The 2018-2019 season was one to forget for the Anaheim Ducks. A 25th anniversary celebration drenched in nostalgia and number retirements couldn’t quite make up for one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
Despite the negatives, Justin Ritzel wrote about some of the reasons to be optimistic for the future. However, Anaheim Calling has a reputation for being far too negative and critical. Obviously, we can’t let that optimistic piece pollute our pool of self-loathing, no matter how many good points Justin brought up.
And I guess it’s worth it to point out some actual things to be worried about with this team. After all, no one is perfect.
So, without further ado, here are five reasons to be concerned about the Ducks future:
1. The Ducks don’t have a true blue-chip prospect right now
Anaheim has a relatively deep farm system. When I say deep, I mean that the pipeline is stocked with players who will likely play at the NHL level for a long time. However, none of those prospects currently project out as elite players; the kind the Ducks need to replace Ryan Getzlaf when he can no longer carry the team offensively.
The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranks the Ducks farm system 24th in the league, mostly due to said lack of high-end prospects. Some other rankings are more kind, but none rank Anaheim any higher than middle of the pack.
Since 2013, Ryan Getzlaf has 451 points, far and away the team leader in that time period with Corey Perry coming in second with 347, a full 104 points behind and Rickard Rakell a distant third with 241. We have said it before and we will say it again, the Ducks offense begins and ends with Ryan Getzlaf.
To put into context just how important Getzlaf is to this team’s offense, the captain has factored into a whopping 30% of the team’s total scoring output since the 2013-2014 season.
For a team that ranks 18th in the league since 2013 in goals per game, relying this much on one elite talent highlights a significant lack of offensive depth.
While players like Troy Terry and Max Jones have had their successes in juniors and in the AHL, their previous career numbers do not suggest that they will be as effective as the Ducks captain. Using the Frozen Tools NHLe model that projects how a player’s success in one league will likely translate to the NHL given historical scoring rates, Terry’s outstanding AHL season of 41 points over 41 games translates to 39 points over 82 games with the big club.
Even Max Comtois, with his insane scoring pace in the QMJHL this season, only sees his 48 points in 25 games translate to 41 points over a full 82 game NHL season.
Of course, these are averages and don’t include those players that broke out to be elite scoring threats on those kinds of numbers. The Ducks might have one of these players ready to take up the mantle from Getzlaf and be a consistent 80 point threat, but hundreds of previous players results over the years don’t exactly paint a clearly bight picture.
2. The team is on the verge of salary cap hell
Years of handing out ill-advised, expensive contracts (Kevin Bieksa, Clayton Stoner, Adam Henrique, Ryan Kesler, etc) has put the Ducks up against the salary cap for several seasons now, and this next year is no exception. According to CapFriendly, the Ducks currently have 16 players under contract for next season combining for a total cap hit of $72.8 million.
Even with a likely increase in the cap from $79.5 million to $82 million for the upcoming season, that leaves the Ducks with approximately $9.2 million to add seven players to the 23-man roster. Even if you assume rookies like Terry, Steel, Jones, and Sherwood will grab full-time roster spots next season, that brings the Ducks to $5.6 million in space for three more players.
That’s not exactly enough to bring in the kind of impact pieces this roster will likely need to become a true upper-tier playoff threat, unless Murray moves out significant money in the offseason (cough Fowler, Henrique, cough).
Putting Ryan Kesler on LTIR next season will certainly help in the cap situation, but the Ducks still have to pay his salary (minus any contract insurance payouts). Let’s face it, while Anaheim is not a budget team, they don’t exactly have the financial resources that Toronto or New York have.
At the end of the day, when 30% of your salary cap allocation is committed to three aging core players in Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler, the amount of significant moves you can make is limited. The reality is that the Ducks won’t have the financial flexibility to make impactful moves until those contracts are up in the next two to three seasons.
