The Hockey News’ 2018-19 Season Preview series dives into off-season transactions, best- and worst-case scenarios and one burning question for each team in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds.
Stanley Cup odds: 35-1
Key Additions: Brian Gibbons, LW; Carter Rowney, C; Andrej Sustr, D; Luke Schenn, D; Jared Coreau, G
Key Departures: Francois Beauchemin, D; Antoine Vermette, C; Kevin Bieksa, D; Derek Grant, C; J.T. Brown, LW; Jason Chimera, LW; Chris Kelly, C; Jared Boll, RW
The window for the Ducks is starting to close, and nobody knows it more than the leaders themselves. Ryan Getzlaf still has some gas left in the tank, and he will be more than happy to share his wisdom with a new wave of offensive gems who will push for ice time. GM Bob Murray has wisely left openings on the roster for two or three of Sam Steel, Troy Terry and Max Jones to make the opening-night lineup. Because not only do the Ducks have to deepen and diversify their attack, but it’s crucial they do so while they can offer a sheltered environment for their young guns. A bottom six suited to youth, speed and scoring will be counted on catch on quickly.
Fortunately, the Ducks have a quick, agile defense corps led by Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm. The mandate this season is to get the blueliners more involved in the offense by playing an attacking style rather than side-to-side. Brandon Montour is an impressive risk-taker. Perhaps giving him the green light more often will pay dividends.
John Gibson, 25, is poised to become one of the league’s top goalies in the coming seasons. He’s one of just 11 starters under the age of 30.
The Ducks are 12 seasons removed from their only Stanley Cup championship in 2007, which means the fresh sophomore faces of Getzlaf and Perry from that year are now weathered and the bodies greatly eroded. Getzlaf has missed 34 games due to injury over the past two seasons, and Perry, who is a shadow of his former goal-sniping self, is sidelined for the next five months.
Factor in Ryan Kesler’s recovery from a hip injury and Patrick Eaves’ shoulder injury and the aging Ducks have serious health concerns among their top-priced players. If anyone else continues to struggle or lands in the sick bay, Anaheim will again have issues in the goal-scoring department. And with Jakob Silfverberg’s flatlining development, it will be easier for the opposition to key on Rickard Rakell.
There has to be a modicum of concern on the blueline as well. Kevin Bieksa and Francois Beauchemin offered veteran swagger. Their cheaper replacements, Luke Schenn and Andrej Sustr, may be bigger, but they’re much quieter. The Ducks may be an easier team to play against than the one that made a lot of enemies.
How far can Gibson take the new-look Ducks?
Just five short seasons into his big league career, and three as a full- or part-time starter, Gibson deserves every bit of praise that is heaped upon him. Consider his numbers over the past three seasons: In 152 games, he holds a 77-47-20 record to go along with a rock-solid .924 save percentage, 2.26 goals-against average and 14 shutouts. Among fellow starting netminders, or at least the 46 netminders with 82 games under their belt over the same three-season span, Gibson ranks 18th in wins, second in SP, second in GAA and fourth in shutouts. Those are spectacular numbers for a 25-year-old keeper, and it’s no wonder he was rewarded with an eight-year, $51.2-million extension this past summer.
But Gibson’s role in Anaheim is going to change, beginning with the coming season. Previously, he was the last line of defense behind a veteran D-corps and experienced group of forwards. Now, he’s going to be tasked with putting up similar numbers behind a young attack and equally fresh-faced blueline. At points throughout this season — and in the future — there will be an “as goes Gibson, so go the Ducks” mentality. He appears ready for that responsibility, which is as good as Anaheim could ask for heading into a campaign that brings with it some honest uncertainty.
THE HOCKEY NEWS’ PREDICTION: 4th in the Pacific Division. The Ducks simply haven’t kept pace in a fast-improving division to be a top contender, and the loss of Perry doesn’t help. Vegas added scoring in Max Pacioretty, San Jose brought Erik Karlsson aboard and Calgary refreshed their roster with a few notable moves and a coaching hire. Anaheim can still compete, but don’t expect another Pacific banner to be added to the Honda Center rafters.
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