February 6, 2018 | 11:58pm ET
BY Hannah Spraker, The Fourth Period
DUCKS DON'T WANT NO SCRUBS
TORONTO, ON -- Bob Murray listens to TLC, right?
February in the NHL; a time where we eagerly check our phones for updates, wake up to unexpected trades, friends and colleagues blowing up our phones with news, and the time where we speculate for weeks about what is going to happen at the trade deadline, and where teams are going to be come playoffs.
So, in the spirit of hockey gossip, let’s look at the Anaheim Ducks.
Ducks GM Bob Murray is notorious for making a deal at the trade deadline. Trying to figure out Murray’s plan every season is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Somehow, someway, he pulls something off that no one sees coming, but will this season prove to be a bit more predictable? The past few seasons he hasn’t really gone for the huge headliner that is at the forefront of trade rumours, but I could see the narrative playing out a bit differently this year. The clock is ticking, and ticking fast, for the core of this team, and with so many free agents come summer, maybe it is time to make a push for one of the household names.
It is no secret the Ducks have had a less than ideal start to their season with the plethora of injuries that plagued their locker room. Ryan Kesler missed 37 games recovering from hip surgery, Ryan Getzlaf missed 24 games, Ondrej Kase missed 16, Cam Fowler missed 12, and the list goes on and on – and now John Gibson is injured (again). If there was ever a “bad luck Brian” team in the NHL, it’s the Ducks.
Anaheim appears to be on the up and up, but they still remain a bit inconsistent. Rickard Rakell has been red hot for them, Adam Henrique has been an absolute force, and just like that, they were back in the mix. To say it’s been a roller coaster is an understatement, and the ride isn’t over yet. Inconsistency has been the name of their game as of late, and they need to string some wins together to stay in the discussion. This team has always been incredibly resilient and they tend to catch fire and surge during the second half of the season, and that could still be true; but with the Western Conference as close as it is, will all that lost time come back to bite them?
The Good, The Bad
No doubt the defibrillator for this team has been Henrique. Rico has been money for the Ducks and no one has had more of an impact since he came to sunny SoCal in the trade that sent defenceman Sami Vatanen to New Jersey. This has by far been the best trade I have seen Murray pull off in recent years. Henrique has been exactly what the Ducks needed, both on the ice and in the locker room, and with so many young, talented defensemen in the system, this trade was a steal. Having a particularly hot streak as of late, Rico is just a fun guy to watch. His hockey IQ is incredible, he’s an extremely versatile player, and he is able to produce no matter where he is placed or who he is playing with. Not to mention he has helped the Ducks special teams significantly since coming to Anaheim.
Josh Manson is quickly developing into a leader on this team. The guy has had one hell of a year so far. Playing over 20 minutes per night, +22 and having a career season, Manson has had a huge impact on the Ducks staying afloat and recent success. He is thriving in his shutdown role on the Ducks top defensive pairing with Hampus Lindholm, and that pairing is dangerous and shows no signs of letting up. A big hitter, and a big asset to this team, Manson’s $4.1 million kicks in next season through 2022, and he is proving that he is worth every penny.
Brandon Montour has had quite a bit of criticism against him. He has been paired with Francois Beauchemin, and Beauch just seems like he cannot keep up. That seems to be the story with the Anaheim Ducks in the past few years: killed by speedy teams, giving away horrible opportunities and breakaways for the opponent. Montour himself is actually doing quite well and making an impact, a handful of goals, quite a few assists and a +14, perhaps pairing with Korbinian Holzer will create some more stability on the defensive side of the puck.
Young gun Kase continues to impress. That signature front hand to backhand move has come in handy on multiple occasions this season, his speed is vital, and he’s been absolutely clutch when they’ve needed him. One of the many players who have missed a handful of games with injury, he’s still managed to rank third in goals among the Ducks and pull off a +12... not bad for the 22 year old Czech.
Oh Captain, My Captain! Getzlaf is back to looking like that premiere #1 center. After missing quite a few games with a facial fracture, he is wasting no time making up for it. 34 points in 31 games, his chemistry with Rakell is reminiscent of vintage Corey Perry and Getzlaf, they just mesh and create scoring chances left and right. Give Getzlaf the opportunity to control the game and he will, he’s very methodical in his style of play, not a fast guy, but as one of the best passers in the league, he’s most definitely making an impact for his team and leading the charge.
