“As we trudge along in the mud, we try to call it home, but we weren’t all right. Not at all. Not for one, for one, for one second”
For some reason, anytime I begin to write up an article in the offseason, this lyric from The Used keeps popping into my head. I have started and not finished about three different articles, only to lose interest or realize I do not like what I am writing when I am about 75% done with them.
Much like this Ducks off season, I am very much “trudging along in the mud”.
Doing my best as a Ducks fan to stay positive or “call it home”. Only to realize, “we weren’t (or aren’t) all right. Not at all. Not for one… for one… for one second”.
That last line makes me sound a bit dramatic as I am way more optimistic about this team moving forward and have overall been happy with the Ducks’ offseason. They did very well at the draft in selecting Trevor Zegras and Brayden Tracey in the first round. They did not so well in acquiring Nicolas Deslauriers from the Montreal Canadiens for a 2020 4th round pick. They did just fine in signing Michael Del Zotto to a modest 1-year deal. They also brought back Ryan Miller, Derek Grant and Korbinian Holzer for another kick at the can. They added Jani Hakanpaa. Oh and they bought out Corey Perry too (not a big deal).
All in all, I expected very little in the way of “big moves” from the Ducks and GM Bob Murray. This team was due for a roster revamp and it seemed obvious that this would be done by making room for some of the home grown talent and beginning to phase out some of the “aging core” that have been the faces of the Ducks for so long.
Corey Perry out.
Ryan Kesler will not be playing this upcoming season and will be placed on LTIR.
Patrick Eaves will also more than likely follow Kes on the LTIR adventure train.
That’s three new roster spots up for grabs and with the Ducks seemingly poised to head into this season with the roster as is, let’s take a look at three potential line combinations and defensive pairings that have been suggested throughout the interweb. I will deep dive into the combinations that I would like to see most. Feel free to comment on what you would like to see.
**Quick note, Jani Hakanpaa was not available on the line up generator, so Korbinian Holzer has been plugged in as the bottom pair right dman (which could actually happen).
*Feel free to create your own line combinations by clicking HERE
ERIC STEPHENS’ PROJECTED LINE UP
This line up was taken from Eric Stephens’ article from The Athletic. You can read his thought process and explanations here. Overall, I would say I am comfortable with his projections and really like the idea of Sam Steel centering Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfveberg. This line looked good in the late stages of last season, so maybe they can build from that? I can admit that I am a big fan of Steel’s game and probably think higher of him than most Ducks fans or prospect evaluators out there, but the fair/obvious question in this scenario is: can he handle full 1C responsibilities over an 82 game season?
This lineup projects to have 80 points on the season and would obviously have the Ducks missing the playoffs for the second season in a row. This would also have them firmly in position for another blue chip prospect in the 2020 NHL Draft.
THE BOB MURRAY SAFE LINEUP
As you can see by this line up, I have plugged in a few of the veterans over the younger guys. GMBM’s shiny new toy, Nicolas Deslauriers, has made his way onto the 4th line. We also see the reuniting of the Nick Ritchie, Adam Henrique, and Ondrej Kase on the second line. This line has had success, so it is easy enough to just roll with it. I do like the idea of an all-kid third line as I feel those three players are familiar with one another from their time in the Ducks organization.
Michael Del Zotto makes his way onto the bottom pairing in this scenario, meaning he would have secured that role over one of Jacob Larsson, Jani Hakanpaa, Korbinian Holzer, Josh Mahura, or Simon Benoit (sneaky prospect that I love). The latter two will more than likely be with the San Diego Gulls this season, but the bottom pair seems to be up for grabs, so if one of these six guys comes in and has a strong camp, they could lock down a spot.
This lineup projects to have 76 points on the season. This would also have the Ducks missing the playoffs for the second season in a row. It also potentially would have them dead last in the league and prime position to be drafting top 5 in the 2020 NHL draft.
*Putting this lineup exercise aside, I have been wondering how the lineup was going to shape up once the Ducks brought back Derek Grant, Korbinian Holzer and Michael Del Zotto. While there is a youth movement on the way, these prospects need to earn their spot. If they are not able to beat out or are not ready for a full time spot in the lineup, then so be it. Play the vets and let the kids keep maturing.
Back to the moment you have all been waiting for…
MY IDEAL LINEUP
Line #1 – This line projects to be the best of the bunch, which makes sense because it is the top line. You have the tried and true Rakell/Getzlaf combination. Both players had down years by their standards, but the Ducks were terrible as a whole last season, so it does make some sense. Rakell seemed to suffer a bit of bad luck as his shooting percentage was 9.3%, which is 5.8% lower than his average 15.1% over the previous three seasons (for what it’s worth, he still had 18 goals).
