The Anaheim Ducks are at a bizarre juncture in team history. They appear neither good enough to be considered Stanley Cup favorites, nor are they anywhere near being a rebuilding team. General manager Bob Murray seems intent on reclaiming the former, although the path to that seems murky.
Murray vowed that his team would get faster following an admittedly embarrassing first-round sweep at the hands of the rival San Jose Sharks, where his team looked anything but fleet of foot. He proclaimed that it was time for them to adopt a modern style, unhappy with the way they were content to slow the pace down . The message was clear from Anaheim’s G.M: things were about to change.
Change did arrive, although probably not to the degree that he and a growingly dissatisfied fan base would have preferred. Assistant coach Trent Yawney was sent packing shortly after the first round defeat. Yawney’s departure would open the door for San Diego assistant Marty Wilford to join the NHL ranks. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa, a locker room staple, also was reported to be out the door. 2007 Stanley Cup champion Francois Beauchemin would follow him on the way out.
The slight internal shuffling appeared to be the extent of Murray’s big summer swing, until draft night. Although the winds of change didn’t reach hurricane levels, they flirted with gustiness
Assistant coach Steve Konowalchuk has been let go by Ducks, per GM Bob Murray. Position won't necessarily be replaced. Firing was earlier this week.— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) June 23, 2018
At the conclusion of the first round of the draft, The Athletic’s Eric Stephens reported that assistant coach Steve Konowalchuk had been fired after just one year on the job. Stephens then released an interview with Murray that same night, where the Ducks’ boss dropped an eff-bomb en route to taking not-so-subtle jabs at his entire team. As per usual, the leadership group came under focus. Even poor Elliote Friedman of Sportsnet came under fire. Clearly, Murray had been waiting to unleash.
The difference in Murray’s tirade from ones of depressing off-seasons past was in the details. To be clear, this is purely interpretative, but there was a fairly obvious allusion to the fact that Murray has been actively shopping some of his key veterans, telling Stephens, “it’s harder than I thought”.
That brief comment was oddly specific by Murray standards, and it did nothing to abate the rancor that arose when franchise cornerstone Corey Perry appeared on TSN’s Trade Bait list just two weeks before the draft. Perhaps it signaled that this time around, change was really on the horizon. Or maybe it was simply meant to send that message, without any actual intent. Rotating assistant coaches doesn’t quite feel like the big switch either, as Randy Carlyle is still calling the shots.
In some ways, Carlyle is a microcosm of the Ducks’ quagmire: change without actual change. A coach who brought the franchise to ultimate glory over a decade ago was brought back in the summer of 2016, promising to have changed the anachronistic approach that contributed to his canning in Toronto.
Carlyle was meant to be the big fix to Anaheim’s playoff struggles under Bruce Boudreau. He was meant to get more out of the likes of Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. He would set things straight in the locker room, and in turn bring the Ducks back to the Cup Final.
Anaheim made the Conference Final in 2017, and managed to make the playoffs in an injury-riddled 2018 campaign. Carlyle deserves some of that credit. The Ducks have employed a largely antiquated style in his return though, shying away from rolling four lines and relying on the dump and chase game. Simply put: change didn’t come with Carlyle – not even close. So if Murray really wanted change this off-season — all the down to the very essence in which his team plays — then why exactly is Carlyle returning next season? It’s a question that may be above Murray’s pay grade, as Caryle is owed one more year on his current contract.
Anaheim’s player contracts are just as obstinate. Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler are all locked up to big money long term, while Andrew Cogliano was re-upped this past season. Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique each have only a year left on their current deals, but Murray has stated that he’s already working towards extending them. Rickard Rakell is locked down, while Patrick Eaves has two years remaining on his contract. Ondrej Kase is a restricted free agent this summer, which basically assures he re-signs to a team-friendly deal.
Will get more into it but Bob Murray said he's started contract talks with John Gibson, Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg. Their deals are up in 2019. Has also exchanged offers with agents for Brandon Montour, Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase, who are RFAs on July 1. #NHLDucks— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) June 23, 2018
If Murray is so intent on change, then why announce so early that Silfverberg and Henrique are in the process of being extended? Even though both players are valuable to this roster, it’s odd how quickly Murray showed his cards there. The coaching staff spoke glowingly of Derek Grant’s game last season, so it seems he’ll also be back in the fold. Then there is Nick Ritchie, who like Kase, will probably also sign a team-friendly deal as a restricted free agent this summer.
So realistically, there will be one roster spot open up front at Anaheim’s training camp. Maybe a Troy Terry snags that spot. Maybe it’s Max Jones. Head of player development Todd Marchant recently sung Terry’s praises, but gave no concrete indication that the 20-year old is a lock to make the lineup.
Terry will be a litmus test for Murray’s new era of change. Carlyle has been loath to dress a young player on his fourth line, but perhaps if Terry is deserving and things really have changed, then maybe Terry becomes a regular. Otherwise, that last open spot most likely gets filled by a free agent veteran. That’s been the Murray M.O in recent years. The blueline is a similar story. Anaheim’s top-four is set, while there seems to be enough bodies within the organization to ice a competent third pairing.
The roster will look nearly identical. The main man behind the bench will return. Barring a wild summer trade, the main leadership core will be back. So again, the question has to be asked: where exactly is change going to come from in Anaheim?
Murray’s answer to that question seems to be in his belief that Carlyle can fundamentally change the way this team strategizes and executes. His answer seems to lie in his shuffling of the assistant coaches. It also seems to lie in calling out his veterans publicly. If those are the answers he has to give at this point in time, then the overall question of “where is change going to come from?” may not be answered for quite some time.