Rakell has had quite the year. You cannot stop this guy, you can only hope to contain him. Leading the Ducks in points and goals, Rakell recently wrapped up his first NHL All-Star Game; bringing home a nice chunk of money, and scoring two of the Pacific Division’s goals. He’s basically turned into the new “Scorey Perry” taking on the name “Slick Rick” around the fanbase. Another one of those guys who are just fun to watch, he has the ability to create space and finesse his way around the ice seamlessly. He gets those goals that leaves viewers baffled; impossible angles, impressive puck control, this guy is going to be insane down the line. No doubt he is only going to progress from here, and at roughly 3.8 million a year through 2022, this contract is a steal and that contract should pan out extremely well for the Anaheim Ducks.
Speaking of contracts, would you have thought five years ago that Perry would have arguably the one of worst contracts in the NHL? The highest paid player on the Ducks roster, Perry is getting a whopping $8.625 million per year and a no movement clause, not to mention he’s 32 and signed the albatross 8-year extension at the age of 27.
Last season I was willing to say that maybe he was just having an off season, maybe he wasn’t declining just yet, but I am now officially calling it. He’s never going to be the “Scorey Perry” that everyone expects him to be again, so don’t count on another 50 or 40 goal season. The game is evolving and changing and it just seems like he has not been able to keep up. He is no longer the player he used to be, he’s not a speedy guy, he’s not getting into the dirty areas, he seems to hang back quite a bit, and he’s been more of a playmaker this year rather than the scoring winger he was signed to be. Only 10 goals in 44 games, a minus-6, he had gone from the top line, the fourth line, and back again. He is putting up a decent amount of assists, 21 on the season, but if the Ducks are going to make a run for the cup, Perry needs to score goals, end of story.
Kesler is back in action, aggravating teams and fanbases like we expected him to. That being said, is he still the same player? This was a concern I had as he was coming off his injury. That is a major surgery to come back form and at 33, that is not so forgiving on the body. Eighteen games under his belt for this season and only 5 goals. I’m hesitant to believe the “he’s easing himself back into things” since he was open about how he felt better in terms of skating than he did five years ago. Regardless of what the issue is, this is one of the guys who really needs to step it up for this team if they want to make the playoffs, and I don’t think anyone wants it more than he does after the heartbreaking loss to Nashville in the Western Conference Final last season.
To expand on that, what happened to the shut down line? Last season the Ducks were a one line team for a good chunk of time and now that line has been particularly quiet.
Where o’ where is Nick Ritchie? This was supposed to be his breakout season and he’s been rather silent on the scoring front. Ritchie has been a big body and big hitter out there for the Ducks, but hasn’t done much else. We know that the Ducks are a big, physical and gritty team; but again, that is not the way this league functions anymore. They need more from Nick Ritchie rather than 4-5 hits per night.
“John Gibson is day to day with...” or “John Gibson is leaving the game” is about as redundant and overplayed as the song “Gucci Gang.”
Alright, so I’ve been pretty critical of Gibson in the past. This year he has been absolutely phenomenal, he’s way more technically sound than he has ever been and you can see a lot more discipline in his game. I give him that 100%, but this is exactly the reason that I cannot buy into the: “Gibson will be the best goaltender in X amount of years.” The dude cannot stay healthy. He has yet to play a full season without going down with an injury. He is prone to injury, especially groin injuries which as we know, can be a death sentence for a goaltender’s career. Also, at what point is that “he will be the next Brodeur in 5 years” talk going to end? So at 29, with a history of injuries, he is going to be the best goaltender in the NHL. Potential is a very dangerous thing to count on. Swipe left.
This is why the Ducks went out to get Ryan Miller. Smart move by Bob. At some point in the season, Gibson will get hurt. History repeats itself, and it has over and over. Miller has been a great addition to the Ducks roster and has had a huge impact on this club; very even keel in between the pipes, calm and collected. He’s been a big upgrade in the backup goalie department and has been pretty much lights out when he has had to come in for Anaheim…. up until his last couple starts, which were lackluster to say the least but he got left high and dry for some bad breakaway’s.
That being said, if the Ducks are going to make a legitimate playoff push, they are going to need Gibson healthy and on his “A” game – scratch that, they need everyone on their “A” game. I don’t know what it is about this team in the post season. Call it a curse, call it choking, whatever it is; they can’t pick and choose which games they are going to show up for in the post season. John Gibson, when he was healthy, was pulled in at least one game of each round of the playoffs last season. The Captains showed up sporadically for their team; you can’t play like that and expect success. Bottom line.
One thing that I will say: after his demotion from the top line, Perry came back up to play with the big boys on the top line against Toronto, and they were an absolute force. He had 4 assists in that game and although that game resulted in a 7-4 loss to the Leafs, perhaps that was a glimmer of hope many were looking for when it comes to Perry.
The Ducks are (mostly) healthy and were picking up speed, but there are still things that most definitely need improvement. Special teams are going to have to be solid down the stretch. The penalty kill has improved but it remains inconsistent. Remember a few seasons ago when the Ducks had the best penalty kill in the league? Where has that been? Inconsistency has been an issue for the Ducks and now that they are pretty much fully healthy, there aren’t any excuses. They looked red hot, then lose three in a row on the road, surrendering 14 goals. Yikes. Getzlaf alluded to that after Monday’s loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs:
“We just have to commit to it and figure out what we need to do as a group and trust each other,” Getzlaf said. “We need to commit to that defensive game and play that way and win a couple game 2-1 or whatever we’ve gotta do here. The effort that we’re displaying on the defensive side of the puck isn’t good enough.”
Whatever the case, they could benefit greatly from a smart pickup come this season’s trade deadline. They need a winger who can come in and start scoring some goals off the bat, and let’s face it; they need someone who can keep up with the pace of the game.
The Best is Yet to Come?
Alright, so we’ve covered the good and the bad, now what? What do the Ducks need to do to put themselves in the best possible position for a playoff push? Well, what’s the story every year for this team? They once again will be in the market for a legit goal scorer, a top 9 winger for the second or third line before the trade deadline on February 26th.
There’s been talk of Max Pacioretty and Evander Kane as popular pickups at the trade deadline, but I don’t see the Ducks going that route. The price is too high, I doubt Bob is willing to give away a player like Montour to make that kind of deal happen, especially for the role he is looking to fill. A more probable situation is trading picks, prospects, and guys in the system rather than a headliner. I think the Vatanen-Henrique trade was as far as Bob will go in trading any of his current blue liners.
With all of that in mind, here are my top 3 picks that I think the Ducks might go after:
Michael Grabner - New York Rangers (LW)
Grabner is a pending unrestricted free agent and no doubt a big name concerning this season’s trade deadline. The Rangers will not have the cash to resign him to an extension at the conclusion of the season, so he should be a great rental to a cup contending team at the deadline. The guy is incredibly fast, vital to special teams, and fills a need that many teams across the league are looking for. He’s got a $1.625 million cap hit, and with over 20 goals on the season already, he could be that scoring piece that the Ducks are looking for at a budget friendly price. Some might argue for Rick Nash, but if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, Grabner is the choice.
Thomas Vanek - Vancouver Canucks (LW)
It seems like Vanek’s name is thrown around constantly. This guy just goes from team to team, he’s a hockey nomad. The 34-year-old left wing is a budget friendly option to pick up at the deadline. Another pending unrestricted free agent, his cap hit is only $2 million and Vanek could bring that extra something the Ducks are looking for. He can score, he’s got plenty of experience and a versatile player, he fits the mold of what the Ducks are looking for. For 34, he’s having a pretty good year so far and is on pace to score quite a few more goals. Maybe the Ducks can start an “Old guys rule” t-shirt line.
Patrick Maroon - Edmonton Oilers (LW)
Patty “Big Dog” Maroon. A familiar face for Ducks fans, he was traded to Edmonton from Anaheim at the 2016 trade deadline. I could see Murray making a push for Patty. He knows what he is going to get with Maroon, he knows the system, and they already know he fits in well with the Ducks style of hockey. The caveat I see here – the Ducks are a big, physical team, and Maroon fits in well, but speed kills in this league and I would see Murray making a push for a guy like Grabner before going for Maroon. Although, Patty is another affordable option for the Ducks with a 1.5 million dollar cap hit, and he’s spent a decent amount of time playing with Connor McDavid in Edmonton and he had a career season last year with 27 goals, 42 points.
Some Advice from TLC
While Murray is an enigma, I think this season it is safe to say he’s taking some advice from TLC. He don’t want no scrub, but may be chasing waterfalls.
He’s not going to humour some ridiculous asking price; he’s never been that kind of GM. That is precisely why I don’t see a Pacioretty or Kane trade happening. Is it completely out of the question? No, I supposed not, but it’s unlikely. The price is way too high, and what would the Ducks be willing to give up? The Ducks are going to be looking for a 2nd or 3rd line winger that can come right in and score goals.
If we learned anything about Murray in the expansion draft it is that, somehow, someway he pulls off a move that leaves us perplexed at how he accomplished it. You can pretty much count on Bob doing something come the deadline, he loves to cut a deal, and all signs are pointing to it being someone high on of the trade bait list, but they don’t call him “Bargain Bob” for nothing.
The odds of him going after a guy with a $4.5-$5 million cap hit are extremely low from what I understand, but the Ducks will be buyers this month, looking for the bonafide goal scorer this team needs to give them that extra push.