Alas, we begin the stretch run. The part of the season when fans start biting their nails, trades materialize, and players on teams out of the playoff picture begin making summer vacation reservations.
Fans of the Anaheim Ducks have not really had to sweat this portion of the season since 2011-12. The Ducks have reached the playoffs comfortably, winning the Pacific Division every season since missing the playoffs in 2011-12. This season might be different. Entering the All-Star break the Ducks had a 10-point cushion on the Calgary Flames for the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division. The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks are just one point behind the Flames. The only team in the Pacific that is not within striking distance is the Arizona Coyotes.
The Ducks will likely make the playoffs but in order to win a fifth-straight Pacific Division title, they will have to overcome a few challenges.
The Bad News
Jakob Silfverberg Injury
Silfverberg was injured on a hit by Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov. There is no question that his “upper-body” injury occurred when his head hit the ice following the hit. While the Ducks have avoided the word “concussion”, I strongly believe that he suffered a concussion on the play. Anyone who follows hockey knows that it’s impossible to predict the timetable for recovery with a concussion. The Ducks are fully aware of what can happen if a player returns too early and suffers another concussion, a lesson they have learned from the life-altering injury to Simon Despres. They will not make the same mistake with Silfverberg.
In losing Silfverberg, the Ducks are losing a top-six forward who ranks third on the team with 13 goals. He has looked dominate all season, even in games where he didn’t show up on the score sheet. His absence could have a trickle-down effect on all-star center Ryan Kesler as well, who gave his linemates credit for his performance at the All-Star game media day.
The Kesler-Cogliano-Silfverberg line has been skating together since Kesler arrived in Anaheim and Logan Shaw has been a less-than-impressive replacement for Silfverberg thus far. Only time will tell when Jakob will return.
I’ve already addressed Perry’s decline in goal-scoring in a previous article and I do believe he will heat up during the stretch run. The poor guy has been absolutely robbed by opposing goaltenders on at least a half-dozen occasions this year, which is an unavoidable part of the game. Regardless whether his diminished output is the fault of his own play or stellar play by opposing netminders, it is a hurdle that both he and the Ducks will need to overcome.
As it stands right now, the Ducks are projected to eclipse the salary cap by about $3 million. However, long-term injury cap relief will bring them down to just under the league maximum — and I mean just under. Deadline day is likely to be uneventful for the Ducks unless general manager Bob Murray can shed some serious cap dollars leading up to the trade deadline.
The Ducks have been on the wrong side of several lopsided scores this season. They have lost by five goals twice and by four goals on four separate occasions. They have looked downright awful on some nights. The team has also been prone to major second-period problems for most of the last few years. The Ducks need to show up for all 60 minutes, something which has not happened very often this season.
The Good News
Nate Thompson has been loaned to the San Diego Gulls for a long-term reconditioning stint. He will be ready to return soon and in my opinion, the Ducks will have the best group of centers in the league when he does.
The addition of Antoine Vermette during the offseason appears to be the frontrunner for “most bang for your buck” free agent acquisition this season. He is a gifted playmaker who has found new life in Anaheim and with a cap hit of just $1.75 million, adding him didn’t exacerbate the Ducks salary cap problem. Vermette is one of the best when it comes to faceoffs and his 63 percent mark has helped the Ducks achieve the best faceoff percentage in the NHL.
John Gibson hasn’t been on top of his game and yet he still has the league’s eighth-best goals-against average.
Rickard Rakell is having the break-out season that we all expected and is leading the team with 20 goals. Kesler is right behind him with 18 tallies and with the defensive assignments he is tasked with every night, he definitely earned his spot in the All-Star Game. Cam Fowler is finally having a coming out party on the blue line and like Kesler, Fowler punched a ticket to the All-Star Game with his stellar play.
Captain Ryan Getzlaf and Perry both have the Stanley Cup pedigree to lead them to and through the playoffs.
If Perry heats up, the Ducks will win their fifth straight division title but even without a hot Perry, they will make the playoffs.