in a far better and more competitive Eastern Conference, and the Arizona Coyotes who were four points back in the Western Conference and the first team on the outside looking in.

The Ducks not only missed, they were 10 points short with FIVE teams between them and a playoff spot. Again, almost impossibly bad.

It is a testament to just how bad the rest of the team performed in front of the goalies, and it continued a disturbing trend from the 2018 playoffs when the Ducks looked completely overmatched against the San Jose Sharks in a four-game sweep. It was clear the team was badly flawed and was falling behind in a faster, more skilled NHL.

The problem for the Ducks right now is that so far this offseason the team has remained mostly the same.

They bought out the remainder of Corey Perry‘s contract, will be without Ryan Kesler, and have really not done anything else to change a roster that has not been anywhere near good enough the past two seasons.

That means it is going to be another sink-or-swim season for the Ducks based on how far the goaltending duo of Gibson and Miller can carry them.

It is a tough situation because the Ducks have made an absolutely massive commitment to Gibson as he enters the first year of an eight-year, $51.2 million contract.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

That is a huge investment in a goalie, and for the time being, the Ducks have not really done anything to support him. Even if you have the best goalie in the league — or just one of the best — it is nearly impossible to win based only on that. Great goalies can help, they can mask a lot of flaws, and they can even carry a mediocre or bad team to the playoffs if they have a historically great season (think Carey Price during the 2014-15 season). But that still puts a ton of pressure on the goalie, and it is nearly impossible to ride that all the way to a championship.

There is, however, one small cause for optimism.

A lot of the Ducks’ problems defensively last season seemed to be based around their system and structure in the early part of the season under then-coach Randy Carlyle.

Under Carlyle the Ducks were one of the worst teams in the league when it came to suppressing shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances during 5-on-5 play.

They were 29th or worse when it came to shots on goal against, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances, and 26th in total shot attempts against. This is something that always happened with Carlyle coached teams and they would always go as far as their goaltending could take them. In recent years, Gibson masked a lot of those flaws by playing at an elite level and helped get the Ducks in the playoffs. He was able to do it for half of a season this year before finally playing like a mortal instead of a goaltending deity.

But after Carlyle was replaced by general manager Bob Murray, the Ducks showed some massive improvement defensively, shaving multiple shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances per 60 minutes off of their totals.

They went from 26th to seventh in shots on goal against, from 29th to 19th in shot attempts, from 30th to 17th in scoring chances against, and from 29th to 17th in high-danger scoring chances against.

Still not great, but definitely better. Much better. So much better that even though Gibson’s overall performance regressed, the Ducks still managed to win games and collect points at a significantly better rate than they did earlier in the season. They were 14-11-1 from Feb. 10 until the end of the season under Murray.

That is a 91.3 point pace over 82 games. That would have been a playoff point total in the Western Conference this past season.

Under Carlyle, it was a 74.6 point pace. That would have been one of the four worst records in the league.

Coaching changes are very rarely a cure-all. It is still a talent-driven league, and if you do not have talent you are probably not going to win very much. But there are always exceptions and outliers, and sometimes a coaching change is a necessity and can help dramatically improve a team.

New Ducks coach Dallas Eakins has an incredibly short NHL head coaching resume so we don’t have much to go by when it comes to what he will do What we do have to go by came in Edmonton where it has become abundantly clear over the past 15 years that the problems go far beyond the head coach (because they have all failed there). The Ducks are still short on talent at forward and defense, but it should still be able to perform better than it did a year ago. And with a goalie as dominant as Gibson can be (with a great backup behind him) there is no excuse for them to be as far out of the playoff picture as they were.

The Ducks don’t need to be the 1995 Devils defensively to compete.

They just need to not be the worst shot suppression team in the league.

If Eakins can figure out a way to build on the momentum the Ducks showed over the final two months of the 2018-19 season, they might actually have a fighting chance.

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.