After a dismal start to the Anaheim Ducks‘ homestand continued with a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday night, the writing is on the wall— it’s time to sell. It’s not a surprise, considering most preseason projections had them ranked near the bottom of the Pacific Division. It’s also not a surprise considering how many players will become unrestricted free agents (UFAs) at the end of the season, and finally, it’s not a surprise given how much the Ducks have struggled over the last few seasons.
However, that’s not who the Ducks have been during the 2021-22 season. They’ve been exciting. They’ve spent time leading the division, and they have, at times, looked ready to compete against the league’s best. That’s what makes any sort of concession even more difficult. But Friday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings and recent drubbings from the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have made it clear that the team is not ready to compete in the Pacific. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s a reality-check that shows just how far the Ducks have come, and what they can still do to improve the roster in the near future.
Trade Pending Free Agents: Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson & Rickard Rakell
The first order of business for general manager Pat Verbeek is to find trade partners for the team’s upcoming UFAs. Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Rickard Rakell have been the most popular names, but Nicolas Deslauriers and Ryan Getzlaf will also need new contracts after this season. Getzlaf’s case is unique in that if he departs, it should be on his own terms. But the others should nab a great bounty on the open market. Defensive defensemen like Lindholm and Manson are always coveted for a playoff push, and Rakell is in the middle of a scoring bender that will surely drive his value up.
If any of this happens, the Ducks would be worse for the rest of the season, but recouping assets for players who may leave in free agency is better than watching them walk away for nothing. Their departures would also open up roster spots, giving the Ducks a chance to get an extended look into the future.
Late-Season Call-Ups for Brayden Tracey, Jacob Perrault & Kodie Curran
Moving their pending UFAs would allow the Ducks to call up some of their most talented prospects currently with the San Diego Gulls, their American Hockey League affiliate. It’s no secret that the organization has been building a powerhouse farm system over the last few seasons. Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale may be the franchise cornerstones moving forward, but they’ll have help in the coming seasons.
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Brayden Tracey and Jacob Perrault have both made their NHL debut this season. While both debuts were pedestrian, they should get a longer look if roster spots begin to open. Additionally, Kodie Curran warrants a look on the NHL stage with the likelihood of a defenseman being moved. He’s far from a prospect at age 32, but the Ducks signed him to a two-year deal after he dominated the Swedish Hockey League. Someone over the age of 30 making their NHL debut is not exactly conventional, but Curran might be a stopgap on the blue line until Ollen Zellweger is ready to make the jump.
Moving Forward With Sam Steel & Maxime Comtois
One of the positives to come out of this season is the development of several young Ducks players, notably Zegras, Troy Terry, and Isac Lundestrom. All of them seem poised to be key cogs of the roster moving forward.
Related: Ducks Prospects: Drew, McTavish & More
The same can’t be said for everyone, unfortunately. Sam Steel continues to struggle. Despite putting up monstrous numbers in the Western Hockey League and excellent numbers in the AHL, Steel has mustered 60 points in 174 NHL games. He was, at one point, the prize piece in the Ducks’ farm system while they were competing for division titles in the mid-2010s, but the shine has worn off. It’s hard to bury someone who is only 24 years old, but it is fair to wonder if he needs a change of scenery to reach his potential.
As for Max Comtois, it’s difficult to ignore that he led the team in goals a season ago, but his production has tanked. A lot of it can be blamed on his dismal shooting percentage, which dropped from 17.25% in 2020-21 to a paltry 5.88% this season. Considering the league average is around 9%, he’s seen the best and worst when it comes to puck luck. But his poor performances this season have landed him firmly in head coach Dallas Eakins’ doghouse, and he’s spent most games during this stretch as a healthy scratch. Benching Comtois can’t be the long-term solution, so figuring out how to move forward with him and Steel would be beneficial, especially while they will play low-stakes games down the stretch as they drop out of the playoff race.
Better Seasons Ahead for the Ducks
If the Ducks can capture what they did well this season and grow from it, the future is bright. They have young, high-end talent that will only expand in number in the coming years. Some of this new talent will be coming in the form of assets acquired from trading away expiring contracts. Some of these players are already in the Ducks’ system and should get an extended look at the end of the season. This stretch run will be a great opportunity to figure out who will be part of the franchise’s plans moving forward.