A new direction for the Ducks?

WHEN WAS the last time the Anaheim Ducks (or their fans) really had something to celebrate? Above, the Duck are playing in 2009 Western Conference finals (File photo).

By Greg Beacham/AP Sports Writer

IRVINE (AP) – Dallas Eakins was the Anaheim Ducks’ coach during the worst four-year stretch in franchise history. Although Pat Verbeek knows Eakins is far from solely responsible, the general manager is ready to continue his rebuilding project with a new voice behind the bench.

Eakins will not return to the Ducks after four consecutive losing seasons, the team announced Friday. One day after Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12, Verbeek said the Ducks won’t renew Eakins’ contract, which expired at the end of this season.

“There’s a lot of good things about Dallas,” Verbeek said at the Ducks’ training complex. “He’s a good person. He was in a difficult situation. I think he handled himself with the utmost professionalism, great dedication to the organization and work ethic. … Today was not a fun day for anybody. It’s never fun to have to do this.”

Eakins went 100-147-44 with the Ducks, who promoted him in 2019 after four years as the head coach of their AHL affiliate in San Diego. The former Edmonton bench boss arrived near the start of Anaheim’s decline from a perennial NHL power in the 2010s to a rebuilding club that earned a franchise-worst 58 points this season.

The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

“When I looked at it, it was three things,” Verbeek said. “I wanted a fresh start, I wanted a new voice speaking to the team, and I wanted a different direction.”

Verbeek was vague when asked what he meant by that.

“I think that just a style or an identity is going to be important,” Verbeek said. “When you look at where we were (with) time spent in our zone … my concern down that road was it could be difficult for more development if we had stayed on that kind of path.”

Although Anaheim has a promising young core headlined by playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish, the Ducks had a pathetic season by nearly every measure. While giving up an NHL- worst 338 goals, they were last in goal differential (minus-129) while ranking 31st in goals scored (209).

Verbeek admits he expected the Ducks to be better, even though their last-place finish means they have the best odds to select Connor Bedard in the upcoming draft. The GM once again said he didn’t see this dismal season as tanking, acknowledging that “a lot of things that I tried during the summer didn’t work out.”

Anaheim has a 25.5% chance of winning the top pick, and the club is guaranteed to fall no farther than third, meaning they will be able to add either Bedard or one of his fellow elite prospects: Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov and Leo Carlsson.

“We got off to a bad start, and I expected our team to compete harder,” Verbeek added. “We got behind the 8-ball there, and I think we eventually got better, but it’s not at a level that I want. It’s not the standard that I want.”

Eakins thanked the Ducks and their fans on his social media accounts, calling his eight-year experience with the organization “an inspiring and rewarding challenge.” Throughout his tenure, Eakins never complained publicly about inheriting a team that pretty clearly wasn’t equipped to win in the NHL.

“The enthusiasm and patience of the fans will never be forgotten,” Eakins wrote. “Thank you to (former GM) Bob Murray and Pat Verbeek for giving me a chance. I will always be in your debt.”

The Ducks’ decline was exacerbated by Murray’s resignation in November 2021 after being accused of verbal abuse against team staff. Murray was replaced in February 2022 by Verbeek, who immediately announced his plans for a long-term rebuilding project.

Verbeek and Eakins had no prior relationship, but Verbeek kept Eakins in charge of the GM’s sparsely talented roster. Eakins’ Ducks almost always played hard and had little dressing room drama, but their on-ice growth was slow, halting and painful to watch at times.

Verbeek was optimistic about the Ducks’ future, noting their 11 picks in the upcoming draft and nine in 2024.

“You can’t put a time or an exact period on when some of these young guys are going to take steps,” Verbeek said. “I feel comfortable in the players that we drafted. I feel comfortable in the players that are coming that we’re going to be challenging for playoffs. But experience, time, development, that’s going to be important.”

Verbeek said he would prefer to have his new coach in place before the NHL draft on June 28. He’s looking for a coach who is “hard-working, passionate, with energy. You have to be prepared.”

Eakins was only the 10th head coach in Ducks history and just the third coach to hold the permanent job under owners Henry and Susan Samueli, who bought the franchise from Disney in 2005. The Ducks won California’s first Stanley Cup in 2007, and they won five consecutive Pacific Division titles from 2013-17.


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