This is one part of a multi-part series profiling the 2018-19 Pacific Division.
The Anaheim Ducks had their five-year Pacific Division Champions streak snapped last season. The Vegas Golden Knights came out of nowhere and stole their crown as the Ducks struggled with a wealth of injuries. Now, with an ageing core, can the Ducks continue to be a contender in the Pacific?
44-25-13 – 101 points (2nd in Pacific)
235 goals for (18th in the NHL)
216 goals against (4th in NHL)
It’s honestly pretty incredible that the Ducks had as successful of a 2017-18 season as they did. They rolled into the season decimated by injuries, as their opening night roster lacked Ryan Kesler, Hampus Lindholm, and Sami Vatanen. Ryan Getzlaf would be in and out of the lineup for the first few months of the season due to injury and the team didn’t really reach full strength until after Christmas.
Despite the turmoil, a Ducks team which featured, at times, Derek Grant (former Flame!) and Antoine Vermette as its top two centres managed to finish second in the Pacific Division with a 101-point season.
Key to the team’s success was excellent play from Rickard Rakell, who led the team with a career-high 34 goals and 69 nice points, a breakout 20-goal season from Ondrej Kase, and a midseason trade that brought Adam Henrique to Anaheim. Rakell and Kase emerged as the team’s two best scoring wingers, which was critical as Corey Perry took another step backwards with a 17-goal campaign. Henrique also provided more offensive depth down the middle for the Ducks in the wake of Getzlaf and Kesler’s absence.
Ultimately, though, Anaheim’s sort of surprising success can be chalked up to defence and goaltending. The emergence of Brandon Montour on the blueline made Sami Vatanen expendable. After Vatanen was moved in the Henrique deal, Montour slid up next to Cam Fowler on the team’s offensive pair while Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson handled much of the heavy lifting defensively.
John Gibson should probably be heralded as the team’s MVP last season. Despite the Ducks routinely getting outshot (they ranked in the bottom third of the league with a 48.57 CF%), Gibson’s .926 save percentage helped the Ducks finish fourth in the league in goals against. Backup goalie Ryan Miller was also fantastic in relief, posting a .928 SV% over 28 games.
All told, Anaheim managed to stay above water in the first few months of the season while their roster was riddled with injuries. They compensated for injuries and declining play from their old core with breakout seasons from young forwards and strong defence and goaltending. In the second half, they got themselves to full strength and managed to go on a run to the playoffs. That playoff run ultimately resulted in a sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks in the first round.
Notable additions: Carter Rowney, Luke Schenn, Andrej Sustr, Chase De Leo, Brian Gibbons.
Notable subtractions: Kevin Bieksa, Francois Beauchemin, Antoine Vermette, Derek Grant, Jason Chimera, J.T. Brown.
Anaheim’s offseason was more about housekeeping than it was making changes. The biggest signing they made was inking Gibson to a massive eight-year extension worth $6.4 million annually that’ll start in the 2019-20 season. They also gave a three-year deal to Kase for his breakout season, a five-year deal to Henrique, and a two-year deal to Montour. Nick Ritchie remains an RFA at this point, but all of Anaheim’s core other than Jakub Silfverberg is locked up for the next couple of seasons.
All of the Ducks’ free agent moves were minor. They let defencemen Kevin Bieksa and Francois Beauchemin walk in free agency and replaced them with Andrej Sustr and Luke Schenn. They also let a handful of depth forwards like Vermette, Grant, and Jason Chimera walk but brought in Carter Rowney and Brian Gibbons to fill the void. So, ultimately, the Ducks are just as good on paper as they were on last year.
The question for the Ducks yet again will be health and declining play from the team’s core. While Getzlaf is still a very good player, Perry is a shell of his former self. Kesler could also miss significant time this year. He played in 44 games last season and only managed 14 points. Like Perry, he was a shell of himself. Patrick Eaves will be returning after missing virtually all of last season with a terrifying illness in which the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.
Last season, they navigated a wealth of injuries largely with strong defence and goaltending. Will they be able to do it again?