Randy Carlyle

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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.

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

The Buzzer: Boudreau fumes; Are Blackhawks for real?

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Drouin / Phillip Danault

These two Montreal Canadiens forwards were Thursday’s two four-point producers. Drouin scored two goals and two assists, while Danault generated a goal and three helpers.

If you had to pick one for the top spot, it would probably be Drouin, as it really stands out how emphatic and confident he was. The once-maligned forward fired a whopping nine shot on goal, helping Montreal overwhelm Winnipeg.

(The Jets were not happy.)

There were a ton of very strong three-point performances on Thursday, but for the next two spots, goalies win out.

2. Anders Nilsson

Yes, the Ducks are terrible right now. On many nights, Anaheim’s been out-shot, even when the Ducks have fallen behind by quite a bit early on. Teams likely eased off the gas a bit, and the Ducks still didn’t put much pressure on opponents.

Thursday was a little different.

Nilsson needed to make 45 saves in this one, including a 1-0 first period where the Ducks generated a 17-8 SOG advantage. That’s quite the shutout, even against a team that’s basically in crisis mode.

3. Jordan Binnington

Hey, when you beat Andrei Vasilevskiy in a goalie duel, you’re doing something right.

OK, Vasilevskiy had this save and made 38 overall, but Binnington generated a 32-save shutout. The Blues needed every one of those in a 1-0 OT win, and Binnington delivered.

It’s also something of a “week-time” achievement award. Binnington’s been a huge part of the Blues’ bold surge back into the West postseason picture, and this win really highlighted that. Binnington’s only allowed four goals during a four-game winning streak, and his save percentage is now at .931 over 12 games.

Feel free to make other arguments in the comments, as Thursday was just brimming with great performances.

One not-so-great performance, though:

Boudreau’s had it

The Wild lost Mikko Koivu for the season, have lost four in a row, and should probably be sellers at the trade deadline.

Things are tense, and Bruce Boudreau has already been trying to squeeze every point out of a so-so roster. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that he’s losing his cool, but he really let players like Mikael Granlund have it after Minnesota fell 4-1 to the also-struggling Edmonton Oilers.

” … There’s some players there that are just a shell of the players I’ve known for the last two-and-a-half years,” Boudreau said during a grim presser.

Did Boudreau also make a sly “Seinfeld” reference?

If things really get bad, maybe Boudreau quits one day, then tries to walk into the locker room as if nothing happened?

Highlights of the Night

Anton Khudobin gave Vasilevskiy serious competition for save of the night.

Connor Hellebuyck made a beautiful stop, too. He was a Winnipeg Jet who showed up.

Mathew Barzal with a beauty.

Scary moments

With so many games on Thursday, there were some injuries and other developments that might become clearer on Friday or the weekend.

But we already know of some scary moments. Evgeny Kuznetsov seems to have avoided injury after a highly questionable Ian Cole hit, but Cole was punched many, many times for doing so, thanks to Tom Wilson. The Ducks also must cross their fingers after John Gibson was accidentally walloped by a teammate.

Finally, there’s this scare for Oilers defenseman Kris Russell.

Factoids

Speaking of records, the Blackhawks are suddenly looking more viable thanks to a six-game winning streak. The standings don’t look that promising yet, but Chicago’s chances have at least risen above laughable all of a sudden.

Considering how dire things looked at times this season, being two points back of the second wild-card team (St. Louis) is impressive. The caveats are crucial and obvious: there are teams ahead, and most have games in hand advantages. But ask those Blues and they’ll tell you that things can turn around quickly, at least considering how lousy the West bubble teams have often been.

Scores

CAR 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
FLA 3 – PIT 2 (OT)
NYI 2 – NJD 1 (SO)
LAK 3 – PHI 2 (SO)
WSH 4 – COL 3 (OT)
MTL 5 – WPG 2
OTT 4 – ANA 0
VGK 4 – DET 3
STL 1 – TBL 0 (OT)
NSH 3 – DAL 2 (OT)
EDM 4 – MIN 1
CHI 4 – VAN 3 (OT)
SJS 5 – CGY 2
CBJ 4 – ARI 2

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.

The Buzzer: More Ovechkin history; Blue Jackets end skid

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League-changing contract?

In case you missed it, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed superstar Auston Matthews to a beefy five-year extension. Should you be worried about the salary cap implications?

Three Stars

1. Brendan Gallagher

If the dwindling Ducks struggled in part because of the fatigue that comes with closing off a back-to-back, then credit Gallagher and the Habs for taking advantage of that waddling with a strong start.

Gallagher and fellow top-three star Jonathan Drouin did much of their damage in the first period of Tuesday’s 4-1 win. Gallagher scored a goal and two assists, with a goal and an assist in the opening frame, and then a secondary assist early in the third.

The rambunctious winger generated a +3 rating, two shots on goal, and two assists in that win. Gallagher now has 21 goals this season, building off a tremendous 31-goal campaign from 2017-18, when he was one of Montreal’s few bright spots. Things are sunnier these days.

[The Ducks’ nightmare continued on Tuesday thanks to the Canadiens.]

2. Anze Kopitar

While Gallagher and Drouin did their damage early, Kopitar was the catalyst of a dominant third period for Los Angeles.

All three of Kopitar’s assists came during the final frame, transforming a tied 1-1 game to a 5-1 laugher. Speaking of laughers, Kopitar set up a revenge goal for Ilya Kovalchuk. It also helps that Kopitar’s three assists were all primary ones.

[Read more about Kovalchuk’s return to New Jersey in this post.]

3. Jonathan Drouin

Like Kopitar, Drouin’s three assists were all of the primary variety. This thought gives him a slight advantage over another three-point performance in Roman Josi, as the Predators standout enjoyed a one-goal, two-assists output … but his goal was an empty-netter.

(You have to split hairs with the three stars most nights.)

Drouin now has seven points in his past five games, giving him 39 points in 53 contests overall in his second season with Montreal.

Highlights of the Night

Patrice Bergeron had already scored a goal in his 1,000th game, but David Pastrnak earned serious Good Teammate Points by dropping this pass to him for an empty-netter. If you’ve had a bad Internet day or night, this might be precious enough to raise your spirits.

This is what scientists would call “trickeration.”
Some of the best goals happen when players combine in downright harmonic ways.
In this one, Sergei Bobrovsky makes a tough save on an aggressive Tyson Barrie. From there, Artemi Panarin fires off the sort of breakout pass that would inspire Erik Karlsson to tip his cap. After that, Cam Atkinson makes a fantastic move to score his 29th goal of the season.
Brent Burns and the San Jose Sharks have been killing it in OT lately. This time, Burns set up Joe Pavelski for the clincher:
Factoids

Scores

BOS 3 – NYI 1
BUF 5 – MIN 4 (SO)
STL 3 – FLA 2
LAK 5 – NJD 1
CAR 4 – PIT 0
WSH 3 – VAN 2
MTL 4 – ANA 1
VGK 3 – TBL 2 (SO)
NSH 5 – ARI 2
SJS 3 – WPG 2 (OT)
CBJ 6 – COL 3
CHI 6 – EDM 2

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.