Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Pacific Preview: The Anaheim Ducks just won’t go away

This is one part of a multi-part series profiling the teams of the Pacific Division from an Oilers perspective. 

Ah yes, our old friends, the Anaheim Ducks. Despite dealing with a wide array of injuries and an old core that looks like a shell of its former self, the Ducks still managed to finish second in the Pacific Division. When will these guys go away?!

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What did they do last season?

  • 44-25-13 – (101 points)
  • 235 goals for (18th) 
  • 216 goals against (4th)

It’s pretty remarkable that the Ducks had as much success as they did last season. I mean, it ended up with them being swept in the first round of the playoffs, but given their circumstances, it’s impressive they got that far.

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They began the year decimated by injuries as Ryan Kesler, Hampus Lindholm, and Sami Vatanen were out of their opening night lineup with various issues. Not too long into the season, Ryan Getzlaf suffered a fractured bone in his face, forcing him out of the lineup for over a month, and Patrick Eaves suffered an illness that knocked him out of action for virtually the entire season.

There were points in time where Anaheim was rolling out Antoine Vermette and Derek Grant as their two top centres. Despite this, the Ducks managed to stay above water. After Christmas when everybody was healthy, they went on their standard Ducks surge and managed to finish in second in the Pacific Division with 101 points.

Key to Anaheim’s success was excellent play from Rickard Rakell, who led the team with a career-high 34 goals and 69 points. Beyond Rakell, the Ducks also got a major boost from Ondrej Kase, who broke out for 20 goals sort of out of nowhere. Finding offence elsewhere in the lineup was critical for Anaheim because two of their key veteran forwards, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, looked like shells of their former selves. Perry scored only 17 goals, continuing a downward trend we’ve been seeing the past few seasons, while Kesler scored just 14 points in a 44-game injury-riddled season. Another breakout performance critical to Anaheim’s success was Brandon Montour. He made Vatanen expendable so the Ducks could pull the trigger on a deal to acquire Adam Henrique, giving their offence a much-needed boost

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Ultimately, though, it was Anaheim’s success can mostly be chalked up to the team’s ability to keep the puck out of the net. Montour slid up beside Cam Fowler on a very good offensive pair while Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson carried the heavy lifting. Behind their strong blueline was arguably the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. John Gibson posted a .926 save percentage in 60 games and Ryan Miller posted a .928 save percentage in relief. The Ducks ranked fourth in the league in goals against, giving their league-average offence a lot of room for error.

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It always looks like the Ducks with their old, expensive core, are going to start to slow down, but it never seems to happen. This year, excellent goaltending, a rock-solid blueline, and some unexpected scoring depth helped them overcome a season riddled by injuries to key players. They just never go away.

Apr 19, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson (36) guards his net as Calgary Flames right wing Curtis Lazar (20) tries to score during the second period in game four of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

What did they do in the off-season?

  • Major Additions: Brian Gibbons, Carter Rowney, Andrej Sustr, Luke Schenn, Chase De Leo.
  • Major Subtractions: Antoine Vermette, Jason Chimera, Derek Grant, Kevin Bieksa, Francois Beauchemin.
  • Other stuff: Signed John Gibson to an eight-year extension, signed Adam Henrique to a five-year extension, signed Ondrej Kase to a three-year contract, signed Brandon Montour to a two-year contract.

Far and away their biggest splash of the summer for the Ducks came when they inked Gibson to a massive eight-year deal worth $6.4 million annually. That’s a pretty nice cap hit for somebody as good as Gibson at the moment, but making an eight-year investment on a goaltender is virtually unheard of. Regardless, they believe Gibson is the guy, and, well, he has been since entering the league. Gibson is only 25 years old and he sports a .923 save percentage over 178 career games.

The other big deal they handed out was a five-year extension to Henrique, who fit into their lineup seamlessly after being acquired from New Jersey. Kase and Montour, two good young players, were also given multi-year deals, meaning the Ducks have their entire core locked up for the next two seasons.

In terms of additions and subtractions, there wasn’t much notable coming in or out. The Ducks waved goodbye to some old dead weight, letting Antoine Vermette, Jason Chimera, Kevin Bieksa, and Francois Beauchemin walk in free agency. They added Brian Gibbons, Carter Rowney, Luke Schenn, and Andrej Sustr in free agency to replace them, meaning the Ducks are significantly younger than they were last season.

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Jan 23, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Anaheim Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle has a few words with his players during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

What’s going to happen this season?

This is a really difficult team to bet against. Like I said, they just never go away. It always looks like the Ducks are going to take a step back given their ageing core, but it doesn’t happen. The same thing happens every single year. They get off to a slow-ish start, kinda trade water, and then they go on a late-season surge. Even with Perry and Kesler looking like shells of their former selves, the Ducks find a way to stay relevant.

Usually, when you look at a team in a league with as much parity as the NHL, you think something along the lines of “okay, barring injury and disaster, this team should be good.” The Ducks did deal with injury and disaster last year. Getzlaf and Kesler were out of the lineup at the same time and Perry looked like a corpse, but they still managed to survive.

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So, can we really say this is going to be the year the Ducks take a step back? I mean, they didn’t take a step back last year when Perry and Kesler combined for 25 goals. They’re a better team on paper than they were last season, as the players who left in free agency were old and bad and they got replaced by players who are younger and not as bad.

Ultimately, Anaheim still has the one consistent recipe for success down — good defence and goaltending. A blueline that features an offensive pair of Fowler and Montour and a shutdown pair of Manson and Lindholm with Gibson and Miller in net is going to be successful, even if the team struggles to score goals.

We’d all love to see the Ducks go away, but it’s not something I would bet on.

Anaheim’s cap situation 

Anaheim’s projected lineup