May 8, 2018 | 11:01am ET
BY Hannah Spraker, The Fourth Period

DUCKS HAVE TOUGH SUMMER AHEAD

 
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TORONTO, ON -- “Closing time, waive that little no-move and let you out into the world.”  I’m sure Semisonic would be open to doing a remix for the Anaheim Ducks this summer.  

Here we go again. Another impressive finish to the regular-season, and another playoff disappointing exit for the Ducks. 

The Ducks have made the playoffs 11 times in the past 13 seasons and more often than not they end the same way – at least the Game 7 curse is broken. Too soon? I think it’s about time for a new narrative, don’t ya think? The Bro Hymn that normally echoes throughout Honda Center with each goal scored this time of year has turned been muted and now you just get the feeling of a little Bohemian Rhapsody instead. 

Somber in SoCal, both the Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings got swept for a quick first round exit in the race for the Stanley Cup. The difference: Los Angeles put up a fight. The Ducks got swept by the San Jose Sharks and it was just plain ugly. The simplest way to put it: Anaheim played bad hockey, from top to bottom. The Ducks were red hot down the stretch, finishing 10-1-1 in their last dozen games, and there were high hopes for this team to go far in the playoffs, but there was just one problem: they didn’t show up, again. 

We’ve been talking about this for a few seasons now, the Ducks’ window with the veterans on this team, but before I dive down that rabbit hole, here’s the spark notes – the Sprake-notes if you will – for this series between San Jose and Anaheim. 

Anaheim did not have their No.1 defenseman Cam Fowler in the lineup due to injury. This left a massive gap on the blueline as well as the powerplay. While Fowler did not have the impressive All-Star worthy season this year, he is still Anaheim’s best 200 foot player and the QB of their powerplay. The injury plague caught up to him this season and kept him out for a bit, including the playoffs. 

Discipline was a huge factor in this series, or lack thereof. Game 3 was especially atrocious, the Ducks just looked like a beer league team. Bad penalty after bad penalty, the veterans throwing temper tantrums, it was honestly the worst game I have ever seen this hockey club play. The Ducks handed the Sharks power play opportunities left and right; a whopping 20 penalties, the Sharks converted on 6 of them. This was more than just gripping the stick a little too tight, getting frustrated; this was just plain dumb penalties. 

Although two of Anaheim’s four goals in this series came on the power play, the Ducks special teams were just terrible….and again….two of the four goals came on the power play, so that doesn’t look good for the Ducks offense.

Speaking of scoring... here are the goal scorers for the Ducks: Cogliano, Silfverberg, Rakell, Lindholm. This is the probably the biggest disappointment of the series. The lack of leadership, the lack of scoring from Anaheim’s top guys. Corey Perry did not have a single point in this series, Getzlaf completely derailed and Kesler just has not been the same since his hip surgery. 

  • San Jose rolled four lines that could score, Anaheim did not. There was no production from the Ducks third or fourth line. Guys like Ondrej Kase, Adam Henrique and Nick Ritchie needed to step it up and they fell off the map. The Ducks top nine had been relied on all season for scoring and they could not seem to get anything going and the third line was contributing no offense whatsoever. 
  • The Ducks outshot the Sharks but barely, and even so, goaltending for San Jose was lights out. Jones had a .970 save percentage. 
  • Odd man rushes were in surplus for San Jose. 
  • San Jose’s depth guys showed up and up and down the lineup guys were marking their name on the scoresheet. (In game 3 everyone and their dog were on the sheet)
  • One thing I mentioned in my playoff preview was Evander Kane. The Ducks had not played the Sharks since they acquired Kane prior to this series. San Jose got a lot faster with Kane and he was en fuego for his team, taking advantage of the Ducks lack of speed. Not to mention the top six for San Jose are a force to be reckoned with. 
  • Speed kills, and it killed the Ducks. The main critique of this team for quite sometime now. The Sharks skated circles around the Ducks, and took advantage of them in transition. This ‘rough and tough’ style of hockey that Anaheim seems to be stuck in just doesn’t fit into this league anymore. For a few seasons now they’ve been trailing the league but in this case they were simply left in the dust. 
  • The Vegas Golden Knights scored more goals in two periods in their first game in the second round than the Ducks did in four games. 
  • David Pastrnak had more points in the first round than the Ducks and Kings had goals combined. 

Now that it is all said and done, we can establish a few things in regard to this team.