Getzy had his lowest point total since his rookie season with only 48 total (14 G, 34 A). New coach, new systems, and lack of injuries will hopefully get them back to their top line status. It also helps plugging in American Hero Troy Terry. Terry brings talent, creativity and stellar hockey IQ to this line. This line may also be 3/5s of the Ducks first power play unit, so if these three happen to jell, we could be looking at great bounce back years for Ricky/Getzy and an awesome first full season for Terry.
Line #2 – This would be my favorite line the Ducks have had in a long time. Earlier I mentioned my bias toward Sam Steel. I feel the same way about Max Comtois (actually most of the prospects, because I am an optimistic Ducks fan after all). Comtois seems to have knack for being in the right play at the right time. While a different style of player than Ondrej Kase, they both seem to score goals in a variety of ways. Despite only playing in 30 games last year, Kase finished with 20 total points (11 G, 9 A). He is not only a fan favorite, but an analytics darling. The question, of course, is if he can stay healthy and how he will rebound from his torn labrum.
I love the idea of Sam Steel centering these two players. Steel has been heralded for his hockey smarts and being good at everything, but not great at one thing. His IQ, combined with the line’s ability to possess the puck and score goals seems like a formula for success.
Line #3 – With their contract extensions kicking in this upcoming season, Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg project to be the steady vets on this third line combo. Silf had a career year last year and despite some of the flack Rico catches from Ducks fans, he ended up right around his career averages despite a poor season by the Ducks overall. Plug in the speed, size, and tenacity of Max Jones, and you are looking at a line that cannot only create chances, disrupt on the forecheck, and score, but also a line that can be a different kind of “shutdown” line. Not to say Dallas Eakins will use matchups quite like Randy Carlyle, but having a more defensively responsible line is necessary in certain game scenarios.
Line #4 – Call me crazy, but I was pleasantly surprised by Devin Shore. Taking emotions out of the trade that brought him to the Ducks and sent Andrew Cogliano to the Dallas Stars, I’d say things worked out well for both teams. Do I actually think Shore will actually be the fourth line center for this team? Well no, but I like the idea of a more skilled fourth line. I do have to say that I like Carter Rowney’s game and this projection leaves him out of the lineup, but the sneaky playmaking ability of Nick Ritchie along with Shore’s overall game seems like it could bode well for Daniel Sprong. Let Ritchie and Shore do the hard work, let Sprong score goals. This fourth line breaks the mold of a typical GMBM/RC group, but I think Ducks fans would be elated knowing that.
Defensive Pair #1 – For whatever reason, former Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle thought it would be a good idea to break up the one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL last season. There’s no getting around it, Manson had a bad season away from Lindhlom and Lindholm had an ok season (by his standards) away from Manson. These two belong together and I think (or at least hope) that Dallas Eakins gets out of his own way and just leaves these two alone to do what they do best.
Defensive Pair #2 – Last year, we saw a glimpse of what made Brendan Guhle Buffalo’s number one defensive prospect before they drafted Rasmus Dahlin. We also got to see Cam Fowler on his off-side playing the right defensive position for the first time in his career. Sample size is important, but these two looked very good together in their limited minutes before Guhle’s oblique injury. Most Ducks fans have this combo slotted in as the number two pairing for the Ducks, and it makes sense. They had success, so let’s run it back. It will be on Guhle to rebound from his injury, but it will be on both him and Cam to continue to build on the chemistry they showed last season.
Defensive Pair #3 – In my projections, I plugged in Jacob Larsson and Korbinian Holzer. However, I do feel that both spots on the bottom pair are up for grabs. My gut tells me that Larsson will be taking the left side in this pair. Although he has not progressed as quickly as most Ducks fans would have liked, Larsson ended up playing OK with the Ducks last season and was the Gulls top dman by all accounts in San Diego. I think it is his job to lose. As for the right side, I mentioned above that there are plethora of candidates for this spot (quantity over quality? Just kidding…kind of). My hope: Jani Hakanpaa comes in and take this spot. In reality, it may be a revolving door between Hakanpaa, Holzer, and Del Zotto.
Goalies – John Gibson. Ryan Miller. Nothing to see here. Ducks are in a good spot goalie wise.
This lineup projects to have 83 points on the season. I was initially patting myself on the back for coming up with the most productive team out of this Ducks roster, but then the reality set in that this line up still only projects to finish with 83 points. ONLY 83 POINTS! However, the Evolving-Hockey WAR model has some recency bias, which helps explain why these lineups are projected to generate less points than many would expect.
Luckily for Ducks fans and the Ducks themselves, games are not played on paper and projections are just that, projections. They are inherently conservative. I am far more optimistic about this team. However, I am also just fine with them not making the playoffs for the second season in a row seeing that the top-end of the 2020 draft is stacked with difference-makers.
One thing is for sure, this upcoming season should be far more exciting than last.