The Anaheim Ducks Have One Major Cause For Optimism

Another year, and another game seven loss at home for the Anaheim Ducks. Outplayed in front of their fans, the Ducks now spend yet another summer contemplating what could have been. In sports, particularly sports media, it’s become fashionable to play the “blame game”. And why not? Isn’t it easier to explain the Ducks’ series loss by saying, “Perry and Getzlaf weren’t good enough”? Don’t all sports fans want proverbial pinatas to smack all summer long?

Even on national television, the Ducks’ play throughout the entire series was watered down to, “Ryan Kesler is doing a great job covering Jonathan Toews” or “Getzlaf and Perry need to bring their A-games”. While those things may have been true, they’ve trickled down into the rest of the sports world, driving a narrative that misses the point.

Anaheim gave Chicago all it had throughout the course of seven games. They pulled every trick they possibly could: insane streaks of goal scoring, late game comebacks, overtime goals, Clayton Stoner goals (a rarely used trick), etc. It perfectly mirrored the Ducks team we’ve watched since October: a team that would only show its teeth when backed up against a wall.

It’s almost a wonder that the series went seven games. The Ducks were badly out-possessed throughout, and all hell broke loose once Frederik Andersen began to falter. Anaheim’s breakout was never able to adjust to the pressure of the Chicago forecheck. The pressure brought on by the Blackhawks routinely left the Ducks scrambling in their zone, and it eventually did them in. Never mind what happened in game seven, the Ducks lost any edge they could have hoped for when they refused to adjust their style of play.

Questionable Decision Making

A lot of that falls on the shoulders of head coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff, who ultimately are the ones responsible for making adjustments. There have been rumblings that general manager Bob Murray wasn’t thrilled that Boudreau refused to use James Wisniewski in the playoffs, an asset he worked hard to acquire at the deadline. Boudreau doesn’t appear to be on the hot seat, but there’s definitely a smell of discontent in the air.

Would Wisniewski have made a difference? Probably, especially given how Stoner’s play directly led to Chicago goals on multiple occasions. Wiesniewski isn’t exactly a savior, but there’s little doubt he brings more to the table offensively than Stoner. After two costly mistakes in game three, there really was no longer a justifiable reason to leave Stoner in the lineup.

The Stoner problem was an obvious and ultimately unfixed situation, yet Boudreau’s insistence on slotting Patrick Maroon may have ultimately been just as costly. Maroon is a fine player who’s clawed his way into the league, but no one in their right minds would mistake him for a bona fide first line winger. Getzlaf and Perry needed a Jiri Sekac or even a Matt Beleskey who could think the game on their level. Maroon has his moments, but it’s painfully obvious how less skilled he is than his linemates. Boudreau routinely shuffled bottom three lines, yet never touched his first line. There’s something wrong with that.

Clearly, Boudreau made some errors in judgement. There’s no way around it. But that’s life in the NHL; outcomes can often dictate how we react to decisions. To Boudreau’s credit, he tweaked his lineup going into the series, slotting in speedy skaters like Sekac and Emerson Etem. Perhaps without those adjustments, the series doesn’t go seven games.

No Pain, No Progress

Then there’s the fact that the Ducks’ blueline is incredibly young. Four of the six regulars were 23 and under. Hampus Lindholm is the youngest of the pack at a raw 21 years of age. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have some grizzled veterans who have been through the highest highs and the lowest lows of playoff hockey. Aside from a struggling Francois Beauchemin, the Ducks defense didn’t have anywhere near that kind of experience and it showed in the most painful ways.

As much as many would like to believe that the Ducks lost because Getzlaf and Perry weren’t at their best, or that Andersen’s play sank the ship, the real reasons are obviously deeper than that. This Ducks team will only continue to grow going into next year, and the experience of a game seven in the Conference Final simply can’t be matched.

Everyone in the Ducks’ organization will learn from this loss. Top to bottom, there are major lessons to be learned. Their defense corps will become more mature. Andersen will better understand how to handle the bright lights. Bob Murray might learn to push Boudreau more when it comes to decision-making. Boudreau himself will surely take away some things. As for Getzlaf and Perry, they’ll come back hungrier, angrier, and hopefully wiser.

A game seven loss is a tough pill to swallow. Getting outplayed throughout a series is tough pill to swallow. Getting trolled on Twitter by fourth-line plugs isn’t much fun either. But if the Ducks as an organization can learn from this series, it might turn into the best thing that’s ever happened to them.