To pull back the curtain a bit on the editorial thought process behind Anaheim Calling since taking over as Managing Editor during the offseason, one of the specific goals has been changing the tone of our coverage. Instead of presenting as if we know better, or demanding courses of action for player management/deployment, the goal has been to instead present information that makes and supports those cases and is as free of (or at least acknowledges) relying on hypotheticals as possible. It's no secret that this site had a petition and actively campaigned for the firing of General Manager Bob Murray back in the summer of 2012- an editorial decision of a previous administration that I don't agree with, find fair, or credible considering Anaheim had made the playoffs in two of the four seasons under his charge leading up to it. Being a non-credentialed media entity, it's too easy to levy those charges without having to defend the position in person publicly. Lacking that primary access, the best we can do is present as much information and data as possible to make points and influence discussion with our coverage. -EE
Earlier this week Anaheim Calling published an article that suggested discussion of the Anaheim Ducks early season struggles should shift from a narrative that constantly turns up the heat on head coach Bruce Boudreau, to one that considers the changes made in the offseason as a significant part of the issues as well.
Yesterday Orange County Register staff writer and Ducks beat writer Eric Stephens took the story to the next logical step, publishing an analysis piece 'Ducks Headed For A Lost Season Rather Than A Championship One'. It's very much worth reading in full, beyond the few sections we'll pull and extend on here, because it's the first time that management has been asked to speak on and publicly quoted about the lack of success of the offseason moves.
There are a lot of people whose hands are dirty in this mess. And while Coach Bruce Boudreau has his share of blame for the Ducks' massive underachievement and though he might ultimately pay for it, he is hardly the only one.
In a response to questions from the Register, Ducks general manager Bob Murray took his own slice of the blame pie.
"Obviously as the manager and being in charge of the management group, at this moment you would have to say the results have been greatly disappointing, at least so far," Murray said. "We take responsibility for that as a management group."
Perhaps part of the responsibility taken by the management group should be the recognition that with as significant as the changes (nearly 28% turnover of the roster) during the offseason, firing the coach would be an uncharacteristically reactionary move. Boudreau has won three consecutive regular season division titles, and three playoff series over his tenure with the Ducks. To fire him after one slow start (Randy Carlyle's teams save for the 2007 title team were perpetual slow starters), or potentially one missed postseason is wholly unfair at best, and at worst could be seen as a diversion or shifting of blame.
In the 1990's before becoming an early Bettman Era NHL standard, the Detroit Red Wings won two more series than the 2013-15 Ducks with Scotty Bowman at the helm; losing in the first round, 1995 Stanley Cup Final, and Western Conference Final. Along the way gradual changes were made, mostly in-season, culminating with three titles over a six season stretch. There were reports during the 1996 season that Bowman's job was in jeopardy, and that captain Steve Yzerman could potentially be traded to Ottawa. Instead the organization stayed the course with a proven winner, and were richly rewarded. Bowman's regular season winning percentage in Detroit from 1993-2002 was .655; Boudreau's in Anaheim is .649. Through each coach's first three seasons with their organization, Boudreau is 21-15 with a .583 winning percentage in the playoffs, Bowman was 25-19 for a .568 winning percentage.
Asked if he's confident the summer moves made will ultimately work, Murray shared his disappointment - and sharp criticism - in those who were already around.
"Let's be clear on one thing, putting all the blame on the incoming players would be totally unfair," the GM said. "We had far too many returning players who decided training for this season was optional, thus a poor start.
"After succeeding during the past few regular seasons, suddenly we are underachieving and having to handle adversity, and some are not physically prepared to work through the challenge."
This is a bit of a confirmation of suspicions that many have had in regards to certain player roles and how they've been defined for this season. Despite having a track record of being amongst the best producers with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Patrick Maroon has been stuck in a lower line role for much of the season and saw himself scratched for a number of games while Nick Ritchie was called up from San Diego. Perhaps this is also pointed at the captain himself, considering the reports following the playoffs of a sports hernia and the decision to forgo surgery. The quote implies multiple parties, which while understandable the organization doesn't specifically want to point the finger at certain individuals, also begs the question how it was allowed to happen. Still, lacking for detail it becomes an amorphous explanation.
For a team to come so agonizingly close to making the Stanley Cup Final, and to have management call out that players did not take it as motivation to train even harder to be ready to make another run at the title is surprising, disappointing, and frankly, bizarre. A major stumbling block for the Los Angeles Kings for much of their early history was the perception that players there were 'softened' by not having the similar high pressure demands to win, and the climate itself making it easier to kick back and not focus as much. These have been proven categorically false over the past decade with the championship successes of the southern California franchises, and San Jose's regular season performance. In an era with big money money for star players, and all contracts guaranteed, it's incumbent upon the players to prepare themselves over the offseason to be champions. As Boudreau famously said on HBO's 24/7 series during his tenure in Washington, "Outwork the ****ing guys. If you want it, don't just think you want it, go out and ****ing want it."
...With that much money tied up in that many unproductive players, it makes for making any sort of major trade much more difficult.
Affordable goalie Frederik Andersen is the Ducks' likely best trade chip as John Gibson appears to be the man in net going forward. Vatanen is attractive as well, even though he isn't the problem. But moving Cam Fowler as he enters his peak years for a scorer isn't the answer.
The dutiful Andrew Cogliano ($3 million annual average value) could garner interest. Clayton Stoner ($3.25 million) and Patrick Maroon ($2 million) won't, not with two years left on their deals. So Murray is kind of stuck, which will test his creativity in an inactive market.
The Ducks have already played a 'major trade' chip in acquiring Ryan Kesler last offseason, and the 'tied up money' becomes a more significant issue next season when Kesler begins his six-year, $6.875 mil. deal that will last through his 38th birthday. Kevin Bieksa was sight-unseen given an additional two-year deal worth $4 mil. per season ending just before he turns 37. Carl Hagelin and Jakob Silfverberg and the six goals between them thus far are locked in for the next three seasons at $4 mil. and $3.75 mil. per year. Anaheim is a budget team, and with a cap increase uncertain due to the value of the Canadian dollar, these contracts have hamstringing potential moving forward, especially considering the need to re-sign the likes of Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen.
If anything, this should also finally eliminate the flights of fancy amongst those that like to play armchair GM and think the answer to Anaheim's problems are trading Stoner. If fans think what a player brings to the team is not worth their contract, one can be sure that NHL general managers certainly don't either. A deal requires willing parties both ways- there is no 'computer override' to use like a video game; you can't get what you want for what you don't want. The thinking must shift to which valuable assets, players with contracts below their production level, or prospects could be moved to fill in perceived holes. With Andersen on an expiring restricted free agent contract, and considering the goalie market already is soft, there's limited value there. This means if a move is to be made, the likes of Vatanen, or some from the war chest of defensive prospects like Shea Theodore or Brandon Montour are the pieces that could be put in play.
Perhaps the best sign for Ducks fans is that the discussion seems to be shifting from looking at the most easy, immediate trapdoor response to a slow start, to one that is more nuanced and provides a broader context. It's rare, and refreshing, to see local print media make a fist like this. There are multiple parties responsible for the results thus far this season, and before this article only players and coaches had been publicly called to speak on it.
There are many issues and reasons for Anaheim's struggles this season, and hopefully Stephens' piece, with his proverbial 'spot at the table' as a member of the 'traditional' media, can contribute further to the changing direction of the national discussion surrounding the Ducks.