Things seem to be going well in Anaheim these days. A 7-0-1 run has fans murmuring about second half surges of the past and wondering if a miracle can happen to propel the Ducks into the playoffs. Along with the hope of a postseason birth will come the annual second half celebration of the job Bob Murray is doing. We'll get to that later. First, it's important to understand the hole the Ducks dug for themselves and what the future might actually hold for them.
The Ducks have had this great 7-0-1 streak, and as a result they've moved up one place in the standings. 13th never looked so good. However, there's a silver lining. The Ducks have games in hand on every team in front of them except the Dallas Stars. The bad news is that if they do win all those games in hand they won't pick up a single spot in the standings. That's how far out of the pack they are. The Ducks are 13 points out of 8th place in the Conference, or 7.5 games in baseball terms. Unfortunately, Conference standings work a little differently in the NHL. There are 5 teams between the Ducks and the playoffs and all of them will be playing each other.
It took 97 points to make the Western Conference Playoffs last season. The Ducks have 41 points with 36 games left, so they need 56. That's 28 wins of the last 36. More importantly, it probably has to be 28 wins, because if the Ducks try to pick up points with overtime losses, they'll most likely be giving points to teams that are ahead of them in the standings, which is the real problem. As I said earlier, there are five teams between the Ducks and the playoffs. Ever since the implementation of the shootout one team wins every night. Essentially, when teams 10 and 11 in the standing play each other, one of them puts distance between themselves and the Ducks. Considering that three of those teams are from the same division, Calgary, Colorado and Minnesota, chances are the teams ahead of the Ducks will be playing each other rather frequently. That means the Ducks will be hard-pressed to make up ground.
So, what does all of this mean? It means the Ducks aren't really doing anything right now except dropping down the draft order. That's probably not an awful thing for a fan base that needs an excuse to show up to the rink, but it might be bad for a franchise that has a chance for a top 5 pick for only the second time in the past decade. The Ducks do have impact players in the pipeline, such as Emerson Etem, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Justin Schultz. However, the impact of a number one overall player might be enough to propel them into elite status while saving them a little money with an entry level contract.
Finally, this should be a warning to those who don't think Murray should lose his job. Arthur noted in a recent editorial that the seasons in Anaheim have become somewhat formulaic.
As a sports fan, I long for the hope of a new season, its new-season smell and the promise of starting anew. But, at some point, Bob Murray took that from me. Instead of a blank slate, I came to expect that this season would look like its recent predecessors: an ill-conceived roster met with almost-scheduled adversity, then empty threats of major trades, then inexplicable job security for the coaching staff and its system, then finally, a barely successful or unsuccessful drive to make the postseason in a sport where over half the teams are guaranteed playoff games.
Yes, Murray got Bruce Boudreau and Boudreau has turned it around. He made an easy decision to pick up Niklas Hagman while Blake was laid up with that laceration. He made a good trade for Rod Pelley. But, at the end of the day, he's also a key reason why this team is in this mess in the first place. At some point, the fact that we have to suffer through bad first halves and pray for brilliant second half playoff runs has to be considered his fault. If you didn't read that piece, I recommend going back and reflecting on it.
As a fan, I always want my team to win, even now when it's probably not in the franchise's best interest. Still, the same old formula of a bad first half from a poorly constructed team, that leads to a second half run that only ruins draft position is something we can't keep doing if we want to be a Cup contender. More than likely, this season is lost. That doesn't mean I won't have fun watching it; it just means I'm left wondering if more could have been done to make sure this season wouldn't have been such a waste.