The Anaheim Ducks believe they have what it takes to be playoff contenders. However, there are three major areas the team needs to work on.
Entering into the new season, it’s hard to get a read on the Anaheim Ducks team and what they might be able to achieve. They haven’t noticeably altered their team from last season’s underwhelming result.
Yet, even so, the Ducks have vocally stated that they want to be, and believe they can be, a playoff team contending for a cup. With that in mind, the following are some of the variables the Ducks may need to manipulate in order to climb from the league’s basement up to the lofty heights of being playoff contenders.
3. Primary Scoring
Last season, the Anaheim Ducks ranked 29th of the 31 NHL franchises for goals scored per game. This despite many of the veteran players hitting near enough to the career marks or better. As an example, the Ducks’ top-scoring player, Adam Henrique, was the 111th highest scoring player in the league last season with his 43 points (26G, 17A).
It was the third-highest scoring year in his career and the highest in five seasons. Despite many of our best wishes, it seems unlikely that Henrique will significantly pad those totals to creep into the top 50 scorers in the league, and command that primary scoring role. Indeed, the total needed to reach the top 50 scorers would, in fact, be a career year for Henrique.
There would be a lot of hope that Ryan Getzlaf can reach this lofty height again, as the ability to assist on goals seems to have greater survivorship than goal-scoring itself. Getzlaf has never been a strong skater, thus a deterioration in that area isn’t likely to drive him further from relevance. There are some questions, however, whether Getzlaf is the player he once was. Last season’s scoring pace was the lowest of his entire career and by a significant margin.
However, even excluding last season as an outlier, drawing a trendline through Getzlafs scoring history presents a negative trend that may be difficult to arrest as time goes on. That isn’t to say that Getzlaf’s goose is cooked, but more that his heady days of being a league elite players are closer to the end than the beginning.
There is also a case to be made that Getzlaf’s dwindling scoring is reflected in the lack of genuine goal scorers that surround him. As Corey Perry‘s goal scoring output declined, so to did Getzlaf’s assist rates. Perry, of course, is long gone yet no current Ducks player has stepped up to fill the void. Rickard Rakell is but a few years removed from his last 30-goal season, however, it could be stated that those seasons fell smack bang in the statistical goal scoring peak years which are now in his rear vision mirror.
It can also be said that Rakell’s most recent two seasons mirror the two seasons prior to those big 30-goal years and that this may be his true normal. At 27-years-of-age there can and should still remain hope that Rakell can recapture that goal-scoring flair, though he’ll need help to do so. Perhaps moving him back on a line with Getzlaf will initiate the spark required to propel both those players back towards the scoring elites.
Outside of those few names, there is not a lot of help coming from within last season’s team. Jakob Silfverberg scored at near enough his career rates, as did newcomer Sonny Milano. Danton Heinen remains somewhat of an enigma given his scoring has trended downwards since his NHL debut season. Yet, truth be told, his calling card is his defensive play.
Troy Terry made fantastic strides with his defensive game to the point he may have been the Ducks’ strongest defensive forward, yet his offense underwhelmed and he rarely looked threatening. Ditto for Max Jones. The Anaheim Ducks’ hope would be that these players can all be capable secondary scorers moving forward.
However, secondary scoring no longer drives teams in the NHL. Despite it being a team game, much like the NBA, the NHL is becoming more and more a star-driven league. Big-time stars are most often big-time scorers, and big-time scorers help teams win games. The long and short of it is that NHL hockey is a strong link game, that requires teams to have the best players on the ice more often than not. In some instances, this can mean depth and in others, it can mean star power that is always on the ice. The best teams have both.
Thus, it falls to the Ducks to discover a player who is capable of becoming the primary scoring focus on the team. Prospects like Trevor Zegras, a player who is almost single-handedly keeping the Ducks prospect pool afloat, may come into the team this coming season. He certainly has the talent to facilitate the offense as a gifted passer of the puck, yet is not much of a scorer in his own right, despite owning a fairly decent shot. If that sounds like Ryan Getzlaf a little, it is a good case to be made. Nonetheless, another great facilitator on the team would be a boon, but not necessarily a remedy for an anemic offense that is light on for goal scorers.
In essence, the Anaheim Ducks need to find an additional 35 goals to reach the middle of the table for total goal-scoring, given the gap between last season’s 182 goal effort and the 15th placed (for goal scoring) Carolina Hurricanes 217 goals. It’s an amount that can be reached by the committee or by acquiring that one very good scorer. Most likely, it will require both of those things.
The question is whether the Ducks can source the increased scoring output within the team, or whether they will be required to outsource and acquire that player in a trade. With the team already sitting above the salary cap, some fine manipulation of the cap will be required if a trade is the answer. It will possibly be the toughest deficit the team will be required to remedy given the short time span.
The lack of goal scoring becomes a little more dire when the proposed Pacific Division is taken into account, as the teams to be included averaged ~201 goals between them. Certainly three of the other seven proposed teams scored fewer goals than the Ducks, which leaves only two of the remaining four teams for the Ducks to leapfrog into the post-season (not inclusive of a wild card spot).
Can they outscore the Colorado Avalanche, Las Vegas Knights, or Minnesota Wild? It’s also worth mentioning that the defensively sound, and Stanley Cup Finalist, Dallas Stars were one of the lower-scoring teams.
The Stars, of course, provide hope and fear in equal measure. On one hand, they’re proof that goal scoring isn’t essential to making it into the postseason. On the other hand, they’re also proof that the teams who score less than the Ducks are stronger defensively. This leads to the next concern the Ducks will have to remedy.