A little over two months ago, the Anaheim Ducks skated off Honda Center ice one final time, putting a bow on the 2015-16 season.
The script was all too familiar: a Game 7 loss on home ice. Organizational change went from seeming like a distant black cloud to a veritable hailstorm in a matter of hours.
General manager Bob Murray took to the podium just 48 hours after the painful loss, barely hiding his disgust. The first domino had fallen: head coach Bruce Boudreau had been relieved of his duties. The only coach who had managed to get the Ducks to the Conference Final since 2007 was gone in one fell swoop.
Murray seemed pained by the decision, but the message was clear: something had to give. The idea of trotting out the same team led by the same coach was simply not an option. “I don’t think it will be the same team, that’s for sure”, he explained with an uncomfortable restraint.
The man has stayed true to his word. Anaheim won’t be the same team it was last season.
A horde of veteran forwards was brought in last off-season. Carl Hagelin, Chris Stewart, Mike Santorelli, and Shawn Horcoff were seen as the final bit of insulation needed to drive Anaheim into the Stanley Cup Final.
Yet by December, questions arose as to whether all the new arrivals, paired with a sea of departures, had disrupted pre-existing chemistry. Hagelin was eventually shipped out for another veteran in David Perron, while Jamie McGinn was added at the trade deadline.
They’re all gone now; every single one of them. Sure, he’s had to grapple with re-signing a host of important young RFA’s. Still, it’s telling that none of those veterans were brought back.
The New Reality
To date, Murray has acquired Mason Raymond and Jared Boll to replace the old gang. Raymond’s a serviceable winger, but Boll shouldn’t even be considered an NHLer.
That could mean left winger Ryan Garbutt potentially playing a top-six role. Though that’s an assignment which he’s proven to be able to fill in a pinch, it’s not one that he’s suited for in the long run. It’s doubtful that new bench boss Randy Carlyle would break up the Andrew Cogliano-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg line, which would mean that Mason Raymond would potentially be flanking Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the first line.
Things get even more unsavory on the right side. Currently, the Ducks have three right wingers on their roster: Perry, Silfverberg, and Boll. After Silfverberg, the drop-off in talent is Grand Canyon-esque.
Could Anaheim go to the farm for help on the wings? There’s certainly an undercurrent that this could be the year Nick Ritchie sticks with the big club. He didn’t look great in the handful of games that he got in the NHL, but maybe a summer of further conditioning could propel him forward in 2016-17. Stefan Noesen, who played well in San Diego last season, could get a long look in camp. All reports indicate that he’s not NHL-ready quite yet though.
There’s clearly some talent brewing in the Ducks’ prospect pool. The blueline looks fantastic (Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour, Jacob Larsson), but there just aren’t any dynamic forwards ready to make a meaningful impact at the NHL level.
Free agency remains a viable avenue for Murray. There are still bargains to be had, and he’s shown an aptitude for sniffing them out. Unfortunately for Anaheim though, no remaining free agent (aside from maybe Jiri Hudler) represents a clear-cut upgrade over McGinn, Stewart, or Perron. Maybe Murray did do his due diligence to bring them back. For them to all leave though, some to cheaper deals, puts that in doubt.
Granted, everything could change in a matter of minutes. Murray could make a trade that would all of a sudden solve everything up front for Anaheim. He does still have a surplus of young defensemen, some who have been rumor mill regulars.
Big-time shuffling might not be such a great idea. Roster turnover was often cited as a reason for the Ducks’ early season struggles last year. With all the modifications being made, another difficult feeling out period certainly seems plausible.
Yet change was an explicit aim of Murray’s this off-season, and he’s made it a reality. Whether it’s bringing Anaheim closer to a second Stanley Cup though, seems debatable at best.