The trade deadline has come and gone and the dust from that is starting to settle. The Anaheim Ducks may not be playing with a fresh new look, although they do have some new faces. Nonetheless, time waits for no man (or woman), and we all must role with the punches. New General Manager Pat Verbeek must also begin to make some moves to improve the team.
Thus far in his tenure, and to much applause from the fandom, he’s moved out some veteran players, in Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm, Nicolas Deslauriers, and Rickard Rakell, for what can primarily be described as future draft assets. No disrespect intended for the few prospects who came the Ducks way but their impact on the team has not yet been felt. And while not a Verbeek move, Ryan Getzlaf has just declared this season will be his last. This arguably is a foundation shaking move for the Ducks as a whole.
By my count, that’s two top-4 defensemen and two top-6 forwards leaving the team, and currently only the youngish blueliner Urho Vaakanainen coming in to replace them on the ice. No matter what any fan thought of those players, they were (and in the case of Getzlaf, currently still are) big parts of this team and their identity. From a numerical perspective, the Ducks will lose, or have lost (at time of writing) their 5th, 9th and 11th highest scoring players on a team with the 24th ranked goals per game average. Nonetheless, missing Ryan Getzlaf is a problem for tomorrows Pat Verbeek. How have the Ducks faired with him and since the deadline?
DEFENSIVE PLAY SINCE THE DEADLINE
Given that two of the players given up in trade were blue liners, it probably helps to start with the Ducks defensive efforts. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the Ducks are giving up fewer goals post-trade deadline (2.52/60) than they did pre-trade deadline (2.69/60), which shifts them from 21st to 11th overall in the league for that metric. At least at even strength. Unfortunately, the Ducks special teams have been less than special since the deadline, which has sunk the Ducks overall goals against by almost and extra goal against every 4 games. It might not sound like much, but a 20-goal swing over a full season is nearly 10% more goals against then the current median for the league.
Nonetheless, despite the apparent improvement in even strength goals against, it’s worth noting that the Ducks are giving up an extra ~5 shot attempts, ~4 scoring chances, and ~2.3 high danger chances, per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. It may not translate to much if you just look at expected goals against, but that is a significant (even statistically!) greater workload for the Ducks netminders.
The penalty kill is a little harder to tease any information out of. Theoretically, the Ducks have improved by allowing ~10 shot attempts fewer per 60 minutes. However, one wonders if they took a little longer to give up goals, or if they killed off a few penalties entirely, that opposition teams would get more shot attempts in? Specifically, the Ducks are giving up and extra ~10.5 goals per 60 minutes while on the penalty kill, as they swing from 6.45/60 to the current 16.95/60. It’s impossible to suggest that expected goals are worth anything when they’re a derivative of shot attempts (amongst other things). What we can say is that on-ice save percentages have dropped from 89.8% to the current 73.7% Some of that will be on the Ducks netminders, but it’s hard to argue that removing two of the bigger minute blue liners and probably the team’s best penalty killing forward (seriously check out the numbers), wouldn’t have an effect. Worth noting here, that while Manson was ranked 7th overall in PK minutes, when accounting for minutes per game, he was the 2nd most used defenseman. He played in 45 of the teams 61 games prior to the deadline, thus, having a significant impact.
Taken together, Pat Verbeek has some work to do to put together a stronger blue line. At least on the defensive side of the ledger. The penalty kill is a tough one to tease out, given how many and how quickly the Ducks have given up goals in this facet of the game. However, the declining results here also somewhat mirror the underpinning numbers being presented at even strength. As shots and chances go up, it’s likely that over time goals against will creep up as well. For the team which is ranked 12th for most goals against over the entire season, defensive play like we’ve seen since the deadline is crippling to playoff chances. Verbeek may have acquired Drew Helleson for the future, but more work will need to be done.
OFFENSIVE OUTPUT SINCE THE DEADLINE
Offensively, at least at even strength, the Ducks have barely missed a beat since the deadline. Both goals per 60 and shot attempts are largely the same. Moving on from Rakell hasn’t proven to be a tangible difference on the ice. If anything, the Ducks have found a way to produce scoring chances at a slightly, though insignificant, rate.
Of course, with Getzlaf no longer being a fixture next season, Verbeek will need to decide if they can fill those dad sized shoes internally or reach outside the organization. That could be as simple as moving Adam Henrique to the pivot, or bring in Mason McTavish, but no matter what he decides, it’s hard to imagine the Ducks not falling away if only slightly.
Special teams, however, look like they may need a new look. It’s hard to really tell how the power play is doing given they have scored no goals since the deadline. However, those no goals may be in part due to a decline of ~23 shot attempts, ~8 scoring chances, and ~6.5 high-danger chances, per 60 minutes of play. Only the Islanders and the Stars have produced fewer shot attempts by rate since the deadline.
As with everything, making snap decisions on small sample sizes is a bad way to plan a franchise, however, planning needs to be based on something. Before the Ducks moved on from Rakell and heard that Getzlaf would hang up his skates, they were an impotent offensive team that snuck along on the backs of an obscenely high power-play shooting percentage. For interests’ sake, until the trade deadline, even though their power play was dwindling, they held the highest PDO in the league in that facet of the game (112.2%). The Ducks offense was impotent all along, even with the sky-high shooting of Troy Terry and Sonny Milano.
Which is another wrinkle in the fold. Assuming players like Terry will continue to score at their current clip is a recipe for disaster. Will Terry drop back to obscurity? It’s highly unlikely. Yet it’s also unlikely that he continues to shoot at 20-25% or adds more shots per game to make up the difference. Most likely he settles somewhere in the middle. Milano has really come on this past season, yet is having a career year at 26, while shooting 14%. Again, he’s likely to fall back to more sustainable figures.
Say that isn’t to rag on these players, but to highlight that they shouldn’t be expected to carry the load to the extent that they help the Ducks climb the goals per game ladder. They’re already shooting high, they are likely to dip, and the Ducks are currently underwhelming on offense. If these players are the Ducks future, then they need help. For an anemic power play that help could come in the form of a new coach. It could come in the way of a new player. Verbeek has yet to tease that out. Or at least he’s yet to inform the fandom.
Overall, the Ducks are a poor team, and they were made weaker at the trade deadline. The hope is that the future assets accrued in return for getting weaker today, will help them in the future. Possibly the wrinkle is that Verbeek began this role suggesting the Ducks were a fair way along in their rebuild. The results, despite being within a small sample size, suggest that the Ducks don’t currently have enough talent to put on the ice. Some help will come in the form of the young players currently in San Diego (read: Brayden Tracey and co), but they shouldn’t be expected to perform in a way that projects the Ducks up the standings. Thus, outside additions will need to be found.
Whether he decides on defensive help first, or an offensive catalyst, there’s no denying that this current Ducks team is woefully ill equipped to play in the NHL playoffs. A team mid-way through their rebuild should be better placed than that. So perhaps some hard decisions are in the Ducks future. Perhaps the Ducks are closer to the start of a rebuild than the end. The 2022 NHL entry draft will tell the fandom a lot. It will be interesting to see how they respond.