Anaheim Ducks: Staying the Current Course Could be the Best Option

Head coach Dallas Eakins of the Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Head coach Dallas Eakins of the Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /
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Anaheim Ducks
Adam Henrique #14 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates with Cam Fowler #4 and Max Jones #49 (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

How Does this Relate to the Anaheim Ducks?

Well, there are clearly some concerns with Dallas Eakins’ game plan and systems play. Bob Murray has long had his detractors. Yet, is mid-way through a rebuild the right time to remove them? I would argue that it isn’t. Particularly noteworthy is that the team itself doesn’t really have any long-term concerns.

The contracts, for the most part, are manageable, and the Anaheim Ducks will be coming into a lot of cap space over the next season or two. They have flexibility. It’s also worth noting that Murray has taken the Ducks from a bottom third in the league prospect pool (as the prospect graduated to the NHL) back into the top third over the course of a couple of drafts.

It’s not the perfect rebuild by any stretch, but prior to Trevor Zegras coming into the NHL, all of the premier prospects were playing together and developing together in a winning environment. It’s hard to beat that. They had a clear plan in place you’d imagine from that setup— Bring them all through together so that they may create chemistry and thrive in a winning environment. Even the prospects themselves all fit a certain style of play, given they’re (nearly) all solid skaters who excel in neutral zone play.

Yet, fans want them to rush towards being the Sabres. They want all their prospects up in the big club because they can’t possibly get better in a pro league that isn’t the NHL. They want a changing message from the top down. They want the illusion of results. They want it all immediately.

We heard it with Zegras, yet the results aren’t any different. We still hear with Zegras, that he’s not being played enough and every other excuse under the sun. This may upset many, yet even adjusted on a per-time-on-ice basis the Anaheim Ducks primarily are not presenting good metrics while he’s on the ice.

Specifically, on a per 60 minutes basis, the on-ice results for offensive metrics during 5v5 hockey and for Zegras specifically, rank (amongst all Ducks skaters): 2nd last for Corsi-for (43.58%), 3rd last for Fenwick-for (30.64%), 6th worst for expected goals-for (1.87), 4th worst for scoring chances for (19.07%), and 6th overall, including a 1 game sample from Andrew Agozzino, for offensive zone starts (65.52%).

This isn’t to suggest that Zegras is cooked as a prospect, just that his presence isn’t particularly influencing the team’s results, despite the very occasional highlight-reel play. There is certainly an undercurrent of armchair development coaches who are adamant with 100% certainty that Zegras can’t possibly improve his skills in any league except the NHL at this stage.

Yet is that really true? Well, it’s about as true as suggesting that chasing that sweet methamphetamine high will be good for your health. You may say it to convince yourself, but it certainly isn’t supported by any scientific literature.

Now the calls are coming for Drysdale to be brought up, as the junior hockey seasons get closer and closer to all starting back up. We’ve certainly seen how Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin has impacted his team’s fortunes. Even Mikhail Sergachyov played his 18-year-old season in the OHL, and he has had far stronger results leading into his NHL debut than Drysdale.

Again, this is not criticism towards Drysdale himself. In fact, being compared to two such fantastic young defencemen is high praise. The question, however, is towards the fans calling for him to be in the NHL because he has nothing left to learn. Why is this young player so much more likely to succeed than two of the premier young players in the league?

That isn’t to say that Zegras and Drysdale aren’t a big part of the future. They are. It isn’t to say that Murray and Eakins should be here forever. They shouldn’t be. As one who has both wanted to rebuild through the draft absolutely want the Ducks to develop the prospects as best as possible. As one who has criticized Murray and Eakins in the past, I am certainly on board with moving on from them.

Preaching Patience

In clear contrast to the Sabres, consider the Toronto Maple Leafs. They went in with the “Shannaplan”, and for the most part, stayed the course until they had made a couple of playoff series and had shown tangible growth. They had developed a coach they liked in the AHL and went out and got a General Manager who fit their changing vision. However, the original plan was adhered to for as long as it was necessary to do so.

It’s hard to argue the Leafs have done everything perfectly. Yet, it’s far harder to argue that their process has been equal or worse than what the Sabres have implemented. It’s a clear showing that a singular message and purpose are fundamental to success. More than anything they played a patient game and went in with a clear purpose. When the parameters of that purpose changed they reevaluated. The Anaheim Ducks are simply not at that place where they should be changing tacks and changing their plans.