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What to expect from the Ducks after dead last finish, Dallas Eakins firing

April 19, 2023, 9:23 PM ET [21 Comments]
Ben Shelley
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The Anaheim Ducks wrapped up their season with a 13th straight loss last week, on route to a last place finish in the NHL.

Following the final game, the team opted to fire head coach Dallas Eakins. It certainly wasn’t a surprising decision, after a hugely disappointing year. Eakins ended his four-season tenure with the Ducks with a 100-147-44 record and did not reach the playoffs with Anaheim. A replacement is yet to be named.

It’s a year that actually started with a bit of promise. The organization made efforts to pick up about four quality roster players in the offseason, adding John Klingberg, Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano, and Dmitry Kulikov, not to mention transitioning Mason McTavish to the NHL. However, any hope was quickly squashed early in the year.

After opening the season with a thrilling overtime win over the Seattle Kraken, things went downhill pretty much right away for the Ducks. They ended up on a seven-game losing streak directly afterwards and basically put themselves completely out of the playoff picture right away. Anaheim then went on to set the NHL record for most shots allowed in a single season, giving up over 300 more shots than any other team this year and an average of almost 40 shots per game.

In a year where the goal was to see a bit of improvement, the Ducks actually took a step back. Nothing went right: the team was atrocious defensively, couldn’t score, and both their power play and penalty kill ranked 31st in the league. Even the players they brought in just to being flipped for assets later on brought back very little at the trade deadline.

There were some small positives though, mainly with younger players making an impact. Mason McTavish was excellent in his first NHL season, and has already become one of the team’s top forwards. Meanwhile, Lukas Dostal somehow managed to clear a .900 save percentage across 19 games, showing he’s ready for a full-time role next season. Simon Benoit also solidified himself on the blue line and while he was playing far too large of a role, his development was a plus.

I’d also say that in terms of where the Ducks are at, having a season like this isn’t the end of the world. Frustrating? Absolutely. But Anaheim is building for the future and if they weren’t going to get overly close to the postseason anyways, then at least they improved their draft positioning.

The biggest positive of the year clearly comes with the Ducks having the best shot to land a legitimate franchise player in Connor Bedard. Their last place finish leaves them with a 25.5 per cent chance at the star center, almost twice as high as any other team.

Even if they don’t land Bedard though, they’ll still have an 18.8 per cent chance at the second overall pick and the worst they can do is third overall. With players like Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov and Leo Carlsson available, the Ducks are going to get a high-end forward.

However, I think it’ll be interesting to see who actually returns next season. The Ducks actually do have the majority of their forward group set to return, aside from any trades or buyouts.

We know 12 forwards who were regular NHLers with the Ducks this season are either under contract or will get new deals in place for next year. These would be: Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry, Mason McTavish, Adam Henrique, Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano, Jakob Silfverberg, Isac Lundestrom, Max Jones, Sam Carrick, Brock McGinn and Brett Leason. That’s also not to mention that Max Comtois could still possibly get a qualifying offer, while Nikita Nesterenko and Pavol Regenda will be competing for spots, along with other prospects.

While we could (and should) see an addition or two up front, I’d be surprised to see multiple high-end forwards brought in. With Terry, Zegras, McTavish and the 2023 top draft pick alone, the Ducks will already have four forwards who should be long-term, top-six players. A key will just be allowing for time to develop and not making poor cap decisions to cause issues down the road. Getting Zegras and Terry signed to long-term deals this summer is going to be a key task for Pat Verbeek as well.

With goaltending, there’s always the question of “will John Gibson be traded” but his value has taken a hit to the point where it’s getting less and less likely the Ducks would get a worthwhile return. We’ll likely see Gibson and Dostal as the tandem next year.

However, there’s likely to be a lot of turnover on the blue line. We know Cam Fowler, Jamie Drysdale and Simon Benoit will be back, while Urho Vaakanainen and Colton White are still under contract as well. After that though, everyone else is up in the air. Kevin Shattenkirk could return, but that would be more of a stopgap option.

The Ducks may want to refrain from adding a big-name option on the left side, to leave room for when some of their top defense prospects are ready to make the jump. Jackson LaCombe, Pavel Mintyukov, Olen Zellweger and Tyson Hinds could all possibly start the season in the AHL, and it’s only a matter of time until one after the other, they’re ready to join the Ducks. As a result, locking in a long-term blue liner on the left side doesn’t make a ton of sense, with Cam Fowler still around for a few more years and the focus on developing younger talent. There’s a good chance we see someone brought in, but possibly another Kulikov-type move, moreso meant to help short-term.

On the right side though, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the team look for a major upgrade. Jamie Drysdale will be around long-term, but that’s it. Drew Helleson could be close, but doesn’t need to be forced into an NHL role out of training camp and Tristan Luneau is still in junior for another year and doesn’t have an entry-level contract yet. As a result, you could see the Ducks look to bring in someone who can help over the course of the next three or four years, either through trade or free agency. If they go the free agency route, two names to watch would be Damon Severson or Scott Mayfield.

A coaching change can only help too, hopefully injecting some new life into a group that often lacked much jump, even considering the lack of talent. It's difficult to start naming off possible candidates this early though and perhaps we get a better idea of who possible options could be in the coming weeks. However, establishing an actual team identity will be key for whoever comes in, along with a focus on player development. Looking at who the team will be building around both up front and on the blue line, the Ducks need someone who will be able to get the most out of a lineup that could be very dynamic offensively in the coming years.

So it’s going to be interesting to see how much emphasis is put on adding players this offseason, versus leaving room for prospects to develop into roles. I think we’re likely to see a mix, but it’s still not out of the realm of possibility that players could be sold off for future assets too. Any of John Gibson, Adam Henrique or even Cam Fowler could possibly be in play. The Ducks are in an interesting spot, where a lot of different things could happen.

However, it’s key that no matter what the Ducks do, getting to the point of being able to compete every night needs to be the goal. They can’t put their cap situation for future years in jeopardy with a short-term outlook, but actually showing signs of improvement is going to be a focus.

There are certainly a lot of questions heading into the offseason, and it’s going to be interesting to see what the Ducks do.

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