Disclaimer: So we’re all on the same page, this article is an opinion piece that does not reflect the views of anyone else on Anaheim Calling’s staff. Hell it probably doesn't reflect the opinion of anyone who visits this site. I’m not sure if it even reflects my true opinion. But here I am to attempt to change your perception anyway.
Dear Ducks Fan,
That's right. You. You in the eggplant and jade (take notes Ducks twitter: Plum? smh). The one wandering about looking like a portrait of Dorian Grey. I see you stealing bashful glances at other teams’ games. Jealously staring at the [insert non-Ducks coloured] jersey with that star player’s name on the back, that the guy in the pickup next to you is wearing. Clenching your fist as you read in the paper about how that team had 30 shots in a single period, while you wonder if yours will hit 30 in a game. I’m talking to you.
I want you to know that you’re not alone. That others, too, feel your pain. I feel your pain. Or rather, I have felt your pain.
I’ve been around these parts for a while. Some of you may have seen me about. Here and there I’ll make a comment, like “don't do that thing, Ducks,” “that wasn’t a very good thing to do,” or even sometimes, “I really hope they start doing this thing.” Often there have been times I have had my fandom questioned. Perhaps it wasn't big enough, and I should feel ashamed of that in comparison to others’ much bigger more impressive fandoms. I look about, and now I see that some of you too are having the size of your fandom ridiculed. All for wanting your team to be better, to excel, to even - hockey gods forbid - be the best. I want you to know that I too have been where you are now. Where the play of your favourite team hurts like a punch to the gut.
While you may have seen me around, what many of you, old and new, may not know, is that for the past two years I have actively dreaded having to watch an entire game of Ducks hockey. Last season after my favourite Ducks player, Sami Vatanen, was traded, I was working in a particularly violent part of the world. A place in which performing life-saving surgery on gun, knife, axe-wounded victims was a multiple times per day affair. The place I was situated was in fact the world’s leading user of tear gas - at one point so much was used that the manufacturer called asking if it was being used properly. Walking out of your room in the morning to have a rifle pointed at your face wasn’t an abnormal occurrence. I wish to tell you this, to frame my next point. Going to work, in that environment, was a sweet relief getting me out of writing post-game recaps. Don’t get me wrong, I oft watched periods, or even two, but rarely could I bring myself to watch a full game. Perhaps, that has a lot to do with my living environment. When the Ducks play, for me it is between 8-10 am on a summer morning. There are a multitude of entertaining and enjoyable pastimes available and at my fingertips.
The alternative was to watch the Ducks, and probably do so alone (hockey is not a big sport here). I watched the Ducks and saw dull dragged out affairs, with little flair and the propensity to dump the puck and grind. A love of slow hockey in which shots were at a premium, and goals came from opportunistic moments rather than skillfully executed set plays. I watched one of the last players I had an emotional attachment to get traded away. I saw this, and looked at the administration, the coaches, the players (and specifically their contracts), and saw no light at the end of the tunnel. Gibson would drag them into the playoffs and paper over their deficiencies. Players who got hot, would be rewarded with lucrative extensions in a bid to keep the same team together for longer. The prospect of my entertainment actually being entertaining seemed grim. In effect, I saw last season what you’re seeing now. In some ways it makes sense. For most of you, living in North America or Europe, I come from the future. Why shouldn’t I be the great mystical future man, ahead of your time?
But life has a funny way of turning out. This season has been different. While you are coming to the realisation that the Ducks may not be the quality team that you dreamed of during that magical off-season period, I have found this to be the most enjoyable season in years. No, it’s (probably) not because I have sadistic or masochistic tendencies. I do have them obviously, it’s just not the reason I’m enjoying this season’s hockey. What I’d like to do is tell you a little bit about it, so that you may to add a silver lining to that dark cloud hanging about your head.
But firstly, some house keeping.
- If you’re one of the fans who loved the trade of a prime aged multiple 30 goal scorer for a player in the same position as all of the prospects at the time. At the same time the start players were cheap and young, and with a multitude of young prospects on the up.
- Who thought trading Dustin Penner for picks was a wise decision.
