2022-23 NHL Team Preview: Anaheim Ducks
In the first half of 2022-23, the Ducks appeared to be climbing into a wide-open Pacific Division. By mid-November, they were riding an eight-game winning streak and held a 10-4-3 record, bolstered by an incredible scoring spree from right wing Troy Terry, who buryed 24 goals in his first 41 matches.
The momentum did not last, however. They had a losing record over their next 30-game streak, and that coincided with major management changes. In November, longtime chief executive Bob Murray resigned after being placed on administrative leave for inappropriate conduct at work, and he enrolled in an alcohol abuse program. Pat Verbeek was named general manager in February, just as the Ducks’ playoff hopes were fading, and he decided to go on scorched earth. He traded roster stalwarts Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell in March as the trade deadline approached.
Stripped to the core, the Ducks ended up losing 11 straight games at some point in the streak. They also bid farewell to their captain and franchise leader in most offensive categories, Ryan Getzlaf, who retired at the end of the season. The final months of the 2021-22 campaign have not been entirely bleak, however. Center Trevor Zegras had a memorable rookie season, delighting fans with his hallmark ‘Michigan’ goals and finishing second in Calder Trophy voting, while defenseman Jamie Drysdale showed great promise at the age of 19 years old.
MAJOR ADDITIONS AND DEPARTURES
John Klingberg, D.
Ryan Strome, C
Frank Vatrano, RW
Olli Juolevi, D
Glenn Gawdin, C.
Sam Steel, C (UFA)
Sonny Milano, LW (UFA)
Greg Pateryn, D (retired)
Jacob Larsson, D (Ott)
Buddy Robinson, RW (Chi)
Vinni Lettieri, C (Bos)
Brogan Rafferty, D (sea)
Andrej Sustr, D (KHL)
Gerry Mayhew, RA (Florida)
The Ducks remained relatively anemic on offense last season, occupying 24e in the NHL in goals per game, but they were much more dangerous and interesting than they haven’t been in years. The dynamic and confident Zegras, 21, completely changes the look of the team. He amassed 29 points in 33 games after the All-Star break, a dazzling potential to become a legitimate NHL star center who can eventually compete for scoring titles. He’s so good and he helped unlock 24-year-old Terry, who was long considered one of Anaheim’s top prospects but hadn’t lived up to his potential at the NHL level before his 37-goal explosion. in 2021-22.
Drysdale took his balls defensively as a teenager, but showed excellent puck-moving ability and, like Zegras, changes the team’s long-term identity on defense. These two represent the future of the team, but they also have help to arrive in the present. Verbeek changed his philosophy and behaved more aggressively this offseason, adding a No. 2 center in Ryan Strome, an effective goal-scoring winger in Frank Vatrano and, relatively late in the free agent game, defender John Klingberg. for a one-year contract. There seems to be a redundancy of skills between Klingberg, Drysdale and offensive-minded Kevin Shattenkirk, all right-handed D-men used to being power-play quarterbacks, but the Ducks look undeniably improved offensively on paper. After having the worst power play in the NHL in 2020-21, they jumped to 14e last season. This is the Zegras effect.
The Ducks were below par defensively in 2021-22 and wore down what wasn’t long a formidable D-body when they traded Manson and Lindholm. Anaheim ranked in the bottom half of the league in preventing 5-on-5 shots, high scoring chances and high danger chances and had 10e-most expected goals against 60 in 5v5. They had the 20 in the leaguee-ranked penalty kill.
It’s possible things will get worse before they get better on defense. Klingberg was a notable addition to the blue line, but was never known to thwart enemy attacks. He specializes in high-level hockey, creating a lot of offense for his team – and for his opponents. Between him, Cam Fowler, Drysdale, Shattenkirk and Urho Vaakanainen, the Ducks have tons of mobility but very little rumble, especially when rugged Simon Benoit isn’t guaranteed to be a fixture in the nighttime roster as a the team’s No. 6/7 defender. The same goes for their group of attackers, in which the Max, Comtois and Jones, are the only major physical threats. This Anaheim team should be fast and fun, but they’ll be hustled and also allow plenty of chances.
