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Pacific Division Preview: Anaheim Ducks

The Pacific division will be different this year than in previous seasons. The Seattle Kraken are new in the division while the Arizona Coyotes moved to the Central division and for the first time in NHL history there will be eight teams in all four divisions.

Over the next few weeks I will look at the new rosters of the eight teams in the Pacific Division. Today we start with the Anaheim Ducks.

No Pacific division team made fewer off-season moves than the Ducks, which is surprising considering they finished 30th in the NHL last season after a 27th place finish in 2020.

The Ducks went 17-30-9 last season and were outscored 177-124. They finished last in goals scored and were 23rd in goals against. They were outscored 122-100 at 5×5, were 22nd in GF% (45.05), 27th in XGF% at 45.79, finished 16th on the PK (79.9%) and had the worst powerplay in NHL history at 8.9%. Their PP scored 11 goals, but they allowed five shorthanded goals, so their PP was only +6 and a net 4.9%. Since the NHL began tracking PP% in 1978, the Ducks were the worst in both PP% and net PP%.

Despite hovering near the bottom in most categories, the Ducks didn’t make many off-season changes.

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Out                                              In
Danton Heinen                            Buddy Robinson
Carter Rowney
David Backes
Jani Hakanpaa
Ben Hutton
Ryan Miller

Heinen was 13th on the Ducks in games played with 43, while Hakanpaa (42), Hutton (34), Rowney (19), Miller (16) and Backes (15) were not every day players.

The changes for the Ducks will come internally.

Hampus Lindholm only played 18 games last season due to injury, while Josh Manson (23) and young Jamie Drysdale (24) also missed time with injury. The Ducks are expecting those three to be in their top-six along with Cam Fowler, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jacob Larsson. They are hoping a healthy Lindholm and Manson will solidify their top-four and allow Drysdale to play some easier minutes early this season.

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The Ducks offence was anemic last year, and it has struggled for the past three seasons finishing 31st, 26th and 31st. Max Comtois led them in goals (16) and points (33) last year. They only had two forwards with more than 21 points, but that same group is back, and they are hoping young players like Comtois (16-17-33), Troy Terry (7-13-20), Max Jones (7-4-11), Sam Steel (6-6-12), Isac Lundestrom (6-3-9) can provide more punch while veterans like Rickard Rakell (9-19-28), Adam Henrique (12-9-21), Ryan Getzlaf (5-12-17) and Jakob Silfverberg (8-8-16) can have bounce-back seasons.

John Gibson will be the starter in goal, while Anthony Stolarz, who played eight games last season, will replace Miller as the backup. In limited action, Stolarz was quite good posting a .926Sv% and 2.20 GAA. He should be an upgrade on Miller, who struggled with a .882Sv% and 3.51 GAA.

It would impossible to be as bad offensively as the Ducks were last season, especially on the powerplay, but it seems clear the Ducks are in rebuild mode and are hoping their young players can emerge at forwards and on defence.

The interesting thing is the Ducks core players aren’t old, but collectively they were pretty bad last season. Management must believe that COVID played a factor and so they will enter this season hoping the group of players who are 26-31 years of age will be better. Maybe the entire group had an off-year, but that is a pretty risky gamble to take from my vantage point.

Lindholm is 27, while Fowler and Manson are 29. Henrique is 31, Silfverberg 30 and Rakell is 28. Can they still improve, or even maintain previous successes? Rakell, Lindholm and Manson are all UFAs at the end of the year, and if the Ducks struggle early all of them could be on the move.

Anaheim is in a tough spot where their veterans didn’t produce much, and their young players, outside of Comtois, haven’t been able to gain much traction at the NHL level. In addition, Gibson’s last two seasons haven’t been great. In 210 games between 2016-2019 Gibson posted a .922sv% and 2.42 GAA. Only Ben Bishop had a higher combined sv% over those four seasons. Gibson was stellar for the Ducks. However, the past two seasons among the 37 goalies who have made 50+ starts Gibson sits 28th in Sv% at .904 and 32nd in GAA at 2.99. His play had dipped drastically in his last 86 starts.

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We’ve seen many goalies have dips, and then rebound to previous really good levels. If Gibson can play like he did between 2016-2019, the Ducks could surprise this season, but if his struggles continue then Anaheim is destined to finish last in the Pacific. They don’t have enough elite talent up front or on the backend to overcome average or below average goaltending.

It is rare to see a team, which has struggled for three consecutive seasons, make only one small addition in the off-season. Constant turnover is not the key to success either, but I’m very intrigued to see if Anaheim can compete for a playoff spot without making any significant changes. I don’t see it.

I have the Ducks finishing last in the Pacific.

What do you think about their off-season and chances for the upcoming campaign?

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