- Who didn't mind trading Kyle Palmieri for picks a season before he’d hit (checks notes..) RFA status, because he’d score too much.
- Who thought it was fine letting MP22 (Mathieu Perreault) leave, to pay for MPs$ (Clayton Stoner). Because grit and truculence was a requirement.
- Who loved the rationale of defence wins championships.
- Who loved the extension of old man Kesler a season prior to his UFA season, and for multiple seasons because the Ducks would just buy him out after 2 seasons.
- Who accepted moving Shea Theodore (and Stoner) because Brandon Montour was better, and we already had Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen in the top 4.
- Who thought a team lacking high end prospects should trade a first round pick for a oft injured older guy on a hot streak. Then were happy about giving out an extension because of that hot streak, and came to depend on that player to suit up and continue that hot streak.
- Who loved moving a top 4 defenseman for a declining left-wing/centreman.
- Who thought it even better extending him for multiple seasons after a hot streak, and a season before it was required.
- Who praised how the Ducks played last season. I get it. Wins baby.
- Who supported the coach the past two seasons and thought he was both the answer and a better coach than his predecessor.
- Those who wanted Corey Perry to just up and disappear.
- Who wanted Silfverberg traded for picks prior to the season commencing.
- Who hyped the current prospects as 30 goal, 60-70 point producers.
- Who even today think that the Ducks need another grinder to add more grit to the line-up.
If this sounds like you, and you still think all of these things, then this letter is not for you. If you thought all of these things, and you still think all of these things, then this current Ducks team, and how they've played, is exactly what you wanted. I would love you to continue reading, but I would be remiss if I didn't warn you that there is nothing of value for you here. I don't want to waste the time you could be better spending polishing that Make Anaheim Great Again poster you put together in whichever cave you crawled out of.
However, if you once thought these things and are now having second thoughts. If the current state of the team is turning your stomach a little sour. Then maybe something I say will give you a little hope for the future.
I’ll be brutally honest: this isn't a feel good commentary about how the Ducks can turn this season around. I’m not going to tell you I’ve found or developed a new fancy stat that is going to prove that the Ducks will be ok. I’m not going to say that most of the players are moments away from breaking out and dominating. I won’t even tell you that I think the rust has fallen off and they look better now than they did in game 1. All these things would be untruths. I do hate liars.
The Ducks, this season, look atrocious. Let’s not sugar coat it, or pretend otherwise. Whether you go by eye, by stats, or some weird form of voodoo witchcraft, you know as well as I do that your team has been outplayed for most (if not all) of each game. I say outplayed as a kindness, as I’m not in actual fact sure that they turned up to some of those games.
2009-2010: Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets
2011-2012: New Jersey Devils
2013 (Lockout): Nashville Predators
2014-2015: New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres
2015-2016: New Jersey Devils
2018-2019: New York Islanders, Vancouver Canucks
You may be wondering what these teams have to do with the Ducks. Let me explain. The Ducks, thus far this season, have been struggling to create offence. Sure they’ve had some lucky goals from along the boards, or off some obscure angled backhand, but typically speaking, they’ve not really tested out the opposition netminders. The teams listed above are all of the teams in the past decade who have generated less shot attempts per minute of play, than the Ducks have this season. To be clear, 9 teams (lol Devils) in 10 seasons have performed worse offensively than the ducks.
However, the Ducks have long hyped their approach to defensive hockey. After all, defence wins championships, correct? Or at least that was the presumption sold to us fans by the Ducks, when they attempted to replicate the Kings cup teams. A replication that I assumed meant, be terrible all season but just sneak in to the playoffs and somehow get lucky enough to win a cup. So given that the Ducks have put a premium on drafting defensive players, acquiring defensive (or two-way) forwards, and hiring a “defensive” coach (although this is an untruth, his systems are more orientated towards the offense), how is that facet of the game treating them?
