The Anaheim Ducks have already been picked by many to finish near or at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Now, they may still do that anyway. However, the Ducks are not quite as bad as some may assume. Here are a few things that need to break right to help their cause.
First, John Gibson must stay healthy
This could have been first, second, third, fourth, and fifth arguably. Anaheim lives or dies by the health of the world-class goaltender. Despite, a horrid defense in front of him, Gibson finished with 26 wins and an above .500 record despite an unlucky start.
He managed to start 58 games but for Anaheim to be more successful, the goalie needs to play close to 65 times in 2019-20. That may tax most goaltenders, but John Gibson is just 26-years old. That is an important aspect to note. The expectation is that Anaheim should face less shots per game than they did in the first half of the season.
As a matter of fact, Gibson was seeing over 37 shots per 60 over his first 35-40 starts. That is a frightening number and may have contributed to some of his health woes. If the Ducks even improve a fraction offensively, that should help defense and Gibson.
Second, addition by subtraction helps…
The departures of Ryan Kesler (long-term injury) and Corey Perry (buyout) only strengthen the offense in the long run. This allows the younger kids to play. Also, if Ondrej Kase is healthy going into training camp, that is a powerful winger to gain back in time for the 2019-20 season. Kase had 20 points in 30 games and was on his way to a breakout season when injury struck. His possession numbers were though the roof good and his loss left a huge void in the lineup.
Again, Kesler and Perry being gone allow players like Sam Steele and Troy Terry to have bigger roles on the team. It may even open the door for Max Comtois in time. Growing pains may abound at times, but this is for the best for Anaheim. With a new coaching staff, better times are ahead by going a little younger.
Third, Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg could bounce back
Rakell and Silfverberg endured rough seasons last year. Silfverberg did finish the year off on a batter note as he wound up with 24 goals and 43 points in 73 games. However, his shots on net dropped for a second year in a row (163). As for Rakell, his goal total dropped from 34 to 18 and shots fell from 230 to 194. His shots and chances per game did come up during the second half so the decrease was less than expected.
Just a slight uptick in offense would be all it takes, and a little extra possession means they do not have to play as much in their end. Players like Perry and Kesler drug these forwards down to a level most never expected. Could both be back in the 25-30 goal, 50+ point range next season? Absolutely!
Fourth, Ryan Miller just needs to be serviceable again…
Again, the goaltender is now 39-years old. Despite that, he enjoyed a respectable season right around .500 (8-7-2) in 20 games played. That 20 games is right around what his limit should be this year if all goes well.
Miller is there strictly to keep John Gibson from starting too many back to back games and the occasional start here and there. That’s it! If both goaltenders can stay healthy, Anaheim enjoys a solid 1-2 punch that can win as many or a few more games than last season.
Finally, a new coach must be an improvement….
Randy Carlyle was mercifully fired to make way for Dallas Eakins. Eakins did some great work for the San Diego Gulls (Anaheim’s AHL affiliate) the past couple seasons and the thought was he was the heir apparent in Anaheim. The Ducks took their time, but Bob Murray finally named him head coach this offseason.
If Eakins can employ what he executed in San Diego up in Anaheim, the Ducks could surprise a lot of pundits this year. Now, the playoffs are not likely but if teams like Arizona and Vancouver can think it then why not Anaheim?
Bob Murray led this team back to respectability late last year (14-11-1). If Eakins comes close to those numbers, Anaheim easily finishes say six or seven over .500. At the very least, Anaheim will not be hemmed in their own zone as constantly and will be more entertaining to watch.
By Chris Wassel