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:
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.