To be blunt, no teams in the past decade have given up more shot attempts per minute of play than this season’s Ducks team. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. The 2014-2015 Buffalo Sabres came close, but even their ineptitude couldn't quite beat the 2018-2019 Ducks team. No other team was within a 10% difference of the Ducks team. There is something to say about the Ducks goals allowed average per game, however. While the Ducks do still sit near the top of the league for this metric (as they did last season), they have added a full goal to the ratio over the past week of play, and dropped from the top spot to 5th overall. A high rank to be sure, but one on the slide, and to be sure NOT due to anyone on the Ducks who isn’t named John “The Asset” Gibson.
All of that to say I agree with you. The Ducks aren’t just bad this season, they are historically bad. Epically bad. This may in fact be the grimmest the Ducks have ever been. It must seem pretty weird to those fans who actively wanted this team to happen - that is to say, no Jakob Silfverberg, no Corey Perry, and playing all the prospects - that their vision could be this rough given they’re only missing Ondrej Kase from their dream team. But that's the truth of it. In a crazy mixed up world where they don't have Gibson in net, this team is gunning for a lottery pick. I mean, last season’s team would have drafted 5th overall had they received league average netminding. This season is shaping up to be even worse. So how could a season so bad it could easily go down in folk lore, be giving me those positive vibrations? It seems it’s time for the meat of this letter.
Initially, the easiest part of to write about is the play of the Ducks young netminder. Somehow last season John Gibson didn't receive a Vezina vote. But you and I both know that he put up a season for the ages. How often did Ducks players do as we do, and just stop and stare and watch John Gibson play hockey? How many games did he drag the Ducks from a certain loss to a hard earned victory? Well this season, Gibson may just have improved. Notably, The Asset’s GAA and SV% both improve in games in which he faces in excess of 40 shots. Like AR-D of Asterisk War, the more he’s attacked the more he evolves. To be stronger, more powerful, than you could ever imagine. You may not have fallen in love with that (you know the one) second period against the Dallas Stars, but you can’t tell me that Gibson didn't amaze and befuddle you during it.
His increasingly strong performances, bode well for the Ducks going forward. That they have a netminder who is getting this much practice and is this damn good. His new contract kicks in from next season, and this far appearances are that he will be worth every penny. A mountain to build a fortress upon.
His teacher in the ancient yogic arts, too, has been strong. Although it seems most likely that the Ducks will part ways with Miller in the coming off-season, It’s nice to have an area on the ice that you know will entertaining to watch and who will produce results. All this to say that Gibson has been a marvel to watch, and appears to be set to do so for the next half decade at least.
In addition to team change, we get to see before our eyes the multitude of young prospects that the Ducks are blooding. This season all of the Ducks’ more highly-touted prospects are on display. Like irons forged in the fires of war, will they become mainstays of the Ducks in the future? Personally, I think a few of them might. I can absolutely sympathise with you when you put on a brave face and try to make the best of the situation. I get it. They haven’t been that good. Each of them, however, has shown moments of what they may be capable. To date, like the rest of the team, they’ve been overwhelmed and in most cases thrashed. Yet there have been moments of offensive brilliance, amongst the shaky defence.
- Troy Terry who everyone had high hopes for, has already been sent to the AHL to hone his craft. Since he’s been sent down to the AHL, he’s dominated (read about him here), and that's all that one can expect from first year pro. However, his stint in the NHL was (understandably) less stellar. He didn't set the world on fire scoring wise, and his SAT% (shot attempts) is the current 8th worst mark in the league (accounting for 5 games played). He has company.
- Max Comtois, came onto the scene in a flurry with a couple of fluky goals. He’s since put up points at regular intervals. Yet the question must be asked whether it’s sustainable. Lets be real, he’s had 9 shots on net in 10 games, and is rocking 22% on the shooting percentage scale. He owns the leagues 6th worst SAT% (accounting for a minimum of 5 games played). In other words he has the 9th most shot attempts against. Since Getzlaf has returned to the team, Comtois has also seen his minutes and number of shifts cut. It seems like this won’t be the season he breaks out (if he does at all), yet he’s shown glimpses of potential. It would most likely be in his best interests to develop away from the watchful eyes of the fickle fans and come back in two seasons time (1 in Junior, and 1 as a pro in the AHL). Nonetheless he’s shown enough to suggest he might be able to hold down a middle 6 roster spot one day in the future.
- Sam Steel appears to be following the trajectory of most normal prospects: 10 games, 3 points, 13 shots and a 7.7% shooting percentage. Point conversion formula (from Junior to the NHL) predicted that he would score somewhere around 25 points, and he’s on track to hit that mark. He too, however is getting shelled on the defensive end, with the 16th worst SAT%, and 13th most shot attempts against. Given that Steel is unlikely to be used as a defensive forward in the future, this is less of a concern. He’s certainly showed moments of (dare I say) brilliant offensive awareness. Fans can be happy that they may be seeing a fledgling 3rd, or maybe even 2nd, line pivot learning his craft. Steel, like Comtois, has now played in 10 games and triggered the commencement of their ELC (although in Steel’s case it was inevitable as he’d have gone pro in the AHL).
- Isac Lundestrom has perhaps shown himself to be the best of the prospects thus far. He seems a poised player who has done well on the defensive end. Offensively he is certainly lacking, although it seems likely he could grow his shots on net total as time goes by. Still, his draft profile was that of a non-scorer, and he’s shown nothing that would dissuade that imagine. I would also say that I’ve mentioned in the past that he may be moved to a wing for his NHL career, and given he’s not won many faceoffs, and has now been shifted to a wing, they may decide to keep him there. Thus Lundestorm too looks like a lock for a middle 6 role in the future. Taken together, it’s very likely that a Comtois - Steel - Lundestrom trio could be put together as a 3rd line (and maybe a 2nd, if everything goes exactly right in their development) in the future, should they continue to grow. That alone is a pretty exciting prospect (get it...)
- Kiefer Sherwood, the man in tights, has quickly become a favourite of mine, and hopefully yours as well. If you’re not to sure about him just yet, I truly hope that you do look into him in the future. He’s not going to take a prominent role on the team, and he’s not going to be a high scoring stud muffin. What he very likely could be is a 4th (maybe 3rd) line energy player in the same vein as Andrew Cogliano. Fast. Ferocious. Relentless. The type of player that every team needs in their line up. If you fancy reading any more about him, I recommend you check out John Broadbent’s piece on him here.
That's four players who could easily fit into the Ducks bottom 6 in coming years. Quite frankly that's the only place the Ducks can fit them, so it works out perfectly. I’ll be frank with you (you can be George), the Ducks aren't competing, or rebuilding, until Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Adam Henrique are off the books. Developing these prospects now gives the Ducks assets that they can trade, when that time eventually occurs. That isn't to say that these players can’t, and won’t, become Ducks mainstays, just that the Ducks are lacking in assets they can trade to get better. Building up that asset bank will be key to a Ducks revival.
Similarly to the prospect pool, reviled former hotness, Nick Ritchie, the Big Dog, has finally extended his tenure with the team. For those wondering why you should care, I wrote this piece on him a little while back. One game back and he already has more shot attempts than Troy Terry did this entire season thus far. As per usual he made everyone he played with better... well, all the forwards. Brandon Montour and Fowler can’t be helped. He also very nearly tallied up his first marker for the season. That's right folks the Big Dog is in the fold. The hound has the window down and he is howling out the window “arrrrooooooooooooooo, arrrooooooooooooooo.” Get on board now, because the Ritchie train is leaving the station!
But these are merely thoughts on players. Sure it’s exciting to watch the future unfold, but surely that's not enough to get the enthusiasm going? So what then? Is there more? There is newly minted fake fan.
Let’s backtrack a moment to the optics of the team.
The Ducks have looked terrible. For pretty much most of every period of every game. At best you can say they played on par with their opposition in a couple of them (I’ll give you the wings game at least). However they've not yet taken control of a period. We know, from previous analysis, that head coach Randy Carlyle’s teams typically decline from the moment he arrives on the scene until they fall right off a cliff in season 3. This is season 3. We also know from previous research that General Manager Bob Murray typically starts calling people out following two seasons of declining scoring or results. Let’s call last season the first season (since the season prior would have been the benchmark), which means this is season #2 for Carlyle. It’s very likely that we start seeing the coach come under some heat for the team’s performances. It may not result in a firing (personally I think he’ll be extended), but the potential is there for it to happen. The anticipation is exciting, and that's not something the Ducks have had about them in some time.
