One era has come to an end, and a new one is underway. The Anaheim Ducks bought out Corey Perry, accepted the possibility Ryan Kesler won’t play again, hired Dallas Eakins as coach and embraced a remodeling project that began in fits and starts last season. Younger, faster, cheaper is the franchise’s mantra.
No longer the elite team they once were, the Ducks are working from the ground up to recapture the status that slipped from their control over the past two seasons. They became too old, too slow and too expensive, but now they’ve done something about it.
The Ducks will have a different look after a flurry of moves that included Perry’s buyout and Kesler’s off-season hip surgery, plus the emergence of a number of young standouts, including Sam Steel, Troy Terry and Max Jones. Eakins is tasked with building a new culture with new players.
The Ducks scored a league-low 196 goals last season, which explained why they finished out of the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Longtime captain Ryan Getzlaf led the way with 48 points, and Jakob Silfverberg had a team-high 24 goals.
Injuries to key players played a role in the Ducks’ scoring woes last season, and their lack of punch looms as their biggest deficiency. On the positive side, Eakins has a number of young guns to pick and choose from as replacements for Perry and Kesler.
Jones and Max Comtois could fill roles on left wing. Steel or Isac Lundestrom might be ready to challenge Getzlaf as the Ducks’ top-line center, cutting down on the 34-year-old’s minutes while shifting him into a role that San Jose’s Joe Thornton adopted in recent seasons. Terry is primed to be the top-line right winger.
GM Bob Murray reunited Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson as the Ducks’ top defense pair during his stint as interim coach, after he sacked Randy Carlyle on Feb. 10, and there is little reason to believe they won’t play together with Eakins behind the bench.
Cam Fowler shifted from his natural left side to the right to accommodate Brendan Guhle after Murray acquired the 21-year-old blueliner from Buffalo in exchange for Brandon Montour at the trade deadline.
The third pairing will be a grab bag of Korbinian Holzer, Josh Mahura and newcomers Michael Del Zotto and Chris Wideman.
John Gibson was touted as a Vezina Trophy candidate before the Ducks’ season spiraled out of control, and he’s likely to be so again if things hold together better. Ryan Miller served as his capable backup and mentor, a role he’ll fill again after re-signing. Gibson and Miller were sidelined by injuries for extended periods last season, so Anaheim brought in Anthony Stolarz for depth.
There was nothing special about Anaheim’s special teams last season. Their ineffective power play should be improved with the addition of Terry as a half-wall presence on the top unit, with Getzlaf possibly moved to the second unit. The penalty kill will look to replace Kesler, as well as Andrew Cogliano, who was traded to Dallas last season. Silfverberg is a dogged penalty-killer, but he’ll need assistance from the new PK faces.
Eakins was eager for a second chance at coaching in the NHL after a successful four-year run with San Diego in the AHL. He misfired badly in his first big-league bench stint with Edmonton but says he’s learned from past mistakes, and he has a deeper and more skillful team to coach this time. Eakins has forged deep bonds with many of the players he coached in the minors, and they are attempting to make the leap to the NHL along with him. Familiarity will be a strength as Eakins guides the rebuild.
The youth movement was evident at times last year and will be in full force this season. Steel, Terry, Comtois, Jones, Lundestrom, Mahura and Simon Benoit could fill key roles. How they perform will weigh heavily on where the team finishes.
The Ducks could use a bounce-back season from Rickard Rakell, who tumbled to 18 goals after scoring 34 in 2017-18 and 33 in 2016-17. No one on the roster is as skillful or as capable with the puck on his stick as Rakell, and the Ducks need him to return to his previous form.
Murray could have taken a safer route during the off-season, but he made the decision to buy out Perry instead of waiting two years for his contract to expire. Murray also hired Eakins rather than a coach with a more successful NHL track record. It’s safe to say that Murray has a lot riding on those decisions.
– Elliott Teaford
Stanley Cup Odds: 69/1
Prediction: 7th in Pacific
The Ducks aren’t used to living in the basement, but at least the next generation will be getting a chance to make moves in the NHL. From Troy Terry and Sam Steel to Isac Lundestrom and Max Comtois, Anaheim has options for the here and now. The pipeline has been consistent for years, and the 2019 draft yielded another solid class. Trevor Zegras (ninth overall) is a dynamic playmaker who rounded out his 200-foot game at the NTDP. He’ll be knocking on the door soon.
1. Troy Terry, RW
Age 22 Team San Diego (AHL)
Skilled winger still needs bulk. Denver alum was a point-per-game player in half an AHL season.
Acquired 148th overall, 2015 NHL ’19-20
2. Trevor Zegras, C
Age 18 Team U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Natural playmaker has a good shot and smarts. Plays both ends of ice. Bound for Boston U.
Acquired 9th overall, 2019 NHL ’21-22
3. Sam Steel, C
Age 21 Team San Diego (AHL)
Started 2018-19 with the big club. He impressed with skill, creativity and speed as a playmaker.
Acquired 30th overall, 2016 NHL ’19-20
4. Isac Lundestrom, C
Age 19 Team Lulea (Swe.)
Started 2018-19 in NHL. Smooth skater has two-way ability and passes well. Needs to shoot more.
Acquired 23rd overall, 2018 NHL ’20-21
5. Max Comtois, LW
Age 20 Team Drummondville (QMJHL)
Captained Canada at the WJC. Has the size, speed and physicality to handle pro game.
Acquired 50th overall, 2017 NHL ’19-20
6. Max Jones, LW
Age 21 Team San Diego (AHL)
Big, strong winger with a nose for the net. Plays a physical style, so durability is a concern.
Acquired 24th overall, 2016 NHL ’20-21
7. Brendan Guhle, D
Age 22 Team Rochester (AHL)
Played a handful of games after the acquisition. Has shown poise, presence with and without the puck.
Acquired From Buf, Feb. 2019 NHL ’19-20
8. Brayden Tracey, LW
Age 18 Team Moose Jaw (WHL)
Skilled winger led WHL rookies in goals, assists and points. Needs to show he can build on that.
Acquired 29th overall, 2019 NHL ’21-22
9. Josh Mahura, D
Age 21 Team San Diego (AHL)
Big shot, good passing and smooth skating helped him get a 17-game NHL trial last season.
Acquired 85th overall, 2016 NHL ’19-20
10. Lukas Dostal, G
Age 19 Team Trebic (Cze.2)
Plays a strong positional game in crease. Has put up good numbers everywhere he’s played.
Acquired 85th overall, 2018 NHL ’22-23