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NHL Hot Seat Radar: Anaheim Ducks

As the Ducks enter 2022-23, Adam Proteau says it's time for Dallas Eakins to prove he's right man for the head coaching job.

Welcome to The THN Hot Seat, a new NHL off-season series of THN.com columns. In this feature, we’ll identify one person in each NHL market who is facing big-time pressure heading into the 2022-23 regular season. The person could be a player, a coach, or even a team owner. 

Regardless, we’ll start the series alphabetically, looking at the Anaheim Ducks.

DALLAS EAKINS, HEAD COACH

WHY: It’s unfair to pin Anaheim’s struggles in the standings solely on Eakins, who has been the Ducks’ head coach for three years now. The 55-year-old can’t teach offense, the team’s biggest issue since he took over from then-interim bench boss and GM Bob Murray. Clearly, the Ducks have been a franchise in transition for some time, and the retirement of captain and longtime cornerstone center Ryan Getzlaf this past spring signaled the end of an era – as did the appointment of new GM Pat Verbeek.

To address Anaheim’s issues, Verbeek has had the full support of ownership in spending money on new acquisitions. Consequently, veteran forwards Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano and defenseman John Klingberg have been added to the lineup at a combined annual salary cap hit of $15.65 million. All three players will contribute offense, but make no mistake – the Ducks’ fortunes are still going to ride on the performances of young up-and-comers, including forwards Maxime Comtois, Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry, Mason MacTavish and Isac Lundestrom, and D-man Jamie Drysdale.

Eakins has earned a reputation as a terrific teacher of young players, so the Ducks’ trajectory is right in his wheelhouse. Anaheim also has done well to add draft picks – they have three second-round picks and two fourth-rounders in the 2023 entry draft – which speaks to the patience that still is going to be necessary for this group.

That said, Eakins is in the hot seat primarily because Verbeek didn’t hire him. As we’ve seen this off-season, the NHL coaching carousel is spinning faster than ever, and there is no shortage of candidates who’ll be fully prepared to step in should Verbeek decide a new voice is required. For instance, former Ducks coach Mike Babcock could be a fit there. Babcock has bided his time since being dismissed by Toronto in November of 2019, and his familiarity with the market in Anaheim, as well as his Stanley Cup-winning pedigree, could be a sellable combination to Ducks fans and media.

This is getting a little bit ahead of ourselves, of course. Eakins may be able to take this new lineup and have them compete for a playoff berth in the weak Pacific Division. If that turns out to be the case, Eakins will likely have a contract extension in his hands sooner than later. But Eakins also needs a bounce-back season from starting goaltender John Gibson, who posted a disappointing 3.19 Goals-Against Average and .904 Save Percentage in 56 games last year. The 29-year-old Gibson is locked into a long-term contract, and even if he struggles again and Verbeek finds a way to trade him, he’ll likely have to accept an onerous contract in return.

Verbeek still has more than $18.8 million in cap space to play with, but it’s unlikely he will go all-in to elevate the Ducks into a true Cup threat this season. Rather, he’ll take his lumps, bring in more young players, and aim for a bigger season a year or two down the line. 

At that point, Eakins will likely be gone and replaced by Verbeek’s first head coaching hire. That may not be fair to Eakins, but as we all should know by now, fairness and the NHL coaching world are not always connected.

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