Better Luck Next Year: The Anaheim Ducks have talent, but still seem so far away
They have a core to build around but they still need a lot of help.
Welcome to Better Luck Next Season. As each NHL team gets eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention, and then the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we will take a look at what went wrong, what went right, and what sits ahead for them. The Anaheim Ducks were the fourth team to be eliminated from playoff contention, and despite having an intriguing young core of talent they still seem miles away from serious contention again.
About halfway through the 2021-22 NHL season the Anaheim Ducks were, surprisingly, in a playoff race in the Pacific Division, mostly because they had some positive developments on the roster. Specifically the emergence of Troy Terry who went on a months long heater offensively and was helping to carry the team. Add in some promising young core pieces like Trevor Zegras and the Ducks looked like they had a real foundation to build around.
(They still do.)
But then in the second half of the season the bottom quickly fell out on that fast start, the team went into seller mode at the trade deadline, moved veterans Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell, and then finished the season with only 31 wins and missed the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season as that first half hope quickly evaporated into nothing.
This year, the team never even got off the ground.
It took them 20 games to win their first game in regulation (their first five wins were all in overtime or a shootout), it took them another 11 games to win their second game in regulation, and they not only have one of the league’s worst records for the season, they are on track to have one of the worst records in franchise history.
In fact, two of the their three worst seasons have come over the past three years under the leadership of head coach Dallas Eakins (2020-21 and 2022-23). I am not going to lay blame to Eakins for all of that because (*gestures hands wildly*), I mean, look at the roster, but in six years as an NHL head coach Eakins has never had a winning record with Edmonton or Anaheim, and the majority of those seasons have been among the worst individual seasons in each franchise’s respective history.
This team is 31st (out of 32) in the league in goals scored per game, 32nd in goals against per game, 32nd in expected goals share, and they have a declining goalie that has not been good in five years. Even if the record does not say it in the standings, this might objectively be the worst team in the league.
What is great is that for all of the Ducks’ struggles and flaws, they do at least have a handful of young players that can be foundation pieces for a contending team at some point in the near future.
Trevor Zegras is outstanding and one of the league’s most entertaining players.
Terry is never going to match what he did during that early season hot streak a year ago, but he looks like a 30-goal, 60-point type of player that can fit on any team’s top-six. Mason McTavish looks like he will be a very good NHL player and is on his way to being a top-line type of forward. Defenseman Jamie Drysdale also has a bright future even though he lost a year of his development this year to injury. After having two first-round picks a year ago, they are also very much in the Connor Bedard lottery. So there is at least some hope and something to build around.
What went wrong for the Ducks?
When you have the fourth-worst record in the league and the third-worst record in franchise history, it is safe to say a lot of things went wrong.
Even if you had zero playoff expectations for the Ducks this season as a fan, you at least would have wanted to see the young building blocks take big steps forward. Or at least continue on an upward trajectory. In some cases, that happened. One instance where it did not happen was with Drysdale, whose season was pretty much ruined in October with a torn labrum. That is just bad luck, but it is the type of bad luck that is twice as crushing because they not only lost a player they were counting on to play a big role on their defense, but a 20-year-old prized young talent lost a full season of his development.
But it was not the only thing that stunk.