By Greg Beacham/AP Sports Writer
ANAHEIM (AP) – Ryan Getzlaf’s retirement from the Anaheim Ducks signals the start of a new era, both for the star center and for the organization he’s leaving behind.
While Getzlaf works on his golf game and increases his family time, the Ducks hope next year is when they’ll finally be contenders again.
“I feel like we’re making the progress, even if it’s not always coming through in the results,” Getzlaf said. “There’s better days ahead for this franchise, and I’m going to be happy to see it.”
The Ducks have missed the Stanley Cup playoffs in four consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history, but their increasing wealth of young talent suggests they’ll soon have the players who can end the drought. They showed that capability intermittently this season, but ultimately fell well short of every preseason goal while finishing 31-37-14 and in seventh place in the Pacific Division.
The Ducks were in playoff contention until the All-Star break, and then they flopped mightily. Anaheim lost 27 of its final 35 games overall, and an 11-game losing streak in March erased the Ducks from playoff contention before the skid ended one short of the franchise record.
The season wasn’t all disappointment, however.
Trevor Zegras cemented his status as one of the most exciting young players in hockey with his franchise-record 61 points as a rookie. The playmaking center and master of the lacrosse goal is a Calder Trophy candidate and one of the NHL’s top must-watch players.
Most Ducks fans hope Zegras will be lining up more often next season alongside Troy Terry, who capped his breakthrough All-Star season with 37 goals – the most by an Anaheim team leader since Corey Perry scored 43 in the 2013-14 season.
Anaheim has a decent mix of youth and experience across its roster. New general manager Pat Verbeek has the assets to add much more of both to the mix this summer, putting the Ducks in position for more sustained success.
Verbeek acknowledged the Ducks are still in rebuilding mode when he got the job in February, and he hopes he accelerated it at the trade deadline when he dealt defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson and forwards Rickard Rakell and Nic Deslauriers after determining he couldn’t sign any of the pending free agents to new contracts. All four were veteran contributors to Anaheim, but all four brought in picks and players that could be useful in the Ducks’ next era. How Verbeek deploys his assets will determine Anaheim’s fate.
Verbeek already resolved a major offseason question last month when he announced coach Dallas Eakins would return for a fourth season behind the bench. Eakins has never had a winning record in parts of six seasons as an NHL coach, and he has little success to show for his work with the Ducks. But Verbeek saw enough to pick up Eakins’ contract option for 2022-23, keeping continuity for a franchise making major changes in other areas. Eakins’ three assistant coaches – Mike Stothers, Geoff Ward and Newell Brown – are also returning.
John Gibson’s future remains a tantalizing question. The longtime Ducks goalie is under a long-term contract paying him $6.4 million in each of the next five seasons. His value on the trade market is unclear, and he has a no-trade clause. He is among the NHL’s best when healthy and in form, but backup Anthony Stolarz posted superior statistics this season. Gibson, who turns 29 this summer, has yet to express any significant disappointment about spending the prime of his career on a losing team.
Verbeek must bolster an unimpressive defense that struggled after Lindholm and Manson were traded. Cam Fowler and inconsistent Kevin Shattenkirk are under contract for next year, and youngster Jamie Drysdale continues to develop. Nearly every spot on the blue line could stand an upgrade, and Verbeek will have multiple paths to do it.
The Ducks must choose a team captain for the first time since 2010, when Getzlaf took the “C” following Scott Niedermayer’s retirement. Fowler is the obvious choice with his 12-season career spent entirely in Anaheim, but the team could pass leadership to a new generation by choosing Zegras or Terry.