Bob Murray

Ducks GM Murray ‘hell-bent’ on improvement; critiques Eakins

ANAHEIM, Calif. — General manager Bob Murray saw signs of progress this season from his young Anaheim Ducks and their first-year coach, Dallas Eakins.

Murray just didn’t see that progress happening quickly enough, so he intends to speed it up himself next season.

“Overall, certain things are going to change, and I’m going to be pushing very hard here,” Murray said Wednesday. “The inconsistencies cannot be allowed to happen the way they were.”

In his first extensive public comments on Anaheim’s truncated season, Murray evaluated the Ducks’ first two-year playoff drought of his tenure with his characteristic bluntness. After finishing sixth in the Pacific Division at 29-33-9, the Ducks are among seven franchises that won’t be involved in the NHL’s 24-team resumption of the season.

Murray gave a mixed review of Eakins’ debut, but he directed his harshest critiques at inconsistent effort from unnamed younger players.

“I think everybody talking about the young guys and this and that, it just let players just at times say, ‘Ah well, it’s just a rebuilding year, and it doesn’t matter,’” Murray said. “Up and down the lineup, some of the kids were allowed to get away with murder this year, and that’s over. They’re going to be held (accountable). Accountability in this group is going to change, and I’ve said that a couple of times, but I’m hell-bent on that happening going forward, and the coaches are going to hear that loud and clear.”

Murray had major concerns about the Ducks’ internal accountability last season when he fired Randy Carlyle and installed himself as head coach for the final 26 games of the season.

Murray hoped his players would respond to a fresh start when Eakins replaced him behind the bench last fall, but he didn’t like much of what he saw from afar.

“Because of the year before and what happened at the end, I kind of backed off and gave everybody space,” Murray said of his mindset for this season. “I didn’t feel I could be around as much. I had to let Dallas and the crew (work). … In hindsight, that was a mistake. I’ll point to that (as) just an error in judgment. My people argue with me on that, ‘No, it wasn’t a mistake.’ But now I think I should have (been more involved), and that won’t happen again.”

Murray’s vow to be more hands-on next season could be perceived as a problem for Eakins, the former Oilers coach. Eakins was promoted to Anaheim last summer from the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego only after a 2 1/2-month coaching search that suggested Murray wasn’t exactly sold on the obvious choice.

But Murray’s overall assessment of Eakins was largely positive, saying he sees room for the coach to grow along with his players. Murray also thinks Eakins had a good reason for not being hard enough on some young Ducks.

“I thought he was very organized, very well-prepared,” Murray said. “I thought the communication was good early. It got off-track a little bit. I think he had to get rid of some of the things that came from Edmonton, and I think those are gone now. He was very, very hard on some young people in Edmonton, and it kind of backfired on him there. I’m not saying it was all his fault, by the way. … I think he took the foot off the gas a bit with them. I just know he’s going to be much more consistent and on point with things, with everybody next year.”

Murray also lamented his own inability to acquire quality replacements when a few core players went down with injuries during the season. Anaheim was forced to rely far too heavily on youngsters who weren’t ready for a prominent NHL workload, or on recent acquisitions who weren’t prepared to play the Ducks’ style.

Murray made progress on those depth problems this week by signing Kodie Curran, a 30-year-old Canadian defenseman who won the Swedish Hockey League’s MVP award this year.

“I think next year, it’s going to take a lot of defensemen to get through the year,” Murray said. “Obviously, Kodie Curran, he’s a late-bloomer. We’ve known about him for years, and his improvement in the last couple of years, we’re quite excited about that. I expect some really good competition on defense this year, and we should be deep enough.”

Murray has another huge shot this summer to add much more than mere depth: The Ducks are likely to have a top-five draft pick for the first time since 2005, when then-GM Brian Burke and Murray drafted Bobby Ryan.

“We’re quite anxious for it,” Murray said. “I hope we don’t drop down any … but you could win (the lottery). We’re going to get a good player this year, and we have three picks in the top 36 as of right now. I’m looking forward to this year’s draft, and we’ll add to our young depth that has started to grow here.”

NHL agent poll hits many topics, shows optimism about avoiding 2022 lockout

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For a long time, agents in the NHL and other sports were demonized, often to the advantage of ownership. As many fans have started to realize a little bit more about what goes on behind the scenes, such viewpoints have become more nuanced. It doesn’t hurt that agents can express their message — and their clients’ perspectives — more freely over social media.

Then again, for every outspoken agent like Allan Walsh, there are plenty we don’t hear a whole lot from. That’s part of what makes Puck Pedia’s NHL agent poll so fascinating.

While the full post is worth your time, here are some of the highlights from Puck Pedia’s NHL agent poll.

NHL agent poll provides optimism about avoiding 2022 lockout

Puck Pedia polled 25 top NHL agents in late January to early February, so COVID-19 issues aren’t really touched upon. As they mentioned, it’s possible that the pandemic might push certain opinions a bit, but for the most part, I’d agree that these results are still worth mulling over.

Maybe the most important one is that 80 percent of NHL agents polled believe that there won’t be a 2022 lockout.

Reports indicate that the NHL and NHLPA underwent some CBA extension/new CBA talks amid the pause. So, to some extent, this shouldn’t be surprising.

Still, I think I speak for most hockey fans when I say that any positive lockout-avoidance talk remains good news. It probably always will be after 2004-05 was scuttled, and 2012-13 was shortened.

Other issues the poll covers

  • When it came to viewpoints on specific GMs, one former and one current Toronto Maple Leafs GM represented polar opposites.

Thirty three percent of NHL agents in the poll chose Lou Lamoriello as the most difficult GM to work with. Meanwhile, when asked about a GM you’d want to work with to get a great deal for a client, Kyle Dubas received 29 percent of votes. The closest GM behind Lamoriello was Bob Murray at 14 percent, while Dubas topped the other list by an even more dramatic margin (no other GM exceeded six percent).

As Puck Pedia notes, recency bias likely inflates Dubas. Recency bias surfaces in plenty of polls like these, including for players. (Though you won’t see players changing their minds about, say, Carey Price or Drew Doughty too quickly, either.)

But I wouldn’t be surprised if a few Maple Leafs fans will grit their teeth at this. After all, you can spin that in a pretty negative way.

  • Some of the best contract votes (Nathan MacKinnon as team-friendly) and worst (Milan Lucic, Brent Seabrook) ended up being far from surprising. Others were a little bit unexpected, though.
  • On the negative side, it was surprising to see Erik Karlsson garner more votes than, say, Sergei Bobrovsky. From a recency bias perspective, maybe absence made hearts grow fonder about David Clarkson? (I’m guessing absence made at least an NHL agent or 20 straight-up forget about Clarkson.)
  • The positives inspired some interesting choices, too. I’m not sure many people would rank Calle Jarnkrok alongside David Pastrnak, but they were tied at 14 percent. Jarnkrok’s deal being more team-friendly than Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Brad Marchand? You do you, 14 percent of those NHL agents.

NHL agent poll ends up reasonable — for the most part

For the most part, this NHL agent poll seemed to produce some understandable results. They certainly seem to have more grounded expectations than the sometimes-audacious things NHL executives want to change about the CBA, at least.

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.

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.