Randy Carlyle now in his second stint with the Anaheim Ducks has accomplished some great things for the franchise. Two Pacific Division Titles, A Western Conference Championship, a Stanley Cup Championship, and numerous playoff runs of varying length. But even with all the success is it time the Ducks take the last step in their “re-load” and move on from Carlyle?
The Anaheim Ducks were a franchise at a crossroads this past summer. Being thoroughly outplayed and outmatched in the playoffs leading to being swept out in the first round left a mark. But if there was a silver lining it seemed to finally show the front office the cracks fans saw all along. No longer would the Ducks be able to play a purely physical, slow-moving style and get the results they wanted. The game was evolving with an emphasis on speed. Not just skating fast but moving the puck fast and faster decision making. Fans and talking heads alike didn’t think the Ducks had what it took to change their style and ultimately many were doubting them heading into the season.
Seven games in the Ducks are proving most wrong with a 5-1-1 record and among the top of the overall NHL standings. Whether it be through numerous injuries or front office/coaching staff finally realized the plethora of young forwards in the system were ready for the NHL is up for debate. But the fact of the matter is the Ducks are getting it done with an extremely young line-up and some core pieces, not in the mix. It’s not perfect, far from it and John Gibson is saving this team in many instances but the results are hard to argue.
The likes of Sam Steel, Max Comtois, Kiefer Sherwood, and Isac Lundestrom are proving they belong here. But the injured Ducks Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Eaves, Jakob Silfverberg, Ondrej Kase, and newly signed Nick Ritchie are coming back. I wrote on the decisions Carlyle will have to make soon last week, but should it be Carlyle making the call?
Seen this Before
I want to stress that the Ducks need the likes of Getzlaf, Eaves, Silfverberg and Kase back. They won’t be able to maintain this record with just the kids and certainly, wouldn’t be able to in the playoffs. And yes I purposely left Ritchie off the need list because the play of some of the kids has ultimately made him expendable. But there is a fear that when the veterans all come back and Carlyle will play all of them and send the kids to the AHL/Juniors.
For all the Ducks success they are winning in spite of Carlyle, not because of him. They are still playing a dump and chase style but are significantly faster so are able to execute the strategy instead of basically giving the puck away. But taking the kids away will make the team look a lot like last season, and that’s a team that couldn’t get it done. Living in the heart of Bruins country I have seen this narrative before.
The Bruins stuck with their old school coach Claude Julien far too long thanks to the fact he brought a Cup to Boston in 2011. But in the years removed from 2011, Julien refused to evolve with the NHL. Julien was reluctant to play young players over veterans and played a style that was never going to lead to success. Julien would have loved nothing more than winning every game 1-0 and you can’t do that anymore. There are many parallels to Julien and Carlyle and there are many parallels to former Bruins AHL coach now head coach Bruce Cassidy and Ducks AHL coach Dallas Eakins.
The Bruins made the switch to a younger coach who knew and coached many of the young players that had now made the Bruins roster. And the change was immediate. The Bruins played faster, were more exciting and were scoring more. Now it’s not a perfect parallel and the Bruins haven’t sniffed a Cup with Cassidy to this point. But the Ducks are simply more skilled than the Bruins. In all areas of the game so making the change to Eakins could and should have even more positive results than the Bruins. Eakins has proved he can get it done with young players at the AHL level and he deserves another shot in the NHL.
Not a Matter of If, But When
Honestly with how the Ducks are playing and their record there will be no change at this point. And you can understand that, what team fires a coach that starts 5-1-1? But at the same time, the writing is on the wall. The adage goes, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. And wouldn’t it be a Carlyle move to get Nick Ritchie back in the fold and the injured fourth liner Carter Rowney and plug them right in the line-up taking out the likes of Comtois and Steel. This nothing against Rowney or Ritchie who both have a role to play but neither of them is long for this team whereas Steel and Comtois are. On top of it, The latter two provide a great offensive punch while still being responsible defensively. The former two do not and pay the grinding doesn’t get it done in the NHL any more style.
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There is a reason to fear when the players Carlyle typically plays return he will revert right back to his old ways. He hasn’t been able to yet this season but he always has favored the “proven veteran” over the young skilled kid. And that will not lead the Ducks anywhere. It was a theme all summer here at Pucks of a Feather that the Ducks didn’t need a rebuild but a re-load. To blend the veteran core with the young upstart kids who were ready for the jump. Allowing their skill to flourish while learning the intangible pieces and confidence of the guys who have been there before.
With Ryan Kesler looking more and more like the Kesler of old, Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg leading by example and Ryan Getzlaf set to return along with all the kids this team could and should be able to keep their pace up and prove a lot of doubters wrong. For the first time in the last few seasons, pre-season expectations were down on the Ducks and you get the sense they are playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. That is very good news and could lead to great things for the Ducks. But not with Randy Carlyle behind the bench.
The Ducks have been able to move into a new era with finally mixing the veteran core with young upstart rookies that will be the next wave of Ducks hockey. But Carlyle shouldn’t be part of this wave. He accomplished great things for the Ducks at one time. But that NHL no longer exists. And the Ducks must finish their evolution with a change behind the bench. Otherwise, the old ways, especially in the playoffs will return again.