As Year 3 of Vegas Golden Knights hockey fast approaches, we’ll take a look at the other teams in the Pacific Division ahead of the 2019-20 campaign. This series will provide an overview of each of Vegas’ division rivals, reviewing how the teams fared last season, examining organizational changes made during the offseason and exploring what their lineups might look like to start the season. First up is Anaheim.
The Ducks are coming off a disappointing season that included a stretch in which they lost 19 out of 21 games. After a mid-season coaching change that resulted in general manager Bob Murray unconventionally taking over bench duties, the Ducks showed promise to close out a season that was already a lost cause. With most of the core intact and an expected influx of young talent, the Ducks are hopeful for a bounce-back season that will see them return to postseason action.
Season in review
The 2018-19 season was not kind to the Ducks.
Widespread injuries plagued the roster, a painful losing streak hit home and stayed there, and a general lack of offense left the team on the outside of the playoff picture for the first time in seven years.
In fact, the Ducks’ offense ranked 31st in the NHL with just 2.39 goals per game and featured a 38-goal drop from the year before. On top of that, the team scored two or fewer goals in 45 games and one or less 30 times, nine of which were shutouts. The Ducks had the lowest shot volume in the league, averaging just 27.7 shots per game; they were outshot 54 times, giving up an average of 33.2 per game. Twenty of the team’s 35 wins were one-goal games.
Clearly, John Gibson had his hands full, but he did a masterful job giving his team a chance to win every night. He didn’t have much help, though.
Not one player on the roster hit the 50-point mark, and star forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell had down seasons. Getzlaf managed just 14 goals and 48 points in 67 games, good for a points-per-game pace of 0.72, his lowest since 2011-12. Rakell saw a 16-goal drop in his production, which was accompanied by a 26-point decrease overall one year after leading the team in goals (34) and points (69).
Jakob Silfverberg was the only player on the team who scored 20 goals (24), with Rakell and Adam Henrique falling just short with 18.
Veterans Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry had abysmal seasons, and Patrick Eaves played just seven games, though none of them will be in the lineup this year. Ondrej Kase was great when he played, scoring 11 goals and 20 points in 30 games while putting up stellar analytics, but he missed more than half the season. Health remains a major concern for the budding star headed into 2019-20.
Anaheim’s main offseason move was buying out the remaining two years of 34-year-old Perry’s contract, which carried an $8.625 million cap hit. The former 50-goal scorer who played 14 seasons with the Ducks has seen a sharp decline in recent years, capped off by just six goals and 10 points in 31 games in 2018-19.
All things considered, the rest of the roster remains relatively untouched. A few minor additions include forward Nicolas Deslauriers, acquired from Montreal in exchange for a 2020 fourth-round draft pick, as well as defenseman Michael Del Zotto and goaltender Anthony Stolarz, both signed in free agency. Backup goaltender Ryan Miller as well as forward Derek Grant and defenseman Korbinian Holzer signed one-year extensions. Finnish defenseman Jani Hakanpaa will have a chance to compete for a spot in camp as a right-shot defenseman.
Anaheim drafted center Trevor Zegras with the ninth-overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft, adding winger Brayden Tracey later in the first round (with the pick acquired in the Brandon Montour trade with Buffalo). Zegras figures to be a key part of the franchise moving forward but will play at Boston University for the 2019-20 campaign.
Not insignificantly, the Ducks hired a new bench boss in Dallas Eakins, who was promoted after coaching Anaheim’s AHL affiliate over the last four years. Eakins’ last head coaching job at the NHL level was an unsuccessful stint in Edmonton, but he’ll look to have more success in California. Having coached many of Anaheim’s players and top prospects, he should have a head start.
With Kesler and Eaves officially out for the entire season, there are several spots up for grabs for Anaheim’s young forwards to claim. Murray made it clear that he will limit the number of prospects that make the team out of camp, so not everyone will stick around. However, it seems safe to say that Sam Steel and Troy Terry have a very strong chance of earning full-time roles with the club this season after playing 22 and 32 games last year, respectively.
From there, it’ll likely come down to Max Jones and Max Comtois, with Isaac Lundestrom and Kiefer Sherwood possibly in the mix. Comtois was extremely effective in limited time last season, potting points in seven out of 10 contests.
Grant, Deslauriers, Carter Rowney and Devin Shore will be bottom-six options, though their specific roles could depend on which youngsters make the club.
Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are the core three on the back end for the Ducks, with Brendan Guhle and Jacob Larsson likely to join them on the blue line to start the year. Josh Mahura, Holzer, Hakanpaa and Del Zotto will be in the running as bottom-pair defensemen as well, with one of them likely to serve as the seventh rearguard to start the season.
Here’s one possibility for what the Ducks’ lineup might look like to start the season:
Ritchie — Getzlaf — Terry
Rakell — Steel — Silfverberg
Comtois — Henrique — Kase
Jones — Shore — Sprong
Lindholm — Manson
Guhle — Fowler
Larsson — Holzer
2018-19 record: 35-37-10—80
Position in standings: Division-6, Conference-13, League-24
Pacific Division record: 12-13-4
Record against Vegas: 0-4-0
Playoff result: Did not qualify for playoffs
Power play (NHL rank): 17 percent (24)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 79.7 percent (20)
Goals for (NHL rank): 196 (31)
Goals against (NHL rank): 248 (13)
Leading scorers: Getzlaf (14-34—48), Silfverberg (24-19—43), Rakell (18-25—43)
Top Corsi For % (min. 30 GP): Kase (56.87), Getzlaf (50.84), Lindholm (49.63)
Goals above replacement: Henrique (8.4), Terry (6.6), Kase (6.1)
Season opener: Oct. 3 vs. Arizona
Looking ahead to 2019-20
The Ducks will look to avoid missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2002, but health and a little good fortune could go a long way towards an improved campaign. Much will depend on the contributions from the youth movement, but there’s every reason for optimism in that department considering what several players demonstrated in limited action last year. With another steady dose of strong netminding from Gibson as well as some bounce-back performances from underachieving veterans like Getzlaf and Rakell, this Ducks team could be well on its way to getting back on track. Despite a brutal losing streak down the stretch, the Ducks proved towards the end of last year that this club possesses enough skill and determination to make trouble, and that’s exactly what Anaheim will look to do this season.
Golden Knights vs. Ducks schedule
Oct. 27 vs. Anaheim
Dec. 27 @ Anaheim
Dec. 31 vs. Anaheim
Feb. 23 @ Anaheim
Statistics courtesy of Evolving-Hockey, NHL.com, Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference.