The Anaheim Ducks’ final game of the 2022 calendar year played out in a similar fashion to many others from this difficult period. A 6-1 loss at the hands of the Nashville Predators on Dec. 30 put an exclamation point on one of the toughest years in the organization’s history. This is a year that has seen the team go 24-51-10 over two seasons and a handful of fan favorites and franchise icons play their last games in a Ducks’ uniform.
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Anaheim’s fortunes aren’t going to change when the clock hits midnight to usher in 2023. In fact, with the Ducks poised to be sellers at the trade deadline, things are likely to get worse in the short term. The countdown to the big sell-off will begin right away, as John Klingberg’s full no-trade clause will shrink to a 10-team list on Jan. 1. Even if the early months are bleak, 2023 can prove to be significant for the Ducks’ future. Many of the prospects drafted over the last few years will get their first opportunities in the NHL as the rebuild continues to take shape. Here are some New Year’s resolutions the Ducks can aspire for in 2023.
Get Younger Using the Trade Deadline
With a handful of free agent veterans under contract, the Ducks will likely be busy at the trade deadline. General manager Pat Verbeek showed his willingness to move players during last year’s deadline, making four trades for a bounty of picks and prospects. With Klingberg, Dmitry Kulikov, and Kevin Shattenkirk all playing on expiring contracts, the defense alone could look much different to end the 2022-23 season. This is the perfect opportunity for the Ducks to dip into their prospect pool and give these players a look in the NHL. Drew Helleson will likely be the first to be called up when a spot on the right side opens up. Olen Zellweger and Pavel Mintyukov are having stellar seasons in the Canadian Hockey League, but they would need their junior seasons to end before they are eligible to play for the Ducks.
The forward group has fewer expiring assets, but there’s plenty of room to get younger. Jacob Perreault, Brayden Tracey, and Pavol Regenda are all 23 years old or younger and would provide a spark to a lineup generating the second-fewest goals per game in the league this season. Even if they needed to break into the lineup through the bottom six, they provide more upside than Jakob Silfverberg or Jayson Megna, neither of whom will factor into the Ducks’ future beyond 2023-24.
Give John Gibson More Time Off
John Gibson’s first start after missing five games was proof that he is still capable of a team-carrying performance. In his return on Dec. 28 against the Vegas Golden Knights, he turned away 49 out of 51 shots and helped the Ducks steal two points in a 3-2 shootout win (from ‘John Gibson, Ducks Edge Golden Knights via Shootout, Los Angeles Daily News, Dec. 28). After Lukáš Dostál impressed in the previous five games, the Ducks should go into 2023 with a new philosophy on goaltending usage.
Gibson has been the Ducks’ workhorse goaltender since 2016 and has appeared in over 60 percent of Anaheim’s games each season. The last time he was in a true tandem was his first full season in the NHL when he split duties with Freddie Andersen, and the duo won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the 2015-16 season. With Dostál up to the task, the Ducks should go back to a goaltending tandem instead of forcing Gibson to play an unreasonable number of games behind a patchwork defense when it clearly becomes exhausting. With four more years on his contract, moving to a 1A and 1B goaltending duo should give the Ducks a better version of Gibson for the rest of his contract.
Upgrade the Wardrobe
Most New Year’s resolutions involve the idea of looking better and feeling better, and there’s no better way to improve that in Anaheim than by overhauling the uniforms. The current uniform is often ranked among the worst in the league, with plenty of complaints lobbed at the webbed-D logo and varying stripe sizes on the arms. Fortunately, the Ducks have one of the most beloved retro logos at their disposal, and their current Reverse Retro is the perfect example of incorporating that with modern colors.
I’ve argued before that this year’s Reverse Retro should be the Ducks’ away uniform moving forward. With the team’s primary color tied to Orange County, it would be nice to see a future home jersey inspired by the team’s alternate orange jerseys. As the team turns the corner in the coming years, a rebrand would help symbolize a new era in Ducks’ hockey.
A Better 2023 Ahead for the Ducks
While it is unlikely to get better in Anaheim immediately, the steps taken today can set the stage for the Ducks to end 2023 better than they started. This year’s NHL Entry Draft has franchise-altering ramifications, and they are in a position to benefit. With another busy trade deadline ushering in a youth movement, there can be an exciting amount of potential in the locker room. With Gibson getting more breaks and Dostál serving as a capable backup, the Ducks could also see an improvement in goaltending that could translate into more wins. With enough improvement, 2024’s New Year’s resolutions could involve a long-awaited return to the postseason.
Statistics courtesy of Hockey Reference. Salary cap info courtesy of CapFriendly.