Don’t tell me you don't watch Kuznetsov deftly thread through the offensive zone, or Seguin do his Seguin things, and just bask in the sheer attractiveness of the sport. Don't tell me that you don't fondly remember when the Ducks captain used to do his “I’m Ryan Getzlaf and you’re not” routine, before the advent of this “chip and support” model of “hockey.” A new coach brings the promise of a new style. A new style built on dreams and hope and wonder. This season, this glorious train wreck of historically piss poor performances, brings us all closer to that euphoric joy.
However, before the coach will be fired, trades will be made. Bob Murray has always been an active trader, and it seems very plausible that he will be again now. More than anything though, the current state of play suggests that the current playing group just can’t do it. Certainly the coach has a lot to do with it. He (or rather, they, since its a coaching team) dictate the system within the team will play. This system could inhibit offensive potential, and it may even make it easier for the opposition to get clean shots on net. What the coach can’t do, or be blamed for, is players who lose puck battles, who fumble simple passes, who don't out in the work to stand their ground, who don't skate hard to get to position, who cant keep their stick on the ice to interrupt plays. All things this playing group has been guilty of the past 10 games. Finding a different 3rd pairing defenseman isn’t going to change the outcome of the season. At present, the Ducks have a full compliment of pivots, and their first choice top 4 defensemen, all healthy and ready to go. Perry is an aging and declining veteran, and Silfverberg is out of contract at the season’s end. All of the Ducks top prospects are already on the team. What I mean by this is that if the Ducks wish to turn this around, a big trade (or perhaps many trades) is likely on the horizon.
This is a team that is in desperate need of elite talent, and had very few pieces to move. Each of the movable pieces they have will create a hole should they leave. It is certain that a trade will occur, the question is how will Murray remodel this team? William Nylander is currently available (well probably), and the Leafs are looking for defensemen. Given the supposed strength of the Ducks is their defense, do they take a chance on moving a player like Manson (and other things) for Nylander, and hope that Larsson can join the team and have some success? Will it be Fowler, finally unshackled from the burden of future captaincy? Would the Leafs be interested in the cheaper, but older 30 goal scorer Rakell, for Nylander? Is there another name on the market who could lift the Ducks back into contention? Or perhaps, is it over for the Ducks? Does Murray close up shop and trade for future assets? Perhaps Silfverberg could garner a 2nd round pick that could be used in the upcoming draft? There is an anticipation like Christmas morning in the air. For surely trades will come, but which trades? Perhaps it will be a disliked plug, perhaps it will be your favourite guy. One of them, maybe even both, could go.
The team is also an extremely expensive one. Does GM Murray begin to come under some pressure for the contracts he’s signed to create this team as it is? Adam Henrique who recently signed a lengthy extension (a season earlier than he needed to) wallows near the bottom of the SAT% page, with Silfverberg as the only veteran below him. The Ducks don't strike many as having an interest in any numbers aside from goals and wins, yet this is a bad look given a cursory glance at this data would show a decline here over the past few seasons. Fowler, is a -80 on shot attempts over 9 games. These are players given term and money, and expected to lead the team. If they’re not capable of doing so, who bears the brunt of the blame? This isn't to say I expect Murray to be let go. Truth be told, I don't. I do however think that this is very likely the first time that his feather may be close to the fire. How he reacts to that could make for interesting viewing.
To me this season is exciting because it brings the prospect of change. I know in my heart of hearts, as well as you do, that Gibson will win them enough games to get them to the post-season. My hope, and where my excitement comes from is the dream that on the way, there might just be enough bumps in the road to push that change, and make things interesting. Should the Ducks add to that interest by drafting (and they’re on track!) future Finnish superstar Kaapo Kakko, well, that would just be gravy.
That however is just my thoughts on the process. If nothing else I hope that my words provoked some thought. If it stimulated your shrinking fandom, or helped you stand up to the elitist wankers that are giving you a hard time, all the better. But know, even on your darkest days - you know, that day where you call out hate for the balding captain you truly love - I’ve got your back.
From Benny with Love