What Went Wrong is our annual series where we look at the teams that failed to make the playoffs. Over the coming weeks, we’ll go through them team-by-team, discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2018-19 or that they’ll need more from going forward.
You can check out our previous editions on the Ottawa Senators, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, and the Edmonton Oilers.
Today we’re going to focus on the Anaheim Ducks, who ended a run of six straight years in the postseason.
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Injuries were a big problem for Anaheim throughout the season and there were notable absences from Day 1. Ryan Kesler, Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, and Corey Perry all missed the season opener. Despite that, the Ducks managed to win their first three games and were 5-1-1 through Oct. 17. A big factor in that early portion of the season was John Gibson, who posted a 1.89 GAA and .948 save percentage in his first six starts.
Things went south for the Ducks though. Following that 5-1-1 start, Anaheim lost its next seven games. That dropped them to 5-6-3, but it wasn’t a fatal blow. Anaheim managed to meander around for a little after that before turning him the heat from Nov. 21-Dec. 17 with an 11-2-0 run that left them at 19-11-5 on the season.
Some of the issues that plagued the Ducks were evident even then. Primarily, they weren’t much of a threat offensively. Through Dec. 17, Anaheim had just 90 goals for in 35 games, which put the Ducks near the bottom of the league. They were being propped up in part by Gibson, who had a 15-9-4 record, 2.52 GAA, and .927 save percentage in 29 games.
That wouldn’t save them for much longer though because Anaheim was on the brink of a collapse far worse than the losing streak they suffered earlier in the season. From Dec. 18-Jan. 15, Anaheim went 0-8-4. Over that span they were shutout twice and held to just one goal on three other occasions.
Anaheim’s struggles didn’t end there. The Ducks won back-to-back games on Jan. 17-19 before suffering another seven-game losing streak. That one included some real slaughters, like a 9-3 loss to Winnipeg, 6-1 loss to Toronto, and 6-2 loss to Philadelphia. After all that, the Ducks were down to a 21-26-9 record.
On Feb. 10, Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle was fired and replaced by GM Bob Murray on an interim basis. Murray felt that being behind the bench himself would be the best way for him to evaluate the team and determine what exactly has gone wrong. I might as well also acknowledge that Murray had sprinkled in some trades over the course of the season, but the vast majority of them weren’t particularly meaningful.
The exception to that came on Feb. 24. Anaheim sent defenseman Brandon Montour to Buffalo in exchange defensive prospect Brendan Guhle and a 2019 first-round draft pick. Montour had been a significant part of the Ducks’ defense and represented the Ducks shift towards thinking long-term.
Anaheim largely stabilized under Murray, but the damage was done. The Ducks finished with a 35-37-10 record. Gibson, who at one point was holding the team together, ended up being a mixed bag with a 26-22-8 record, 2.84 GAA, and .917 save percentage. Meanwhile, no one on the team even reached the 25-goal or 50-point milestones. Anaheim finished last in terms of goals for as a result.
After that disappointing season, the Ducks are at a crossroads. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are in their mid-30s now. Ryan Kesler will probably miss 2019-20 and might never play again after undergoing hip resurfacing surgery. This is a team that might need some major retooling upfront, but it remains to be seen if that will happen this summer.
Sam Steel – At least the Ducks aren’t devoid of offensive help coming up the system. Sam Steel has a chance to make an impact as early as 2019-20. He got a taste of the NHL this season, scoring six goals and 11 points in 22 games. He also excelled at the AHL level with 20 goals and 41 points in 53 AHL contests and another 13 points in 16 AHL playoff games. He might be a serious Calder Trophy contender next season.
Troy Terry – The Ducks will also be looking for some aide from Troy Terry. He split the 2018-19 campaign between the NHL and AHL. With Anaheim he had four goals and 13 points in 32 games while averaging a modest 13:57 minutes. At the AHL level he was dominate with 16 goals and 41 points in 41 games. Look for the 21-year-old (22 on Sept. 10) to play a bigger role next season.
Corey Perry – One of the early signs that the Ducks weren’t going to catch any breaks in 2018-19 came during the preseason. Corey Perry suffered a torn meniscus during a pregame warmup and that led to surgery. The only silver lining is that it gave them an opportunity to repair a MCL injury he had been playing through for years. Now that he’s healthy and no longer has to deal with the MCL issue either, the 2019-20 campaign might be a bounce back season for him.
Ryan Kesler – You can’t blame him at all, but Ryan Kesler left plenty to be desired in 2018-19. He had just five goals and eight points in 60 games, a far cry from even 2016-17 when he had 58 points. As mentioned above, he’s not likely to be able to play in 2019-20. Hopefully he’ll make a full recovery and be able to eventually play again.