When Bob Murray made it clear that a coaching change wasn’t imminent, that Randy Carlyle would be continue to patrol the bench despite an 11-game losing streak that has since stretched to a dozen, the Anaheim Ducks GM followed it up by shifting focus back to his roster, asserting that they needed to be better and should expect more of themselves and each other.
It was barely 12 hours later, the morning following the overtime defeat at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets that spurred on the statement, that Murray punctuated his message by shipping longtime Ducks winger Andrew Cogliano to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Devin Shore. The meaning behind the move was clear enough. Murray was looking for performance, looking to right the ship, and he wasn’t going to stand idly by if the losses continued. So, after Anaheim’s 12th consecutive loss — this time a blown one-goal lead in the third period becoming a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the lottery-bound Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday — Murray was as active as we’ve seen any GM this season.
The trade action began Wednesday with Anaheim flipping winger Pontus Aberg to the Minnesota Wild for center Justin Kloos. Several hours later, the Ducks moved defenseman Luke Schenn and a seventh-round selection in the 2020 draft to the Canucks for rearguard Michael Del Zotto. The flurry of deals was capped off with a reunion, as pivot Derek Grant, who departed Anaheim to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a free agent last summer, was dealt to the Ducks for center Joseph Blandisi. But after a cursory glance at all this movement, if you’re left asking yourself how these trades are going to help Anaheim snap their skid and turn this operation around before this season becomes a wash, rest assured you’re not at all alone.
While by the very definition of the word, these are indeed trades, it’s hard to see the immediate value or instant impact of any of the trades the Ducks executed during this flurry of action. Going deal-by-deal doesn’t help all that much, either.
An off-season waiver-wire claim who cracked the lineup, Aberg had 11 goals and 19 points in 37 games for the Ducks, but he’s spent the past four games watching from the press box. He was moved along for Kloos, who has played one career NHL game since signing on with the Wild after wrapping up his college career as University of Minnesota’s captain. He’s been a productive hand in the AHL, but he’s yet to get a shot in the NHL. While it’s possible — after all, as Kevin Garnett once exclaimed, anything is possible — the likelihood Kloos sneaks into Anaheim’s roster and makes a meaningful impact is minuscule.
The same can be said for the Grant deal, though it was likely a swap made in some correspondence with veteran Ryan Kesler being placed on the injured reserve Wednesday. That said, in landing Grant, the Ducks add nothing more than a depth piece, a player who has scored two goals and five points in 25 games and had an ice time average of just nine minutes per outing during his stay in Pittsburgh. He’s familiar with Anaheim and that’s a plus. He was successful last season, too, scoring 12 goals and 24 points in 66 games. But a needle-mover for a Ducks team mired in the worst slump in franchise history? Barely. The good news is Blandisi falls into the Kloos category: a capable AHL producer who hasn’t found a fit in the NHL. He’s skated in just six games with the Ducks since arriving during the 2017-18 campaign.
As for Del Zotto, his addition is somewhat puzzling, as well. A free agent at season’s end, the veteran blueliner has essentially been brought aboard as a rental player who will skate third-pairing minutes, as it’s incredibly unlikely he’ll be able to unseat Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson or Brandon Montour from their big-minute roles on the backend. And while Del Zotto has some puck-moving ability and some decent campaigns under his belt — three 30-point seasons and a six-goal, 22-point output in Vancouver last season — he’s been stapled to a seat in the press box for much of the season. Only once had Del Zotto dressed in the Canucks’ past 18 games, and when he did see the ice, he was skating a nearly career-low 17:57 per game. Granted, giving up Schenn, who has no points in eight games this season, and a late-round pick is inconsequential for Anaheim.
Add it all up, though, and what the Ducks gave up in the three deals as far as quantifiable NHL impact this season — 48 games played, 11 goals, 19 points — is more than the combined 48 games played, three goals and nine points they received in return. Admittedly, there’s more to it than base statistics, but it’s puzzling nevertheless for a team that almost inexplicably remains in the wild-card hunt while its Stanley Cup window is seemingly well on its way to slamming shut.
The bigger issue, undoubtedly, is nothing Anaheim did Wednesday and into the wee hours Thursday addressed any major issues. Some might suggest, of course, that the only way to do that is by removing Carlyle from his post and inserting a new bench boss. But if Murray is sticking by the coach — and it seems that will be the case at least through to the end of the season — then not a single one of the exchanges made in the wake of the losing streak stretching to 12 games stands to make much of a difference.
Among the Ducks biggest issues, particularly lately, has been their inability to generate chances and put the puck in the net, although some rough puck luck is partially to blame. Injuries to Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg only stand to hurt the Ducks up front, as will the continued absence of Corey Perry, who isn’t expected to see regular season action until at least March. But there’s going to be no threat of Anaheim making any noise in the wild-card race, let alone the post-season, with what was done over the past 24 hours. Not at all. The offense hasn’t improved in any way other than potential for some additional playmaking ability on the bottom of the defensive depth chart. It’s not as though Grant or Del Zotto will spark a great enough shift in defensive success for the lack of offensive upside to matter, either.
Some might reason, however, that what Anaheim accomplished with the three deals helped them look towards the future. That argument holds water as it pertains to the earlier Cogliano-Shore swap. It doesn’t with the three exchanges made Wednesday and into Thursday. Kloos and Aberg are the same age, with birthdates separated by weeks. Grant, 28, is four years Blandisi’s senior. Del Zotto is only several months younger than the 29-year-old Schenn, and even that is of little importance if it turns out to be a rental acquisition and nothing more. These were essentially moves to help in the here and now that won’t.
Maybe what this does, if anything, is set the stage for the Ducks to start laying the real groundwork for change. And that might just be what Anaheim needs. Something needs to spark a retooling, if not a total rebuild, for the Ducks if they want to take any meaningful strides forward. With John Gibson in place, they have a definite starting point, and the aforementioned top four blueliners are all in the sweet spot of their careers. They’re either growing towards their prime or entering them at this very moment. Again, it’s the attack that needs the biggest overhaul — younger, faster, brighter talents around Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell, who are probably the only two pieces that are must-haves moving forward — and reconfiguring this offense should be what Murray attempts to execute this off-season.
Chances are that despite the flurry of recent moves, too, the off-season could come sooner rather than later for the first time in a long time for Anaheim.