Parker Michaels continues his NHL Season Preview series in reverse to first order according to his projected standings. Be sure to bookmark our Season Previews home base here where links to all 31 teams will appear as they’re posted. Today at No. 10, the Anaheim Ducks.
The Anaheim Ducks entered last season on the heels of five consecutive Pacific Division titles but no Stanley Cup Finals appearances over that time. It was a season where many expected the Ducks window might be closing with an aging core and a slide down the standings may be in order, especially considering they would be starting shorthanded with injuries to Ryan Kesler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen.
The Ducks overcame the injuries in the early going, posting a 6-4-1 record through October but fell victim to further injuries in the early going and found it difficult to stay afloat through the middle course of the season. After a loss on February 5 to extend a losing streak to three games, the Ducks were sitting one point out of a playoff spot.
Fortunes turned at that point, however, as Anaheim finally became healthy and rode the hot play of goaltender John Gibson down the stretch, going 19-6-3 overall until the end of the season and finishing a surprising second in the Pacific with 44 victories and 101 points.
The wear and tear on the team to grind out such a performance may have been too exhausting though as Anaheim was buried in the first round by San Jose who used their speed and sharp transition game to quickly dispatch the Ducks in four games.
Anaheim’s game was built on old-fashioned hockey designed to grind teams down in a deep playoff series. The NHL has changed though, and teams are now building around speed and quick transitions which had left the Ducks outdated and a step behind. It was a sign Anaheim needed to signal a change in philosophy.
General Manager Bob Murray had one priority this summer and that was to get faster. He signed depth forwards Brian Gibbons and Carter Rowney, two experienced veterans but do little to move the needle. On the backend, he brought in more depth with Andrej Sustr and Luke Schenn. With the Ducks already stacked with their top-four blueliners, an experienced depth defenseman was on Murray’s list to round out the unit. Sustr and Schenn are not much for impact players but they do fill that need. Murray said he had inquired about a few other high-end names but found the price tags extremely high, so Anaheim will go into this season with mostly the same core unit as last year.
Getting faster was only part of the equation for Murray as moving to a younger lineup was also necessary. The Ducks said goodbye to unrestricted free agent veterans Antoine Vermette, Jason Chimera and Kevin Bieksa who were all 35 or older and 37-year old Francois Beauchemin announced his retirement. Fourth line grinders J.T. Brown and Logan Shaw were also let go, opening the door for several youngsters to make a mark in training camp. It is more addition by subtraction, for the Ducks.
Stanley Cup: +3500 (Bookmaker)
Western Conference: +1716 (Bookmaker)
Pacific Division: +650 (Bookmaker)
Regular Season Points: 94.0 (-106, -114) (Bookmaker), 94.5 (-130, +100) (Bovada), 94.5 (-115, -105) (BetOnline)
Make Playoffs: YES -230, NO +190 (BetOnline), YES -165, NO +135 (Bovada)
Current odds as of September 30, 2018
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
*Individual Player Ratings represent how many points in the standings each player is directly responsible for over the course of the full season and is called Point Shares. It involves the base formula created by Justin Kubatko at hockey-reference.com. An explanation of how I further use his methods can be found here with a more detailed methodology by Kubatko himself, here. The average value for a forward is 3.5 and a defenseman is 4.4 Point Shares
*Salaries in green denote entry-level contract
NHL RANK: T-10
NHL RANK: 13
NHL RANK: 19
NHL RANK: 6
NHL RANK: 14
NHL RANK: 2
(Starter – 2, Backup – T-53)
With several veterans removed from the roster, head coach Randy Carlyle was tasked with figuring out which prospects would fit best into the lineup. That decision became even more muddied as camp progressed and his existing veterans began dropping like flies.
While Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves were known to be slowly working their way back into the lineup, the biggest shock came last week when Corey Perry was injured during warmups for a preseason game. It was announced Perry would miss about five months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Perry also revealed he had been playing for years with a damaged MCL and opted to finally have that cleaned up, as well.
