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HAWK THOUGHT: Are Ducks Struggles A Product Of Coaching, Or Roster Construction?

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Bruce Boudreau's employment status continues to be a hot topic with Anaheim languishing. Are their failings entirely on him?

Ryan Getzlaf reacts after the Black Friday overtime loss to Chicago.
Ryan Getzlaf reacts after the Black Friday overtime loss to Chicago.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It's four days before Christmas. The Anaheim Ducks, widely expected before the season to be one of the major contenders for the Stanley Cup, are in the very basement of the league.

After the 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and with a back-to-back featuring the New York Islanders and Rangers beginning today, the pre-holiday road trip has exposed the issues of this year's club firsthand to much of the east coast media. Speculation about the future of head coach Bruce Boudreau has once again ramped up, especially after calling out his star players following the trip-opening loss in Buffalo.

Yet for as hot as the seat may be under Boudreau, it's worth asking whether or not the problems with the 2015-16 Ducks are entirely of his doing. Anaheim has been shut out seven times this season, scored one or fewer goals in just under half of their games, and are the worst offense in the league, averaging less than two goals per game.

Here's the question: Is the reason this team isn't scoring or winning entirely due to Boudreau, or could it be the much-discussed changes over the offseason set this team up to have trouble putting the puck in the net?

The Boudreau Legacy

Bruce Boudreau has been blessed to be able to coach teams with players the caliber of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in Washington, and after that went south fall in to an Anaheim team with the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Both pairs are unquestionably amongst the greatest offensive talents either franchise has had, and as such the teams under Boudreau's charge have never lacked for goal scoring.

For his career before this season, in the 599 games Boudreau coached between the Capitals and Ducks, his squads have averaged 250.9 goals per 82 games while allowing 216.3 against. In Washington, the Capitals averaged 264.4 goals per 82 games with 222.8 against per 82 games, while in Anaheim the Ducks have averaged 234.5 goals and conceded 208.3 per 82 games. The league average from his debut year 07-08 to 14-15 is 228.5 goals for and against per 82 games.

While Boudreau's Capitals teams got the job done purely with offense, his Ducks have been much better defensively. If current rates hold this Anaheim team has a chance to challenge the 13-14 squad's mark of 203 goals against, which is the lowest ever full season total by a Boudreau-coached team. However if the goals-per game rate through the first 31 games holds for the full 82, the team will score 153-154 goals, which would be ~21 fewer goals than the 01-02 team's 175 which is the current franchise low scoring output in full length regular season. That team scored on 8.2% of their shots, while this year the Ducks are scoring on 6.2%.

Bad luck can be part of an explanation for Anaheim's troubles putting pucks in the net. Poor shooting percentage can also be attributed to too many shots from distance, as well as not generating enough scoring chances or high danger chances as a percentage of shot attempts. Considering Boudreau's offensive track record and how the Ducks have scored with him at the helm, lets look at the new pieces he's had this season and what they've replaced.

Nearly 28% Roster Turnover From A Western Conference Finalist

The offseason saw Matt Beleskey and Francois Beauchemin depart through free agency, while Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem were traded away. That quartet accounted for 52 of 228 goals during the regular season, and 12 of 57 playoff goals; 23.5% of the offensive output for the regular and post season total. It's worth noting that Beleskey produced well above his career average in a contract year, parlaying it into a five-year, $3.8 mil. deal with the Boston Bruins.

In their place came Carl Hagelin, Chris Stewart, Shawn Horcoff, Mike Santorelli, and Kevin Bieksa. Last year Hagelin scored 17 goals, Stewart had 14, Horcoff 11, Santorelli 12, and Bieksa 4 scores during the regular season. On the surface their 58 regular season goals more than make up for the departed players, and the additional speed particularly amongst the forwards filled a perceived offseason need. Yet for for the scoring totals put up last season by the acquisitions, a deeper dive into their possession numbers may help explain some of Anaheim's current struggles.

2014-15 Relative Possession (Whole Game/Even Strength)
Player SAT esSAT SC esSC HSC esHSC
Hagelin (NYR) -5.12 1.18 -5.42 -0.35 -4.49 -1.12
Stewart (BUF/MIN) 6.13 -0.96 5.22 -2.73 6.20 -2.36
Horcoff (DAL) 2.12 0.73 2.99 2.37 0.58 -0.86
Santorelli (TOR/NSH) -2.39 -0.79 -3.21 -1.86 -3.10 -1.11
Bieksa (VAN) -2.41 -1.59 -2.53 -0.91 -4.51 -2.46

Relative numbers are good to look at because they compare the player against the rest of their team. Positive numbers indicate the player generates that many more of a given stat (shot attempts, scoring chances, high danger chances) per 60 minutes than their teammates, while negative means they allow that many more per 60. Perhaps part of Anaheim's failing in generating scoring chances this season is that every player save for Horcoff was negative relative to their teammates at even strength, while all five players allowed more high danger chances than they created at even strength.

