Three Major Needs the Anaheim Ducks Must Address to be Playoff Contenders

Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /
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Anaheim Ducks
Head coach Dallas Eakins of the Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

1. Team Strategy and Innovations

The Anaheim Ducks went out on a limb and moved their AHL coach, who had shown very little tangible ability to develop players, into the NHL as their head coach. They touted reasons such as him knowing the names of the prospects and their tendencies, through to him being an innovator and practitioner of modern hockey tactics.

The reality of the situation was very different than expected. The youth movement, nearly to a player, suffered under Eakins guidance, while the veteran group all matched or exceed expectations. New school tactics ended up being an offense that dumped the puck in more than they carried it in, despite the team holding some of the better transition players in the league.

Hat tips to Troy Terry, Cam Fowler, and the late arrived Sonny Milano, for this aspect of play. Even with the man advantage did the Ducks dump the puck more than carry it. Hard to imagine that “new school tactics” meant taking “pucks in deep” to a level that not even old-school former-coach Randy Carlyle could envisage.

The Anaheim Ducks have backed in their current coaching staff for the coming season, yet one has to wonder what they will do differently from last season to ensure that there is a seamless transition from defense to offense or that positioning with be closer to flawless than the clear confusion that was apparent last season. Eakins publically spoke out against running drills for his players last season, yet drills are one of the tools that a coach has to ensure that structure is stable and that players know what’s happening at any given moment.

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Certainly, hockey is a game of organized chaos, but it behooves a player to know that if he gets the puck in any given position, that his teammates will be moving to a certain space on the ice. It simplifies the thought process and speeds up the play on the ice. It’s unusual for a coach to actively advocate against this kind of set up, particularly when said coach does not have a history of success to fall back on.

Thus, the question should be asked about the length of rope Eakins has to strangle his career with. Given the Anaheim Ducks have actively stated that they’re no longer considering themselves rebuilding and are destined for a playoff berth, can they afford to have a slow start with a coach who doesn’t have a history of success leading them? This may be further exacerbated by the number of former NHL head coaches on the market and without a job.

Gerard Gallard, Bruce Boudreau, Todd Nelson, John Stevens, Mike Babcock, Mike Yeo, or Dan Bylsma are all experienced head coach options with varying levels of success. Each has a stronger NHL resume than Eakins. Should the Ducks chose to truly go with a new coach, Rikard Gronberg or Karl Taylor (reigning AHL coach of the year) could be strong contenders given their strong resumes outside of the NHL coaching bubble.

The Anaheim Ducks could even see themselves to be on the forefront of innovation by hiring one of the many strong female coaches who may make themselves available for hire. Recently the Arizona Coyotes hired the first full-time female NHL coach, yet there are many more whose strategic knowledge of the game would be a boon for any club.

There were few coaching choices less inspiring than Eakins at the time of his hire. However, today there are a multitude of desirable candidates. Eakins and his staff have been given the green light to implement whatever they may see fit, in order to boost the Ducks into playoff contention. Though with the Anaheim Ducks’ public appraisal that they’re a capable playoff team, it may be that Eakins takes a fall if the start is slow.

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In many ways, it may not entirely be his fault should that occur, as the Anaheim Ducks are very likely to be up against some quality teams in the 2020-2021 Pacific Division playoff race, and will be entering that fight with some fewer weapons then they may desire. Nonetheless, Eakins didn’t inspire in his first season as the Ducks bench boss and, while Bob Murray has publically supported him despite the big names available on the market, it remains to see how long his leash will really be.

Whichever way the Anaheim Ducks choose to move into, it has to be said that dumping the puck in on the power play ~55% of the time is not likely to result in a strong powerplay. It’s very likely that a power play that does such a thing would rate very poorly overall. Low and behold the Ducks power lay was the 30th ranked unit in the league last season.

It can be said that abandoning structure to overload corner contests is likely to leave opposition players open allowing them easier shots on goal if the puck is not recovered at the contest. The Anaheim Ducks were one of the worst teams in the league for goals against.

For the Ducks to move forward they need to find modern strategies that work. Certainly, they need to find players who can score goals with frequency and defencemen who can regain the puck and use it to spring the offense. Yet the straw that mixes that delicious drink is always going to be the coach and his staff. For this reason, the coaching staff is my number one variable the Ducks need to address.

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