  1. The Ducks are slow and need to adapt to the pace of the game, one way or another. 
  2. The veterans’ window has closed (yes I’m sticking by that).
  3. Change has to happen and happen soon to get this team back in the discussion of being a contending team. 
  4. John Gibson is coming into his own and was probably top 5 this season in goaltending—just don’t bump into him. 
  5. The cap is going to be one hell of an issue if they want to make any massive roster changes. 

So who is to blame? Where does the buck stop? 

Immediately everyone’s attention turns to the coach, does it not? Well, call me the oddity but I don’t think firing Randy Carlyle is the end-all-be-all answer to the Ducks woes—and GM Bob Murray has already come out and said that he stands by Carlyle. 

I think you have to give credit where credit is due here. The guy had a revolving door of injuries in his locker room, went down 318 man games due to injury, and still got his team to the playoffs. In his first season back with the Ducks they made it to the Western Conference Final, and he is a Stanley Cup coach. Yes, his style of hockey is outdated, and that needs to change, absolutely, but honestly, if he had a faster group of guys to work with I don’t think everyone would be so quick to crucify him. So before the pitchforks come out for Carlyle, maybe look at the guy who builds the team Carlyle has to coach.

Also, it is easy to point the finger at RC and say that it is all his fault, but face the facts; the same fundamental problems that existed under Bruce Boudreau are now under Carlyle’s watch. Great regular season, choke in the playoffs, and ultimately that falls onto the guys on the ice. That being said, if a better candidate becomes available, which I don’t think there is at this point in time, for sure they should explore that. I’m not saying that Carlyle and his coaching style aren’t an issue, but I think we need to pump the brakes on playing the blame game with the coach. A tad cliche, don’t you think?

At the end of the day, I think the buck stops with Murray. He has been the general manager of the Ducks for the past 10 seasons and while they have made the playoffs in most of those seasons, Murray’s tactics in formulating a winning roster are questionable. The Vatanen/Henrique trade was the best move I have seen Murray make in a very long time. That was game changing. Henrique came in to act as a bandaid for this team when injuries were in surplus and ended up being much more valuable than that. Murray also did a great job swinging a deal with Vegas to protect key players in the expansion draft, and maneuvering his way around Bieksa’s no move as well as getting Stoner’s contract off the books was a smart move.

Then on the other hand, Murray’s activity at the trade deadline left everyone puzzled. The aging core of this team has been a concern for years and with the injuries, Bob Murray was expected to be all in—then he goes and gets Chimera and Kelly, which turned out to be of virtually no value at all and he gave up Chris Wagner. Furthermore, signing Francois Beauchemin last summer was curious as well. We’ve known the league is evolving and getting faster and played with more finesse, so why would he sign a slow defenseman at the age of 37? Don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t like Francois Beauchemin? He’s a great guy, great player and has had a great career, but signing him even to that one year deal was moving in the opposite direction of the league. 

The story has been the same in the off season and the trade deadline for the past few years— Ducks need a fast winger who is a bonafide goal scorer. Typically he is pretty quiet in the summer and then goes to pick up a rental at the deadline; Perron, McGinn, etc. Patrick Eaves was a great acquisition and he had great chemistry with Getzlaf, and I don’t fault Murray for the unfortunate circumstances there, and hopefully Eaves makes a return next season, but Murray has made some big mistakes when it comes to handing out hefty contracts with no moves which have ended up limiting what the Ducks are able to do. 

Murray has already stated that the Ducks need to get faster in his exit interview, but his hot and cold roster moves make me skeptical that he can accomplish that. I honestly thought Bob Murray’s job security would be in question as the season ended in another disappointment, but I guess time will tell.

That being said, how do you accomplish that when you’ve handed out massive contracts with no move clauses? 

  • Corey Perry (32) has another 3 seasons at $8.6 million, NMC.
  • Ryan Getzlaf (32) has another 3 seasons at $8.2 million, NMC.
  • Ryan Kesler (33) has another 4 seasons at $6.8 million, NMC.

When you have that much tied up in no-move clauses, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. I could see Murray having a discussion with these guys to see if they would waive their no move clauses and discuss the future of the team, but let’s call a spade a spade here. These guys are over 30, they’re getting paid top dollar to play professional hockey in Southern California, their kids go to school there, would you waive if you were them? 

I think that Kesler gets a bit of a pass here. This season he was still recovering, and maybe the summer off will do him some good to fully regain strength, but I’ve said it before: are you really the same player after a major hip surgery like that at 33 years old? I don’t think he will ever really get back to being the same player he was, but I can see him picking it up quite a bit next season. 

