It was another offseason of change for the Anaheim Ducks, as the organization tries to usher in a new era of success following five straight seasons of missing the playoffs. It’s unlikely the Ducks jump back into wild-card contention in 2023-24, but the team will be looking for more from their youthful core of Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, Troy Terry, and Jamie Drysdale, who will soon be bolstered by a very talented prospect pool. Fitting all those pieces into a cohesive and competitive roster will be Anaheim’s main objective this season, which was a major part of the organization’s offseason blueprint.
Ducks Make Coaching Changes With Development at the Forefront
Anaheim fired head coach Dallas Eakins one day after the club’s last-place finish. The Ducks wrapped up 2022-23 with a 23-47-12 record, including a team-record 13 straight losses (0-11-2) to close out the season. They went 100-147-44 in four campaigns with Eakins behind the bench. The players should benefit tremendously from a new voice in the room.
The Ducks hired Greg Cronin as Eakins’ replacement in June. This is the first NHL head-coaching gig for the 60-year-old, and he’s inheriting a squad that ranked 31st in goals per game (2.51), 31st on the power play (15.7 percent), 31st on the penalty kill (72.1 percent), and 32nd in goals against per game (4.09). Cronin is confident he can provide the team with some much-needed structure: “I’m one of these guys, I believe in innovation, I believe in change,” he said. “You’ve got to have a healthy balance, but it starts with your habits, and if your practice habits aren’t good, they’re going to follow you right into the game.”
General manager (GM) Pat Verbeek believes Cronin is well suited to guide the franchise in the right direction. “While we did cast a wide net in searching for the next head coach, it became clear to me that Greg would be the ideal fit for the position,” Verbeek said. “Being a young team, I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players.”
The Ducks also hired Matt McIlvane to serve as the bench boss for the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League (AHL) in April. The Gulls had the worst record in the AHL last season with a mark of 20-49-3. However, the team should get a boost with several Anaheim prospects poised to turn pro this season, including Nathan Gaucher, Sasha Pastujov, Olen Zellweger, Pavel Mintyukov, and Tyson Hinds.
Like Cronin, McIlvane was brought in to help cultivate and develop the Ducks’ young talent. “Matt brings a winning pedigree to our organization in addition to a strong culture of development and performance,” said Verbeek. “Our players in San Diego will benefit from his leadership, philosophy, and his championship experience in Europe and the international level.” With Cronin and McIlvane leading the charge, the Ducks hope to see growth at the NHL and AHL levels in 2023-24.
Ducks Focus on Adding Leadership and Physicality in Offseason Moves
There will be many new faces in the Ducks’ lineup this season. Management signed Alex Killorn to a four-year, $25 million contract on the opening day of free agency. The longtime member of the Tampa Bay Lightning has two Stanley Cup championships, and he will upgrade his new club’s offensive. The 34-year-old forward potted a career-high 27 goals and a personal best of 64 points in 82 games last season. Killorn is also capable of playing in all situations, so he should see big minutes on the Ducks.
Anaheim’s other big-ticket signing in July was blueliner Radko Gudas, who inked a three-year, $12 million deal after spending the past three campaigns with the Florida Panthers. The 33-year-old bruiser ranked second in the league with 312 hits last season after leading the NHL in 2021-22 with 355. Gudas could occupy a top-four spot in the lineup with the Ducks.
Verbeek has high expectations for Killorn and Gudas as the Anaheim GM seeks to change the culture of the team. When referring to their leadership abilities, Verbeek said: “It’s important for our young guys to understand what compete is all about, what paying the price is all about – in the weight room and [being] a complete professional, doing things the right way every minute of the day when they’re at the rink. So it was vital.” The Ducks will expect Killorn and Gudas to be leaders on and off the ice.
Latest News & Highlights
Robert Hagg, who was inked to a one-year, $775,000 contract, and Ilya Lyubushkin, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2025 fourth-round draft pick, will also be part of Anaheim’s new-look defense corps. Along with Gudas, they both add a physical element to the team’s blue line. The Ducks have stressed the importance of being harder to play against in 2023-24. Unfortunately, the defense is lacking in mobility, so the Ducks will rely on Cam Fowler and Drysdale for their puck-moving abilities. If they manage to earn a spot on the roster, Jackson LaCombe, Zellweger, or Mintyukov could help in that regard as well.
Alex Stalock agreed to a one-year, $800,000 deal to provide the Ducks with a veteran depth option between the pipes. He will probably enter the 2023-24 season as John Gibson’s backup, but he could also serve as Lukas Dostal’s understudy if Gibson is no longer around. Gibson has experienced some wear and tear in recent seasons, and there’s always the possibility that he could be traded. Dostal signed a two-year, $1.625 million contract with the Ducks during the offseason, but he is waivers exempt, so a trip to the minors could be in the cards for him to start the campaign.
Ducks Select More Talent at 2023 NHL Entry Draft
Anaheim launched a bit of a curveball early in the draft by selecting Leo Carlsson second overall. Adam Fantilli would have made a lot of sense for the Ducks in that slot, mostly because he fits the blend of tenacity and skill that Verbeek seems to covet. However, Carlsson’s ability to adapt quickly in big situations and make everyone around him better ultimately made him Anaheim’s preferred target.
Carlsson could be assigned to the AHL or return to the Swedish Hockey League for 2023-24, but he has a great chance to start the year with the Ducks because of Isac Lundestrom’s offseason Achilles injury. Carlsson’s versatility could place him anywhere from the top to the third line, as a center or on the wing, though Anaheim envisions him being the team’s future first-line center.
The Ducks’ 2023 NHL Draft class also included forwards Nico Myatovic and Carey Terrance. They will both be worth monitoring during the upcoming Rookie Faceoff tournament because of their offensive skills.
Setting Expectations for the Ducks this Season
Anaheim hasn’t reached the stage of its rebuild yet where the playoffs are within reach. The 2023-24 season will be much more about putting new systems in place and getting everyone moving in the right direction. Even if Zellweger, Mintyukov, Gaucher, and Hinds spend most of the season in the AHL, they should get their feet wet at the NHL level at some point this campaign. Anaheim will likely be active with trades again and injuries could provide opportunities as well. The Ducks will probably be satisfied just to see some progress, especially after a completely disastrous 2022-23 season, and they have some good pieces in place to achieve that goal.