3. Uncertainty with a new coach
While there is excitement in the air with the potential of a new, more modern coach taking over next season, there is also plenty of uncertainty. Unfortunately, Bob Murray lost a lot of trust within the fanbase when he rehired Randy Carlyle in 2016. That decision alone should be enough to give pause to anyone assuming that he is going to nail his next hire. Has he learned from his mistake? We can only hope, but there is no way to be sure until the new coach is in and has given us some results to work with.
Murray is considered to be one of the “old-school boys club” hockey men. Granted, he’s nowhere close to the self-serving and myopic operators that populate the front office of the Edmonton Oilers. But he makes many of his decisions without incorporating new developments in player evaluation and statistics that many of the more recently successful teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, Vegas Golden Knights, Toronto Maple Leafs, and others use in building teams. That conservative mindset could bleed over into his criteria for a new coach, putting him at risk of hiring a bench-boss that shares his mindset.
Dallas Eakins, the presumed front-runner for the Ducks head coaching job, would actually be one of the more risky hires out there, even with his time in Edmonton hanging over him like a storm cloud. Eakins has been almost universally praised by his players and staff in San Diego, has revolutionized sports science and health for his teams, and has been a major proponent of hockey embracing advanced analytics in recent years. However, his teams haven’t been without their issues.
Several instances of not winning big games when needed, sometimes forcing his desired locker-room culture into an unwilling room, and high-event systems with a defensive component that can sometimes crumble under pressure raise questions about his ability to lead an NHL team, despite his general success in the AHL.
Outside of Eakins, the tendency of rehiring the same old coaches who have had multiple chances with multiple teams is a very real, and extremely boring trend in the NHL. Given Murray’s old-school approach to building hockey teams, it’s not unwise to worry about his potential head coaching choice.
4. Safe drafting and player acquisition has left the future somewhat uninspired
The Ducks have been praised for their drafting and development for many years now. Murray and Director of Scouting Martin Madden have certainly earned some of this praise by finding productive NHL talent out of consistent late-round draft picks.
However, their M.O. on drafting and trades over the past several years has been targeting players with low ceilings but high floors. Isac Lundestrom has been profiled by many prospect evaluators as this type of pick. Sam Steel another. Handing two-way, 40-50 point player Jakob Silfverberg a five-year extension in March is perhaps the best example of this philosophy.
Yes, these players could develop past their current projections, but we have yet to see any sign that this will happen. The Ducks have a rare opportunity to use the number nine overall pick to try and find their Getzlaf replacement, so we’ll wait to see how Madden, Murray and co. respond.
At the end of the day, the biggest problem this team has is lack of offense. Being middle-of-the-road to slightly below average in goals and shot generation is not going to bring this team a cup in an era where getting as many shots towards the net as possible leads to championships. And filling a roster with nothing but 50 point two-way players doesn't get you a cup, it turns you into the Minnesota Wild: right on the bubble of playoff contention but never a true threat, stuck in slightly-above-averageville for years.
5. The road through the Western Conference is dark and full of terrors
Part of building a team that can make its way to a Stanley Cup Championship is paying attention to what other teams are doing. Even if the Ducks get back to making the playoffs consistently, are they truly set up to have a brighter future than their competitors?
George McPhee has built a truly modern NHL team with plenty of younger players or players entering their prime while still holding plenty of good draft picks. Vancouver has taken to drafting and acquiring high-end young talent in Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes, and others. Arizona’s prospects are starting to climb toward their potentials and have shown what they can do when they’re not hobbled by a million injuries. Even LA’s recent drafts have had them taking risks on high-ceiling prospects that are showing some good early returns.
Not to mention the fact that teams like the Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, and St. Louis Blues have rosters that are built to win now and for at least the next couple of seasons. It’s important to consider how the immediate future of Anaheim’s roster stacks up against the immediate future of the team’s they’ll need to overcome in a cup chase.
The Ducks may have the talent to get back into the playoffs, but the chances of making deep runs up against several teams superior to the Ducks on paper will make that task much more difficult.