Over the next couple of months, The Hockey Writers will be releasing a series of bold predictions. Team by team, this series will take shape as we look at some of the more questionable possibilities that could come into fruition during the 2017-18 season.
Coming off a season where a berth in the Stanley Cup Final was within reach, the Anaheim Ducks will once again set out in hopes of dominating the Pacific Division in the NHL’s Western Conference. With an aging club, the window for their current core is quickly closing and could force the Ducks into a win-now mentality. That being said, they are coming off a season in which they impressed a number of people and while some of their top players are getting older, the team is working to integrate some youth within their roster.
They finished atop the Pacific Division in 2016-17 – winning 46 of their 82 games and notching 105 points. They closed out the year with 223 goals and a differential of plus-23.
They were led by their captain – Ryan Getzlaf – who notched just 15 goals and 73 points in just 74 regular season games. No other player hit the 60-point plateau with Ryan Kesler (58), Corey Perry (53) and Rickard Rakell (51) all hitting the 50-point mark.
Nick Ritchie played his first full season with the club and the 21-year-old recorded 14 goals and 28 points in 77 games.
In net, John Gibson played the majority of the minutes and secured himself a 25-16-9 record. His 2.22 goals against average and .924 save percentage certainly helped the team locked up the top spot in their division. Behind him, Jonathan Bernier also hit the 20-win mark, notching a 21-7-4 record of his own. He finished the year with a 2.50 goals against average and .915 save percentage as the team’s secondary goaltender.
As a reward for finishing atop the division, the Ducks got the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs – a round they easily swept from the Flames. They followed that up with a seven-game classic against the Oilers before they were sent home by the Nashville Predators in the Conference Finals on their way to the Cup Final.
So, with the Predators acting as their one hurdle, the Ducks didn’t change much heading into the new season. Instead, a couple minor moves and a loss in the Expansion Draft were all the Ducks had to worry about.
Miller In, Theodore Out
With the Expansion Draft, a lot of talk surrounded the Ducks and their young defensemen. Josh Manson’s name was tossed around a number of times, but as they did with other clubs, the Vegas Golden Knights and George McPhee worked out a deal with the Ducks to take another player instead.
When it was time to take a Ducks’ player, the Knights decided to draft Clayton Stoner – a 32-year-old defenceman that was drafted back in 2004. In return for taking Stoner, the Knights also received Shea Theodore from the Ducks.
The 22-year-old was a first-round pick for the Ducks in 2013 and has tallied 17 points in 53 career regular season games with Anaheim.
And while Theodore will be a part of the inaugural Vegas roster, the Ducks did bring in a couple of veterans to replace the young blueliner and re-signed Cam Fowler to an eight-year extension.
The Ducks signed goaltender Ryan Miller to a two-year contract with an AAV of $2 million and most recently signed veteran defenceman Francois Beauchemin to a one-year deal.
While the Miller signing should create some competition in net, the question remains of whether or not these veteran signings will be enough to send this aging club back to the playoffs.
2017-18 Bold Prediction: Kesler Out, Ducks Pout?
In a league that has shifted toward favouring youth and speed, an aging club like the Ducks might not be favourites in the Pacific Division any longer. But for a club that has been so dominant in the regular season, as of late, what will it mean if the Ducks can’t find success quickly in 2017-18?
Aside from the obvious – with coaches on the hot seat – players could be sacrificed in favour of giving some of the younger players more ice time.
With that, the team would have to move one of their veterans. That being said, most of the Ducks’ veterans have some kind of no-trade clause. With Perry and Getzlaf likely going nowhere, could a player like Kesler be open to waiving his no-trade clause if the Ducks start to struggle?
At 33, Kesler has four years left on his current contract with an AAV of $6.875 million. Assuming a team would be willing to take that on mid-season, which is unlikely, I could see Kesler as the veteran on the move in search of that coveted Cup.
Regardless of whether the Ducks can talk him into moving and whether or not a team takes on his contract, the Ducks are going to take a step back this season. After five straight seasons with playoff hockey in Anaheim, the team’s average age is among the oldest (seventh highest to be exact). With that in mind – along with their additions not equaling their losses – expect 2017-18 to be a year without playoff hockey for the Ducks and their fans.