After a long offseason and having missed the postseason for the first time in seven years, the Anaheim Ducks are hungry and hoping for a successful return to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
GM Bob Murray has not done much of significance this summer to improve the Anaheim Ducks. It’s like him to not make a big blockbuster deal or splash. It’s just his style. As in past years, Murray reverted to making a series of depth moves.
Among them, re-signing Ryan Miller as John Gibson’s backup goaltender, defenseman Korbininan Holzer, and center Derek Grant to one-year extensions.
Murray also signed other players to one-year deals from other teams, though they are not expected to make the main roster and will likely be served as callups from San Diego should the injury bug strike.
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The improvement, thus must come from within. The young kids – Troy Terry, Sam Steel, Max Jones, Jacob Larsson, Maxime Comtois, Josh Mahura – had their first taste of the NHL last season. They will be among those fighting for a permanent roster spot come training camp. You have to believe they are ready to prove they are full-time NHLers.
Everyone is Hungry
The kids are hungry.
The hiring of coach Dallas Eakins, who worked with the young kids in San Diego, is key. Eakins brings a fresh perspective and invigorates a retooling Anaheim Ducks team who fell out of favor with old-fashioned Randy Carlyle. He will be tasked to get the kids and the veterans to the work together and take this team to the next step.
Eakins too is hungry.
The injuries suffered last year also contributed to the Ducks’ offensive struggles. Losing Ondrej Kase mid-season meant losing a 25-30 goal scorer that brought irreplaceable energy and dynamic to the wing. The absences of veteran scorers Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves also hurt, as did the hobbling Ryan Kesler, who put up career lows in points.
The Ducks offensively hit rock bottom – last in goals per game and last in total goals. They were in the bottom third in nearly every offensive category. They didn’t even have a 50 point scorer.
Veteran Rickard Rakell failed to hit 30 goals like in the past two seasons. Ryan Getzlaf was not the offensive powerhouse as in past years, though still is the best playmaker and center on the team.
The forwards are hungry.
The defensemen didn’t contribute as much – goal scoring and assisting was down. You didn’t see Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, or Hampus Lindholm celebrating as much because they were often in their own defensive zone; they weren’t able to drive the play up enough.
The defense is hungry.
But fear not, John Gibson is still the goaltender of the Anaheim Ducks. In fact, he is the best goaltender in the Division without a question and will be for the next 8 years. He has been the most consistent of them all, giving the Ducks a chance every night he is in net. His backup, Miller, is no joke either – giving the Ducks arguably the best 1-2 tandem in the league.
Gibson, and to a lesser extent, Miller, are the backbones of this team providing that last layer of defense. There is no doubt in my mind that these two will be leaned upon again this upcoming this season; the hope is the Ducks have a more competent offense to alleviate their burdens.
The goalies are hungry. They want the Stanley Cup just as much as anyone.
Primed to Bounce Back
If last season was the worst we have seen from the Anaheim Ducks in sometime, things can only get better, right? The return of Rakell to a 30-goal scorer, Getzlaf to a 60+ point scorer, and Kase returning from shoulder surgery should help bring some much-needed scoring.
The infusion of youth, speed, and skill on the forward lines alongside the veterans will go a long way to the Ducks gaining offensive zone time, generating goal scoring opportunities, and bringing scoring up.
Its no doubt the Ducks have the weapons to do it. I haven’t even mentioned the potential of last year’s trade acquisition Daniel Sprong from Pittsburgh who has a knack for finding the back of net in creative ways. Giving him more time as part of the top six forwards and on the power player would do the Ducks wonders.
Scoring 30-40 more goals compared to last year is not a lot to ask for, but will be easier said than done.
As a die hard Anaheim Ducks fan, I firmly believe in this team and the pieces they have to get back into the postseason. I look at the teams in the Pacific and see many of them got considerably weaker or are about to.
The Sharks lost captain Joe Pavelski, the Oilers still cannot find decent scoring wingers to pair with superstar Connor McDavid (we will see how James Neal works out), the Kings literally didn’t do anything, the Flames will have to let go of key defensive pieces like T.J. Brodie or Travis Hamonic to sign budding star Matthew Tkachuk, Vegas had to trade away Erik Haula and Colin Miller – all because of the salary cap.
Surprisingly, the Ducks probably have the best salary cap situation (about $8.5 million left) in the Pacific. Should the Ducks be on the edge of making the playoffs or comfortably in the picture come the trade deadline, I have no doubt Murray will explore every avenue to push the team over the top.
Murray is hungry to get this team to the playoffs.
Ultimately, the Anaheim Ducks’ success depends on everyone. Each and every piece of the team is hungry and has something to prove. Eakins is hungry to show he belongs to coach on the NHL level after a previously failed stint in Edmonton. The Ducks scorers are hungry to show they can tickle the twine more often and erase last year’s aberration.
The defense is hungry to show its not a pushover. The young kids are hungry to show they are worthy of a main roster spot. Last but not least, the goaltenders are hungry to show they are still the best of the elite.
With everyone hungry, the challenge will lie in personal and team execution. I’m hoping all that hunger brings an appetite for success in the regular season and beyond.