Last Season: 46-25-11, 103 points, first in the Pacific Division.
Once again the Anaheim Ducks took a nosedive into a trash compactor by failing to clinch the series against the Nashville Predators in Game 6 and losing at home in Game 7 for the fourth year in a row. Bruce Boudreau was fired shortly thereafter.
2015-16 season, in one picture
Did they get better, worse, or are they about the same?
It’s a difficult question to answer because it all starts at the top. With the axing of Boudreau, Ducks GM Bob Murray brought in old friend Randy Carlyle because of his ability to win with the franchise (when they had Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger).
When Carlyle was fired by Anaheim in November 2011 and Boudreau took over, the roster needed an overhaul to fit the new coach’s roll all four lines style. Murray tweaked the roster somewhat this summer to fit Carlyle’s ‘roll three lines and let the fourth play minimal minutes’ plan.
Gone are David Perron, Brandon Pirri, Chris Stewart, Jamie McGinn, Mike Santorelli, Shawn Horcoff and, most notably, Frederik Andersen.
The team brought in Antoine Vermette, Jared Boll, Mason Raymond and Jonathan Bernier. The Ducks don’t have the cash to play in the free agent market, and appear to have a plan for what space they have left.
If history is any indicator, Carlyle is likely to try to recreate the magic of the 2006-07 Stanley Cup winning team with his line combinations, at least at the top. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry plus an undetermined left winger will carry the scoring. Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano will continue their shutdown role.
From there it’s a toss up due in main part to the uncertainty of the roster makeup as it relates to the contracts of defenseman Hampus Lindholm and center Rickard Rakell (see ‘fascinating players’).
The defense is relatively set beyond Lindholm and the uncertainty of Cam Fowler’s future. Murray has managed to put together a group of defensemen that can evenly pair left and right shots. How Carlyle decides to pair them is another question.
Five most fascinating players
1. Hampus Lindholm & 2. Rickard Rakell. They’re lumped into one because they’re in the same situation. Both are restricted free agents who have yet to sign new contracts. The Ducks are an internal budget team. Per General Fanager, Anaheim currently has $7.52-million in cap space with 48 of 50 contracts on the books. (Nate Thompson ruptured his Achilles in the offseason and isn’t expected back until March. The team has not put him on LTIR as of yet.)
Lindholm logs the top penalty killing minutes for the defense, and is tied with Ryan Kesler for fifth on the team in power play points at 15 while on the second unit. Lindholm is one of those defensemen that you don’t hear about a lot, and for a d-man, that’s a good thing.
Rakell had a breakout season this past year. For the first time in his NHL career, he broke the 20 goal plateau and the 40-plus point mark. When he went down with a ruptured appendix right at the beginning of the playoffs, his loss was noticeable. He came back towards the end of the playoffs, but was barely at 75-percent.
Both players have grown into their roles with the Ducks that to lose either one – or Gord forbid, both – would be a significant blow to the roster and the future of the team.
Plus they’re best buds.
3. Cam Fowler. When he was drafted by the Ducks, he was touted as the next Scott Niedermayer. Those are huge skates to fill. Fowler hasn’t been a bust, but clearly he’s not evolved into what the franchise thought he would be by now. Much of that has to do with his pairing on defense. He played a majority of the past season with Kevin Bieksa, and essentially had to play all the defense while his partner was out of position.
Fowler been rumored as trade-bait in order to make room for Lindholm’s contract. Many feel that once Kevin Shattenkirk gets traded, Fowler will be the next domino to drop. Should he end up going, Shea Theodore is expected to take his place. The Ducks 2013 first round draft pick had a cup of coffee with the team this past season, scoring eight points in 19 games. In San Diego with the Ducks AHL affiliate, he earned 37 points in 50 games.
4. Ryan Kesler. Kesler’s second year in Anaheim was a career renaissance of sorts. The center was third on the team in scoring with 21 goals, 53 points. Boudreau leaned heavily on him as a shutdown center resulting in a Selke nomination. The latter confused many outside of Anaheim; however, those that watch Ducks games often knew he was at the core of the team’s turnaround in the second half.
Kesler hasn’t been shy in saying this team had a three year window to win a Stanley Cup and if that takes a coaching change to do it, so be it. Kesler played for Carlyle with the Manitoba Moose so he knows what he’s going to get in a coach. Again, if Carlyle plays to type, he’s going to use Kesler in a Sammy Pahlsson-esque shutdown role. This is going to be taxing on the 32-year-old.
Like the team, he’s watching his own Cup window come to a close (despite being signed with the franchise until the end of time). Outside of the youngsters on the team, he might be the most motivated veteran to win.
5. Ryan Getzlaf. The Ducks captain is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. At times, he is the most dominant force on the team and has the propensity to be one of the top five players in the league. Yet, unlike Kesler, the one question that seems to surround him is: what else does he have to motivate him? He’s got the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, and a gigantic contract. (Insert obvious hair joke here.)
Getzlaf’s best offensive season on the ice was played under the watch of Carlyle. In 2008-09, Getzlaf scored 91 points. He came close to that mark under Boudreau in 2013-14 with 87 points and hit a career high 31 goals. In the two seasons since then, his offensive production has declined scoring 70 points and 63 points, respectively.
The move to bring in Carlyle is a curious one given the fact that Getzlaf, along with others, quit on the coach that led to his firing. Getzlaf was made captain under Carlyle by a team vote. Stripping the ‘C’ seems highly unlikely, but who knows with this team anymore.
Mascot hijinks video break
This wouldn’t be a Ducks post if we didn’t play the video of Wild Wing skating directly into fire.
Can we trust them at even strength?
Per Corsica, as a team the Ducks were the second best 5-on-5 (score and venue adjusted) in the NHL at 53.03 CF%, but again that was under Boudreau.
If Carlyle reverts to type, the Ducks will roll three lines instead of Boudreau’s four. More pressure will be heaped upon those players as the fourth line contributes their three minutes a night. Increased minutes lead to tired legs; not to mention his ‘dump and chase’ mentality will wear on the players physically.
Jakob Silfverberg was the most consistent offensive performer at 5-on-5. Playing with Cogliano and Kesler, Silfverberg netted 39 points with 35 of those at even strength. Silfverberg, Getzlaf and Ryan Garbutt all hit 55 CF%.
According to Corsica, Hampus Lindholm led all Anaheim defensemen in 5-on-5 score and venue adjusted CF% at 57.97. Right behind him is Josh Manson at 57.50. The rest of the Ducks d-men hover between 49.46 to 52.27 CF%.
Can we trust them on special teams?
The Ducks ended the regular season with both the top power play (23.1%) and penalty kill (87.2%). Much of this is attributed to Bruce Boudreau handing over the reigns of the special teams to assistant coaches Trent Yawney and Paul Maclean. Both coaches have returned under Randy Carlyle and we’ll have to see how much the head coach allows them to control the special teams this coming season.
Corey Perry led the team with 12 power play goals and 24 power play points. Sami Vatanen was the highest scoring defender with 19 of his 38 points coming on the power play.
Ryan Kesler logged the most penalty kill time of all Anaheim players. He also led all centers on the team with 58.5-percent faceoff win total overall; including 53.5-percent success rate on the dot when shorthanded.
Can we trust their goaltending?
This could be the biggest question mark outside of the coaching. By trading away Frederik Andersen and acquiring Jonathan Bernier, the Ducks are essentially putting all their eggs in the John Gibson basket. Bob Murray foreshadowed this decision a year ago with his now infamous quote, “John Gibson is not getting traded … put that (bleeping) out there.”
Gibson, 22, finished the regular season with a 21-13-4 record, .920 save-percentage, and 2.07 goals against average. Not bad. Where things went south was in the playoffs against Nashville. Gibson started the series over Andersen. He lost the first two games before Andersen got the team back in the series.
With Carlyle’s propensity to lean on his number one goalie, the biggest hurdle for Gibson is staying healthy. He has had a history of groin and hip issues in his brief pro career. As Gibson plays in the World Cup of Hockey for Team North America, Ducks fans hold their collective breath each time he takes to the ice.
What will be fascinating to see is how Bernier and Carlyle interact. The last time Bernier had a winning record was under Carlyle in the 2013-14 season when he was 26-19-7. After that, it wasn’t so rosy for Bernier. The next two seasons under Carlyle, Peter Horachek and Mike Babcock, Bernier posted a 33-49-10 record.
The Ducks have a better defense than the Leafs, and if utilized correctly, they can relieve some of the pressure on the goaltenders.
Player most likely to be in Vegas next season: Simon Despres. On multiple occasions, Bob Murray has said he’s managing his roster in anticipation of the expansion draft. Should Fowler not be traded and somehow they manage to protect the ‘right’ players, Despres could be the odd man out. Part of that is due to health and the other is the lengthy contract he’s signed to ending in 2021.
Coach hot seat rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot): Two. Carlyle is going to get the benefit of the doubt from his general manager. Even if the team tanks it this season, it’s not on Carlyle. Murray placed the blame for Boudreau’s failures on the shoulders of his players. If anyone might want to be concerned about their job, it’s probably the GM.
Prediction: Carlyle will get what he needs to out of the stars the first year back behind the bench, but the team won’t have it easy. They’ll squeak into the playoffs in a Wild Card spot, and somehow, still manage to lose in the first round at home.