Let’s say Perry waives his no-move, is there even a market for him? He’s been declining faster than Donald Trump tweets about fake news and he hasn’t broken the 20 goal mark the past two seasons. At $8.6 million, is anyone willing to bite? Again, that is all “if” he waives his no-move. While Ducks fans on twitter love to throw around that word ‘buyout’, don’t hold your breath. 

Getzlaf is still an elite center in the NHL, and he had a great season. He’s one of the best passers in the league and he has amazing chemistry with Rakell, except his leadership and performance in this series were just awful. So out of the three, I think Getzlaf would for sure get the best return if he were to waive his no-move, but is it worth it to lose your captain and number one center? Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, but if they are looking to fully re-vamp, he would get the best return.

Which brings me to my next point: I’ve had a lot of people on twitter ask me about stripping Getzlaf of the captaincy, my question is: who would you give it to? Would Anaheim just have A’s? Who is more fit to the captain than Getzlaf? Last season I would have honestly been fine with the captaincy going to Kesler. I think he led by example, he played his heart out in the playoffs and he led on and off the ice. Now after that injury, again, I question what kind of player he is going to be moving forward. He told the media when he came back from injury that he felt better skating than he did 5 years ago, and everyone was eager for his return, especially down the stretch and heading into the post season, but his performance was disappointing. 

On the bright side, Kevin Bieksa is now off the books with that Albatross of a contract, with yet another no-move gone, and Beauchemin is retiring so that opens up a bit of space. 

So if they can’t make major roster moves with the veterans, what changes? Well, the Ducks have already announced that they will not be renewing the contract of assistant coach Trent Yawney. He has coached defense and the PK for four seasons, and has been with the Ducks for seven. Well, letting Yawney go is a start, and Murray has made it clear that Carlyle is here to stay, so what’s next?

Free Agents

Free agency is going to be key for the Ducks this summer. Anaheim has a multitude of RFAs and UFAs to deal with or not deal with come July 1 and it would do them good to shop around. 

Two key restricted free agents to resign are Brandon Montour and Ondrej Kase. 

Kase impressed the hell out of hockey fans and media alike this season. His style of play reminds me of Patric Hornqvist. The kid just looks fearless and tenacious to do whatever it takes to get the job done on the ice. Last year around this time I was writing that Kase might crack the lineup for a roster spot. Now, 38 points in 66 games this season (he was among the many who had injury woes), and 20 goals on the season. Last season he had 5 goals, now he tied Henrique for second in scoring to Rakell. He has the speed that they are looking to bring to this team and he’s an incredibly versatile player. To not re-sign him would be a mistake. 

Montour is another one to hold onto. When paired with Cam Fowler, the top four on Ducks defense are absolute dynamite; 32 points in 80 games, 9 goals. He was paired up with Beauchemin for quite sometime this season so it would be nice to see him paired up with Fowler long term. He was a priority to protect in the expansion draft and while there are plenty of naysayers saying that Theodore was the better defenseman and the Ducks should have protected him; and that might be the case, but that deal with Vegas kept some key pieces so say what you want. It goes back to my argument about Gibson vs. Andersen. I still think Andersen is the better goaltender, but they had to let him walk so they could resign guys like Rakell and Lindholm. I think Montour is still coming into his own and well on his way to becoming a top defenseman in the NHL. He is an extremely underrated player, give him a bit more time, he’s only 24 and defenseman tend to come into their prime later than forwards.

Nick Ritchie is also an RFA, and honestly I could see the Ducks parting ways with him. For a guy who was supposed to have a breakout season, he was very disappointing, showing that he was pretty much just a big body on the ice for a good chunk of the season. If they do choose to give him an extension it would be something small. Andy Welinksi is also an RFA who I imagine will get an extension, but he will be fighting for a roster spot come training camp. 

Now onto the big guns. The unrestricted free agents.

Swiping Left:

Beauchemin is retiring so he’s off the books. Bieksa’s disease of a contract is done. He expressed how unhappy he was about how things went down in playoffs and he is not expected to resign with the team. 

Chimera was a weird pickup and he most definitely does not fit the mold that the Ducks are trying to fit into He is not fast enough and he sure as heck is not young enough. Same goes for Chris Kelly. 

Antoine Vermette is going to walk. I think that Derek Grant gets signed before he does since he’s pretty much taken over his role. Plenty of teams will have interest in Vermette for his faceoff numbers, but with Kesler back, they do not really have much need for him. 

