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Anaheim Ducks Are Another Struggling Pacific Division Team

If the Anaheim Ducks want to end their rebuild and contend for the playoffs, something may have to change soon.
Anaheim Ducks, Josh Gibson

Lost in the misery of the Vancouver Canucks’ woes to start this season is the similar, awful showing from the Anaheim Ducks. 

Despite making notable veteran additions this past off-season, the Ducks have posted a 1-5-1 record, giving them a .214 points percentage that is the second-worst in the league. With only 16 goals-for and 32 against, they’ve been outscored by a whopping two-to-one ratio that is even worse than Vancouver’s (minus-12). 

They won their first game by a narrow 5-4 margin, and in all the six losses that have followed, only once – in a 2-1 shootout loss to Boston – were they within a single goal that would’ve tied the game.

Anaheim doesn’t get the coverage, or the ensuing heat, that follows every Canadian market. If they were, they’d be facing calls for immediate change, just as we’ve seen with the Canucks. But don’t kid yourself – if this Ducks team continues on its current trajectory, we’re likely to see change happen for them, and that change could be significant.

We can start with the employment status of Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins. It’s unfair to pin all the blame on the Ducks’ start on Eakins, who has been running things since he was hired in June 2019. He’s a solid teacher who earned his shot with Anaheim, but he’s also not the guy who was hired for the position by Ducks GM Pat Verbeek, who was brought in this past February.

This is Verbeek’s first full season in that role, and while he’s been patient to this point, he’s also not going to sit back and allow Anaheim to continue to wheeze and wobble. Would Verbeek dismiss Eakins and bring in a guy like Mike Babcock, who would return to Anaheim for his second stint with the organization? Babcock has had his reputation diminished by mistakes he made in his last NHL job with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but stranger things have happened.

Regardless of their coach’s status, the Ducks will also be expected to move some, if not many of their veterans in the coming weeks and months. And they do have a number of players who are attractive trade options for teams. Two of their forwards – Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg – are 32 years old, and both are signed for this season and the 2023-24 campaign. Do they want to be a part of a long(er) rebuild, or would a move to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender be more palatable?

As per Cap Friendly, both Silfverberg and Henrique have modified no-trade clauses, but as we know, those are not rock-solid guarantees they’ll remain in Anaheim. And if necessary, Verbeek can retain a portion of their contracts – that would mean the team acquiring them would have to add an additional draft pick or prospect to make it viable for Anaheim, but that probably won’t be a concern if they’re desperate enough to add the offense Henrique and Silfverberg would bring.

That said, there likely is more trade interest at the moment in Anaheim’s veteran defensemen and longtime starting goalie John Gibson. Their top-paid blueliner, former Dallas cornerstone player John Klingberg, is signed only for this season, and the 30-year-old’s full no-trade clause becomes a modified no-trade clause starting on Jan. 1. His talents on offense make him one of the top defensemen on the market. 

But some of his defense corps teammates also are attractive: 33-year-old Kevin Shattenkirk, who had a rebound year of sorts last season, would help a team looking for offense. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer, making him a pure rental possibility for teams that have salary cap issues after this season. And 31-year-old Dmitry Kulikov – another UFA after this season – could be a decent depth pickup.

Then there’s Gibson, who is 29 years old and in his 10th season with the Ducks. He’s spoken about his frustrations with Anaheim’s woes in recent years, and although he’s got a $6.4 million contract that runs for another four seasons after this one, a portion of his contract also could be retained by Anaheim. 

Gibson also has a modified no-trade clause, and although his individual numbers this season (including an .893 save percentage and a 4.26 goals-against average) could scare away potential trade partners, there’s a genuine desperation for goalies in many NHL towns that could grease the skids for a trade.

Anaheim has time to turn around their season, and playing in the weak Pacific Division makes that challenge somewhat easier. They’ve got some foundational players to build around – forwards Max Comtois, Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry and Mason McTavish and defenseman Jamie Drysdale. Nevertheless, this team has a long way to go before they consider themselves a bona fide Cup frontrunner, and roster change has to take place for them to get there. Verbeek may soon install his own head coach, but this clearly is not the right mix of talent for this organization.

Nearly one-tenth of the way into this season, the Ducks have shown they’re a group that must have a different look, one way or another. And that change has to take place soon. 

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