Another angle to consider with the turnover of the roster is the chemistry aspect- the players being replaced had been with the Ducks organization for more than the last three years, with two of the four being drafted by Anaheim. Looking at a three year sample for the departed players gives a fair look at what they'd regularly contributed to the team while helping to smooth out career years somewhat as well. Comparing these three year samples versus what the newer acquisitions have done this season can give an idea of whether or not they've generated the same production, or possession.

Scoring Rates + Relative Possession (Whole Game/Even Strength)
Player G/60 esG/60 A/60 esA/60 SAT% esSAT% SC% esSC% HSC% esHSC
Beleskey 12-15 1.09 1.07 0.84 0.81 4.44 0.47 3.58 0.13 5.09 2.42
Hagelin 15-16 0.26 0.30 0.65 0.74 -1.32 -0.47 -2.25 -1.55 1.55 1.62
Palmieri 12-15 1.05 0.92 1.18 1.05 5.48 -0.63 4.08 -1.2 4.55 -1.11
Stewart 15-16 1.13 1.05 0.75 0.84 4.70 -1.52 4.88 0.06 2.96 -1.09
Etem 12-15 0.66 0.59 0.71 0.69 -1.98 -0.54 -0.78 0.04 0.81 2.12
Horcoff 15-16 0.59 0.72 0.59 0.54 -9.32 -4.12 -6.94 -1.02 -4.73 3.04
Santorelli 15-16 0.81 0.66 0.41 0.44 -2.39 -0.79 -5.46 -7.56 -6.03 -8.91
Beauchemin 12-15 0.30 0.30 0.62 0.50 -3.67 -0.50 -4.95 -1.59 -8.17 -5.75
Bieksa 15-16 0.00 0.00 0.35 0.32 -7.44 -5.15 -6.00 -3.43 -8.35 -5.83
Just What Have The Ducks Gotten?

Three things immediately jump out when looking at the performance of the replacement players thus far:

1) While last season was an aberration for Beleskey scoring-wise for his final numbers, it could be argued that they were a result of greater ice time and a more prominent role. Over the three seasons from 12-13 through 14-15 his average TOI jumped from 12:00 to 14:28, going from 11:06 to 12:40 at even strength and power play time making up the difference. The issue replacing him with Hagelin that has born out is replacing a player with major positive offensive impact (especially considering relative chance creation, high danger in particular showcasing his willingness to go to the slot) in Beleskey for more of a defensive forward. Though Hagelin has averaged more goals per season over his career, the relative chance and shot generation is on the opposite side of the spectrum.

2) 34-year old Bieksa hasn't produced at the level of Beauchemin, and been markedly worse as far as allowing shots and scoring chances against. Considering how Anaheim had used Beauchemin as a top pairing defenseman, this is a major problem when going from a defender that already wasn't ideal with limited shot and chance suppression, to another that seems to take even more risks with less results. The best defensemen are those that not only prevent shots and chances against, but generate them- that the Ducks are giving 22:11 TOI a night and 18:49 at five-on-five to one that does the opposite is problematic.

3) While playing even less than Palmieri, Stewart has been a fine lower line scoring presence. Seeing what Palmieri has done so far in New Jersey in a contract year may make Anaheim fans wistful, but it's important to note that he's getting expanded minutes (16:33 TOI in NJ vs 14:05 last year, 13:59 vs 12:22 even strength) and playing for a team with a more open style vs the Ducks physical preference. That Stewart has essentially equalled what Palmieri brought production-wise while being slightly better defending against even strength scoring chances is a point that should be acknowledged.

The Etem vs Horcoff/Santorelli comparison is less cleanly made considering the winger/center issue. However, it's another case of a player with scoring upside being replaced by players more tilted to the defensive side of the ledger. Despite similarly not getting much of a look in New York, Etem's relative numbers this season show that proclivity for chance and high danger creation, which neither Santorelli or Horcoff (save even strength high danger generation) even approach.

Make The Best With The Ingredients You Have

Early season struggles by Getzlaf and Perry, as well as declining production from Ryan Kesler, and the inability of Jakob Silfverberg to replicate his short-term playoff scoring touch over the longer stretch of the regular season have been significant issues for Anaheim. As the star players go, generally so goes the team, and with Getzlaf stuck in neutral for much of the season (having dealt with appendicitis) while Rickard Rakell has been the only young forward to seemingly 'take the next step' production-wise, it certainly points to why the team has struggled to put the puck in the net.

Yet, for as much as the media broiler is turned up on Boudreau, it's also important to note that this offseason Anaheim switched out two of three forwards for ones that not only score less, but also have a track record of allowing more attempts, chances and high danger looks against. The defenseman with the second-highest ice time has allowed more of all three as well, which was the relative case while with his previous squad as well. What is a coach who is known for offense, but is given a roster with fewer and fewer of the kind of shot generating, chance creating players that can regularly put the puck in the net and challenge opposing defenses to do?

It takes a team effort to win on the ice, and as an organization. With reports in the offseason of a rift between management and coach, it speaks to a possible philosophical difference that has seeded a lack of regular results this season. Turning over as much of the roster of a Western Conference Finalist as Anaheim did in the offseason was a bold move, but now as those have germinated into a squad at the dirt bottom of the league in scoring, perhaps as well as Bruce Boudreau it's time to talk about the makeup of his team.