Swipe Right:

Moving on to Derek Grant, Grant had a great season, finally snagging himself his first NHL goal, which led to 11 more, it only took him nearly 100 NHL games. Nevertheless I could see them bringing him back if the price is right. 

JT Brown is another player I could see fitting into the kind of roster they’re looking to build, due to his speed, but again, the price would have to be right. It all comes down to the money, especially with the veterans huge contracts and talented youth coming up through the system. 

Who’s in the pipeline?

The Ducks have been well known for having talented defensemen in their system, so I imagine guys like Andy Welinksi, Marcus Pettersson, Jacob Larsson, Jaycob Megna, Josh Mahura will all be fighting for roster spots come camp. 

Larsson is a kid we’ve watched for a few seasons now and been optimistic about. He’s an incredibly talented player who’s style reminds me of Cam Fowler; a very complete player. He’s battled coming back from knee surgery which has been a struggle for him, so it will be interesting to see where he’s at come September. 

In terms of forwards, there is plenty of talent in guys like Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry, Kevin Roy amongst a few others. While I think they will definitely look to their system to bring up some youth and speed, it would still behoove the organization to shop around a bit in free agency to see what is available. 

The Rumour Mill

Now this happens with every team, every year. Twitter explodes with assumptions of who is going to be signed in free agency to give their team that added boost they need, whatever spot it might be.  Let me start by bursting Ducks fans bubble on this one. That’s a big hell no to James Neal coming to Anaheim. 

  1. I talked to him in Tampa during All-Star Weekend; he said he has every intention of staying in Vegas. 
  2. The Ducks can no way afford him... same goes for John Tavares. 
  3. Unless the Ducks get any of the vets to waive their NMC, headliners will not be coming to Anaheim. 

That being said here are some more realistic options. 

I said it at the trade deadline and I stand by it now. I think Michael Grabner is the most cost effective choice of the pending UFAs. He’s fast, a legit goal scorer, 27 goals in 80 games, and he’s vital to special teams. Thomas Vanek would be another option on my radar, yes both these guys are over 30, but they fit today’s style of hockey. Fast and finesse. Vanek put up 56 points in 79 games this season, and he’s a versatile player.

Evander Kane would be the hot ticket to go after, but you can bet San Jose is going re-sign him. It is tempting to look at guys like James van Riemsdyk, Tavares, Neal and all those high price tags and say it’s a fit. David Perron would be one of my picks if money weren’t the issue, but again the story remains the same every year. The Ducks need to make changes and they don’t really have the resources to do so. 

So how do they move forward? Well, you either (1) get the big guys to waive their no moves and see what kind of market there is, (2) you bring in either new management or coaching, or (3) you make these minor acquisitions that they’ve been used to doing for a while now. Any way you slice it, I think that for the core of this team, the window is closed. All of this talk of “major changes happening over the summer” is nice and all but let’s face reality here; the Ducks are going to have to start re-tooling this team as the cap allows them to. 

The Ducks showed incredible resilience throughout the entire season, battling injuries left and right. High hopes ended in yet another disappointment, and if they want to stay a competitive team in this league there’s no doubt about one thing: change needs to happen, and it needs to happen now Whether it’s management or roster moves, something has to change because the story of “let’s start the season slow, pick it up and go on a hot streak at the end, and then choke in the playoffs” is getting old for everyone. I think the Ducks best shot at winning the cup came in 2015 when they lost in the western conference final to Chicago. 

Mr. Brightside

There are some things Anaheim can be proud of and look forward to:

  • Rickard Rakell is the New Scorey Perry 
  • Ondrej Kase is exactly the type of player this team needs moving forward. 
  • Gibson had is best season yet, putting up top numbers, just keep him healthy and you’re good. 
  • Top 4 D pairings look solid if Montour is given an extension.
  • Eaves should hopefully return next season if he continues to progress. 
  • Kesler has more time to recover.

This summer should be interesting. I’m skeptical to see what they’re able to accomplish if they do not switch up management, but I guess we just have to stay tuned. I think it is time that owners Henry and Susan Samueli need to really take a look at what they have and how to move forward. 

One thing is for damn sure: this rough and tough hockey is not going to fly anymore. The Ducks got away with it for a while because they were able to slow the game down a bit and play methodically, but now they’re simply chasing teams, and that series was flat out embarrassing.  

 
 
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Hannah Spraker is a Columnist and the Anaheim Correspondent for The Fourth Period.
Follow her on Twitter.

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