Rumors swirled this offseason that starting goaltender John Gibson, who has five years left on his contract at a cap of $6.4 million, wanted to jump ship rebuilt in Anaheim. But Gibson has publicly pushed back on the chatter and insisted he still wants to be part of the long-term plan in Orange County. He’s struggled a lot lately and posted a .904 save percentage in 2021-22. Among 84 goalkeepers with at least 1,000 5-on-5 minutes played over the past three years, he ranks 61st in goals saved above average by 60. Yet the Ducks in that span were 29e in the NHL in expected goals-against-per-60. In other words, Gibson had zero assists ahead of him. In a previous three-year streak, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, with even an average defense ahead of him, he was 15.e of 74 in GSAA/60.
So that implies that Gibson, 29, can still regain his elite form if he gets better defensive play in front of him. That may not happen this year, however. He also has to look over his shoulder after substitute Anthony Stolarz outplayed him badly in 2021-22, posting a .917 SV% and three shutouts.
Dallas Eakins has had no success at the NHL level. He’s 113-163-46 in five seasons between Anaheim and the Edmonton Oilers and has never coached in a playoff game. That said, he was primarily tasked with guiding youngsters, rebuilding teams, and Verbeek continued to drop pieces from the roster last season, so there was little Eakins could do to stop the loss. The Ducks value the continuity he brought to young players after coaching several of them with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, before promoting him to the AHL for 2019-20. The franchise gave him a vote of confidence by taking his contract option for 2022-23, but it remains to be seen how long his leash will show if Anaheim struggles at the start of this season.
The Ducks kicked off a new era with full seasons of Zegras and Drysdale and are set to move their other NHL mega-prospect this season: Mason McTavish, who got a nine-game sample last season before being sent back to the major junior so that he does not. burn year 1 of his entry-level contract. He is currently igniting the World Junior Championship as Canada’s captain and should eventually emerge as a key long-term leader for Anaheim given his responsible two-way play and tireless work ethic.
McTavish is Anaheim’s No. 2 future center, but Strome’s signing is slowing the clock down. It means McTavish can get a run on the wing if Eakins wants him in a top-six role but with less responsibility, or it means McTavish can enjoy protected games centered on a back-six line. He’s a name to remember in the Calder Trophy race. Another Ducks rookie to watch if he breaks through the roster at some point this season is scoring wing Jacob Perreault, who Anaheim picked 27e overall in 2020. He played in one NHL game last season. Also keep an eye out for defender Olen Zellweger, a second-rounder in 2021, if he impresses in training camp.
1. Buyers or sellers? The Ducks blew it at the 2022 trade deadline, then completely reversed course this offseason with their additions. So who are they, exactly? Maybe they don’t know yet. The one-year term for Klingberg is a crucial safety valve. If the Ducks stink in 2022-23, they can get a nice deadline comeback for him.
2. Should we believe John Gibson? He vehemently denied the trade talks, but did the rumors really materialize out of thin air? Maybe Gibson’s denial was damage control, knowing the odds of a trade were low. After all, how many teams would be willing to take on five more years at its cost? And how do we know the Ducks would be willing to eat some of his AAV for so many seasons in a withheld payday trade? A happy Gibson still has the potential to play as an All-Star, but if his head isn’t in the game, will he give up more starts to Stolarz?
3. Are Max Comtois’ days numbered in Anaheim? Comtois oscillated between looking like a future stretch captain and being a healthy scratch. He was unable to establish a long-term identity with the team. His name has surfaced in the rumor mill this offseason as a player who could benefit from a change in environment. Still just 23, capable of scoring 15-plus goals and bringing hard-hitting play to the table, he could return something useful if Verbeek doesn’t believe there’s a long-term adjustment with the Ducks. .
The Ducks have their best youth base since the debuts of Getzlaf and Perry. It’s possible fans will consider the household names of Drysdale and McTavish a year from now as they already do Zegras today. But that doesn’t mean this team is on the fast track just yet. Defensive play looks like a handicap on paper. The franchise is moving in the right direction, but it’s just a matter of how long the rebuild will take after Verbeek got back on schedule with his sale deals last season.
The Ducks look ahead of the San Jose Sharks and Arizona Coyotes in the Pacific Division, but could struggle to move past sixth place this season.
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