The Anaheim Ducks Have Many Holes To Fill After A Dreadful 2018-19 National Hockey League Campaign.
It doesn’t rain much in Orange County, home of the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks. It just seemed that way for them last season.
In a year that forever cast a perpetual storm cloud over their franchise, the Ducks were one of the few teams in the NHL that were happy to see their season come to an end in early April.
And while the end of the regular season may have brought a delay to the torrential downpour of bad luck and bad news to the team, the long-range forecast for the Ducks organization still calls for the potential of grey and sullen skies ahead.
After being in a playoff position as late as mid-January last season, a 12-game losing streak helped knock the Ducks out of the running for the playoffs and led to the eventual firing of head coach Randy Carlyle on February 10th, in his second tenure with the team. General manager Bob Murray went behind the bench and guided the Ducks until the end of the season.
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What was left after the players left town in April was nothing but questions and a sense of “Where do the Ducks go from here?”.
So, let’s cover where the Ducks stand now in and what they are facing this summer.
Head Coaching Vacancy
GM Murray will not be behind the bench once the puck drops in October next season. With literally no previous coaching experience on his resume as an NHL executive, Murray did an admirable job with the Ducks the last 26 games of the season, steering the Ducks to a 14-11-1 record. Maybe more than admirable, as the Ducks used a whopping 49 players last year. If that isn’t a record, it’s got to be close.
With the NHL Entry Draft less than two months away, you would think there would be some urgency on the Ducks part to hire someone and give them some time to not only become familiar with the current roster, but to help contribute to the Ducks draft strategy.
Murray stated at the end of the season that he would be conducting interviews for the coaching vacancy, but things seem to have been mostly quiet on that front to date. The general feeling around the league is that Dallas Eakins will be promoted from the Ducks American Hockey League affiliate San Diego Gulls to take the position. The Gulls are just getting ready to begin their second round of the AHL playoffs, which could be the reason no announcement has been made yet should Eakins be the guy.
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While Murray has been the GM for over 10 years now, he’s only ever had two coaches under his watch, Carlyle and Bruce Boudreau. Both considered “old school” coaches, Carlyle and Boudreau were both succesful at different times during their reign behind the bench with the Ducks, with Carlyle leading the team to a Stanley Cup title in 2007.
So it would not surprise anyone if Murray wanted to once again venture down the path of a proven, veteran bench boss. But not only has the sport changed on that front (with more younger, analytical-driven coaches leading the way), the pickings are simply quite thin when looking for a seasoned bench boss.
With the recent hirings across the league of Joel Quenneville, Alain Vignault, and Todd McLellan, the window for Murray to find a worldly mastermind to lead the Ducks has closed quickly. The likes of Guy Boucher and Jacques Martin are out there and rumoured to land in many different spots. But outside the potential firings of Mike Babcock (Anaheim alumni, 2002-04), Paul Maurice or Peter Laviolette, it’s likely that either Eakins has the job or (less likely) Murray goes completely off the map and hires someone like Swedish coach Rikard Gronberg, a sexy favourite right now amongst the Buffalo Sabres fan base.
Current State Of The Roster / Cap Situation
This is where things get dicey for the Ducks.
Anaheim currently has eight players on the hook long-term that eats up $53M:
Ryan Getzlaf – $8.25M/year until 2021 (No Movement Clause)
Ryan Kesler – $6.875M/year until 2022 (NMC until 2021)
Adam Henrique – $5.85M/year until 2024 (Modified No Trade Clause)
Corey Perry – $8.625M/year until 2021 (NMC)
Jakob Silfverberg – $5.25M/year until 2024 (Modified NTC)
Cam Fowler – $6.5M/year until 2026 (Modified NTC)
Hampus Lindholm – $5.25M/year until 2022
John Gibson – $6.4M/year until 2028 (Modified NTC starting 2021)
Add to that, another nine players currently on the roster and under contract that combine for an additional $18M, that leaves the Ducks roster obligation at $71M towards 17 players for the upcoming season.
With the salary cap expected to reach $83M before the start of next season, it gives the Ducks about $12M to play with to complete their roster. (Side note: Kesler is looking at potential career-ending hip replacement surgery. Should that happen, you can expect the Ducks to place Kesler on long-term injury reserve, which could help ease the potential cap crunch for the Ducks down the road).
While the numbers suggest it is possible to fill out the roster with the remaining cap space, it’s the bang for their buck where Anaheim is getting themselves into trouble.
Getzlaf led the team last season with a paltry 48 points in an injury-plagued campaign that saw him limited to just 67 games. In fact, the entire Ducks roster was littered with injuries. Only two (TWO!) Ducks forwards played over 70 games last year (Henrique 82, Silfverberg 73) and only two defencemen reached 70 games (Lindholm 76, Josh Manson 74). A mess if there ever was one.
Not surprisingly, a mass collection of lost man-games goes hand-in-hand with player under achievement. And virtually every player on the Ducks roster last season played well below their pay grade. Going forward, a healthy roster should at the very minimum get the Ducks back into the playoff race next season.
But the Ducks roster as currently constructed isn’t getting any younger. Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler are all creeping (creaking?) into their mid-30’s. Silfverberg, Henrique, Fowler and Manson are all closer to 30 years old than 25. Building a roster that is younger and faster is of primary importance for Murray heading into the off-season.
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The trade of defenceman Brandon Montour to the Sabres at the NHL trade deadline in March was initially thought to be a little odd, considering the upside Montour possessed. But the trade did land the Ducks a first-round selection in this year’s entry draft and defensive prospect Brandon Guhle, who figures to eventually crack the top-four on Anaheim’s depth chart. It also helped alleviate some of the potential cap issues facing the Ducks, if only by $2-3M.
Prospects On The Rise
While the Ducks prospect cupboard isn’t exactly stocked full of budding stars, it does have some potential.
Some players expected to contribute to the team next year are Max Comtois, Sam Steel, Jacob Larsson, Josh Mahura, Troy Terry and Guhle. All could crack the opening night roster for the Ducks come October. They got a taste of NHL action last year and represented themselves well. They should have an impact of some sort next year.
Current Free Agents
With so many players already signed long-term by the Ducks, they have only a handful of pending free agents, and none of real significance.
Goaltenders Ryan Miller and Chad Johnson are not expected back next season, with current AHL starter Kevin Boyle looking ready to assume back-up duties to Gibson with the parent club next season.
With a plethora of young defencemen ready to make their mark next season with the Ducks, it’s also likely that both Andrej Sustr and Korbinian Holzer will not be retained.
Kevin Roy, the only free agent forward on the Ducks roster, could be brought back for depth purposes, likely at league minimum.
It could be a long summer for Murray, as he tries to upgrade a Ducks roster that has faded into the middle of the pack of the NHL. With heavy, long-term contracts that seem to handcuff the Ducks, it could be awhile before Anaheim is considered a legit Stanley Cup contender.
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Statistics provided by hockey-reference, hockeydb and TheScore
Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals