Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2016-17, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Makes sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2016-17 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we begin the series with the Anaheim Ducks.
Puck Drop Preview 2016-17: Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks were an active team ahead of and during the 2015-16 season. Last summer, Anaheim acquired long-time Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa for a second round pick the day before Free Agency started and signed him to a two-year extension on July 2. The Ducks would also sign forwards Shawn Horcoff and Chris Stewart to depth roles as well. During the season, David Perron would come over from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Carl Hagelin, and Jiri Sekac would leave the flock for Ryan Garbutt.
For the fourth consecutive season, the Ducks finished atop the NHL’s Pacific Division, leading the entire NHL in both power play and penalty kill efficiency. Despite finishing in the third seed in the Western Conference, the season was one with many hurdles to overcome for Anaheim. The start of the 2015-16 campaign saw the Ducks struggle out of the gate and they were 16 points out of the top spot at the season’s halfway marker, while their plus-26 goal differential was the lowest among all division winners.
The lack of goal production put pressure on the defensive side of the puck, but a well-manned blueline and the strong goaltending of Frederik Andersen and John Gibson made the goals the Ducks did score stand up. Gibson, the Ducks second round selection in 2011 again had injury issues, including missing the season finale.
Also for the fourth consecutive year, the Ducks did not have much to show for the effort. Despite 103 points, stellar seasons for Andersen and Gibson, a deep, young blueline and a star-studded top line, the Ducks were bounced in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Andersen started five of the Ducks seven opening round games and accounted for all three of their wins, all of which came on the road against the Nashville Predators.
Despite leading the series 3-2, the Ducks would lose the next two contests and head home early, a year after going all the way to the Western Conference Final.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau would be fired following the early exit despite qualifying for the playoffs in all four of his full seasons with the club. The Ducks then turned to Boudreau’s predecessor, Randy Carlyle, the man who brought the Stanley Cup to Anaheim in 2007.
The Ducks made some news on the free agent front in the off-season, and not always in a good way. Jared Boll was a widely panned signing who brings little to the bottom line except for penalty minutes and some questionable plays. Boll has never scored more than a dozen points in the NHL and last year had a putrid Corsi-for rating of 33.7 percent.
Antoine Vermette was brought in as a third-line center the day after Nate Thompson tore his Achilles tendon during offseason training. Vermette, who signed a manageable two-year deal, turned 34 this summer and is coming off a decent year with the Arizona Coyotes, but it will be interesting to see how he produces in a third line role. His no-movement clause in year one of the deal could complicate things as well ahead of the Las Vegas expansion draft next summer. Thompson will be out until the Spring, at best.
The Ducks also signed Calgary Flames castoff Mason Raymond, who spent most of the 2015-16 campaign buried on the Flames. In 15 AHL games, he played well for the Stockton Heat and was a point-per-game player with six goals and nine assists. His $675,000, two-way contract is cheap insurance and a bargain if he can regain some of his magic he enjoyed with the Vancouver Canucks earlier in his career. Defenseman Jeff Schultz was also signed to an even more affordable $575,000, one-year contract but should spend the entire year with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.
At the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Ducks made some fine picks, all from the CHL. London Knights power forward Max Jones is a prototypical player for the Ducks and was an excellent pick with the 23rd overall selection. He’s a big, overly physical player that can make some questionable plays leading to suspensions, but he produces goals in the dirty areas of the ice. A goal chart like this will translate to the NHL.
The Ducks also took Sam Steel with the 30th pick, part of a deal which saw Andersen sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Joshua Mahura, who slid due to a season lost to injury, was great value in the third round. Jack Kopacka and Alex Dostie were taken in the fourth round and smooth-handed Tyler Soy selected in the final round completed a solid haul for the Ducks.
Goals were hard to come by at times for Anaheim. The Ducks forwards were led as they have been for more than a decade by power duo Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf’s 13 goals were the second fewest of his NHL career, and his 63 points were the lowest total to lead the team since Paul Kariya‘s 57 points paced the 2001-02 squad. Only four skaters were able to break the 20-goal plateau (Perry, Ryan Kesler, Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg) and only Getzlaf and defender Hampus Lindholm broke into double-digit goal totals. The team finished 17th in goals-for with 215 markers.
Kesler will again anchor the second line, where he will likely continue to produce in the 50-point range. Not ideal for a player with a $6.875 cap hit through 2022 and a no-movement clause, but at least there will be little question about the roster spot. Nick Ritchie should be ready for a bigger role after a 33-game sample in the NHL during which he scored two goals and two assists. His time in San Diego was often spent being the best player on the ice for either side. Ritchie should lock down a middle-six position in Anaheim.
Rakell and Silfverberg and utility forward Ryan Garbutt will provide solid depth and scoring on the right wing throughout the line-up, in contrast to the questions that litter the left wing spots.
The blueline of the Anaheim Ducks is a log jam. The Ducks have eight defenders who could be in some combination at the NHL level. Lindholm is one of the best young rearguards in the entire NHL. He was recently named to Team Sweden for the World Cup of Hockey and most hockey fans felt that despite being an injury replacement, it was actually an injury upgrade.
It is hard to see Korbinian Holzer usurping Josh Manson for the seventh defender spot. This likely leaves Shea Theodore back with the Gulls, at least to start the season, despite being NHL ready and capable. Theodore appeared in 19 games last year and did not look out of place, registering three goals, five assists, and an average of 19 minutes of ice time.
The stacked defensive prospects also feature offensive weapon Brandon Montour, who lit up the AHL last season finishing second among all defensemen in scoring and tied for first on the Gulls and now has 67 points in 82 AHL games. Montour still needs to shore up some of his defensive assignments, but he’s very close to being NHL ready. Anaheim could trade at least one, ideally two of these defensemen and get younger, cheaper and better on the blueline.
The big change headed into the 2016-17 season will be Gibson being handed the reigns for the Ducks. Andersen, who had been part of the young tandem out in Orange County was shipped off to the Maple Leafs for the 30th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft as well as a 2017 second round selection.
Ducks have traded goalie Frederik Andersen to Toronto for 2016 first-round pick (30th selection ) and 2017 second-rounder.
Statistically, Gibson has been the better of the two youngsters. Summing their regular season totals since the start of the 2013-14 season (when both Andersen and Gibson made their debut for the Ducks), it is Gibson who emerged with better numbers despite appearing in about half as many games. A more detailed look at the two goalies paints a different picture.
Gibson struggles with the overall save percentage on the SAVE chart, as well as being well below the league average in high-danger save percentage. Oddly. Andersen struggled more with low danger shots when compared to his peers. However, Gibson, albeit with a small sample size, has not performed as well in the playoffs. Looking at the postseason performance and it appears to take another step back.
In the back-up position, Bernier will return to Southern California after three years spent with the Maple Leafs where he and seemingly every goalie was made a scapegoat. The return to the California sunshine and a more than capable group of defenseman in front of him should help.
Players to Watch
The Ducks do not have a lot of answers on the left side of the ice. In multiple viewings of the Gulls, Ritchie was their best forward by a good margin, but only four points in 33 NHL games is a minor concern. Ritchie should have every opportunity for success with Anaheim next season but will need to produce points on a team that struggled at times to score goals. He has the size and skating to play in the NHL. The hands will now need to follow.
The Ducks blueline is overcrowded, and Fowler is a likely candidate to move. His point production and offensive creativity would be an enticing addition to teams and could fetch a decent haul for the Ducks. He is only 24 and an affordable $4 million contract through the 2017-18 season. General manager Bob Murray will likely get a lot of calls from rival teams about the smooth-skating lefty. If the Ducks hold on to him, Fowler should rebound from his 28 points last year, further elevating his trade value.
For reasons outlined above, there will be a lot of pressure on Gibson. He will have to prove he has what it takes to control a starting NHL job and the Ducks faith in him. He has a small sample size that is encouraging for a young goaltender, but the forward group on this team means the window is officially now, and Gibson will need to elevate his game.
This past year, Gibson was able to start two playoff games for the Ducks, going 0-2 with a .900 save percentage and 3.08 goals against average. His six starts are tied with Jonas Hiller and far behind the 28 starts Andersen had during his tenure. Gibson will have to improve in some areas as the Ducks goaltender of both the now and the future, especially in the postseason.
Players on the Rise
Currently an unsigned restricted free agent, there is little doubt the Ducks will get Lindholm under contract and into camp. Lindholm is all of 22, averaging over 31 points per season and drawing heavy defensive assignments. His 57.0 Corsi-for percentage was the highest of his three-year NHL career and led the team in the metric. He was second in team ice time with an even 22 minutes per game. Another few years of development and Lindholm could become one of the top two-way defenders in the league.
Theodore skated in 19 NHL games and never looked out of place. The former Seattle Thunderbird impressed in his first professional season. Theodore, the 26th overall pick in the 2013 entry draft, posted 37 points in 50 AHL games as well. There are no holes in Theodore’s game. He can run a power play, is an above-average defender and an excellent first pass out of the zone. The only thing keeping him from a full-time NHL job is the glut of defenders in Anaheim already on one-way contracts.
Players on the Decline
The years of physical abuse of the rugged defenseman have caught up with him. Equal parts rugged and skilled, the 35-year-old Grimsby, Ontario native is on the decline, with only 29 points in the last two years. There are younger, more capable defensemen ready for a shot, and this could be the final years for the former Canuck. Bieksa is signed through the 2017-18 season, but will likely transition to the seventh defender role towards the end of his current deal.
2016-17 Season Predictions
The Ducks look to be a near-mirror image of their previous season selves. They have one of the best duos in the league on their top line with Getzlaf and Perry and will work in a left winger to find some chemistry. The second and third lines are solid and the fourth line, well, it is a work in progress. The left wing position needs a look as well.
In fact, looking throughout the Ducks organization, the left wing spot is an area of concern, and the forward prospects are either in the NHL or years away. Top 2016 selection Max Jones recently signed to his entry-level contract and could, with the World Cup of Hockey taking a number of Ducks away, get a very long look at training camp along with former St. Cloud State University center Kalle Kossila, who can play all three forward positions.
The defense will again be a strong suit with NHL experience and a prospect pipeline bursting with talent. As mentioned before, the Ducks are likely sellers in the defensemen market, and could stand to bring in a middle-six forward to augment the hodgepodge they will have to cobble together with the injury to Nate Thompson.
The return of Carlyle is a curious one, and something everyone will monitor. Carlyle the same coach that kept sending out Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren during his tenure with Toronto. To be fair, there was not much to choose from, and Toronto was a rudderless ship adrift in the sea of terribleness, but it is still up to the coach to fill out the lineup card.
The Ducks have won the Pacific Division for the last four seasons and will certainly qualify for the postseason again this year. The Ducks, as well as their coach, are an anchor to the previous NHL era. They get excellent goaltending, a capable, deep defensive unit that can hurt you in the corner boards as well as the scoreboard and timely scoring from a few stars and some other guys who play hard.
If Gibson can finally put together a season free of serious injuries and the forward group can get some help for the bottom two lines from somewhere, the Ducks likely will challenge for a fifth straight year for a Pacific Division crown.