Perry’s absence for most of the season opens another roster spot on the right-wing which had previously been a bit of a logjam. So much that Carlyle had moved Jakob Silfverberg to the left side and that is where he still intends to begin him. Silfverberg has experience playing left wing from his rookie season and while he played in Sweden, so it is not a completely foreign spot for him.
Elsewhere on the right side, Eaves played just two games last year before being lost for the season to what was later revealed as a post-viral syndrome (and not the Guillain-Barre syndrome originally believed). The Ducks have been extremely cautious with Eaves’ recovery, but it appears he is close to a full return. While not fully cleared for contact, Eaves has been skating on his own since the start of training camp and is slated to begin skating with the team sometime this week. It could be just another week or two after that before he is ready to go in game action. Carlyle said the original plan was to play beside Ryan Getzlaf on the top line who he had developed chemistry with two seasons ago. Wherever Eaves slots into the lineup, he will be a welcomed sight after the hardships he has endured.
The other severe injury the Ducks have had to wait on is Kesler’s hip. Offseason surgery last summer caused him to miss the start of the season and he was limited to just 48 games in total but still looked like a shell of the former dominant defensive player he once was. After another summer of rehab, Kesler has been practicing with the team during camp but has not been cleared for contact. He has been passing little tests along the way though and he could be ready to play not too far into the season. A major sign of encouragement considering at one point it was believed he may be lost for the entire year.
Another injury suffered in camp is to newcomer Brian Gibbons who is expected to be out some time after blocking a Dion Phaneuf shot with his hand in a preseason game. The Ducks are waiting for swelling to go down before knowing an exact timetable for his return, but it appears he will not be ready for opening night.
And then there is Nick Ritchie. Not injured – but not playing (with the Ducks anyway). Ritchie has been practicing with Guelph in the OHL as he remains unsigned and in an apparent contract dispute. Ritchie had just ten goals and 27 points last season and did not show much development over his previous season. Murray said the two sides are still “not close” in terms of a new deal and the Ducks do not seem too bothered by it, with Murray noting they have lots of kids able to jump in after an impressive showing in the Vegas rookie tournament earlier this month.
Those kids then came to camp and knocked the socks off Murray and Carlyle. Troy Terry has been so impressive he is expected to open on the top line next to Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell. Sam Steel has been equally impressive and will open as the third line center. Both players are high prospects in the Ducks organization who were expected to push for a spot and will now likely become impactful fixtures for the season.
With the top-six set, along with the third and fourth line center positions, the bottom-six wings are still up in the air as the final cut approaches. The development of Max Comtois in camp has been extraordinary as he is slated to begin in Ritchie’s spot. After a huge season in the QMJHL and an impressive showing with Canada at the World Juniors, Comtois has been so good in preseason games that Ritchie may not have an automatic spot on the third line even if he does re-sign. The pure sniper has given the Ducks that needed element of speed and youth but at just 19 years of age, it is probably best to temper expectations.
The defense is a major strength for the Ducks, led by the shutdown duo of Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson. While the unit is projected to rank 9th overall, the top four of Lindholm, Manson, Fowler and Montour are the 3rd-best unit in the league behind only Nashville and San Jose’s. Carlyle is going to mix and match this unit though as he has had Sustr paired with Fowler much of camp and Montour down with the rookie Pettersson. If the third pair gets off to a slow start and appear to be in trouble, it is a look Carlyle can go with but stacking the top four and leaning on them might be the better option. In the final preseason game, Carlyle even had Montour up with Lindholm and Fowler with Manson. Either way, the Ducks have a formidable defense which will carry them far.
The greatest strength of the team though lies in net with Vezina candidate John Gibson who signed a fresh 8-year, $51.2 million contract extension this summer. Gibson was tops among all goaltenders after the All-Star break last year with a 1.95 goals-against average and .937 save percentage.
Gibson is arguably the best goaltender in the Pacific and one of the tops in the entire league. The defense is also top notch and if they remain healthy are good enough to keep the Ducks in contention. Most people seem to be expecting a steep decline for Anaheim, calling them old and slow, but I am hesitant to go that far. With the injuries up front, the average age of their 12 forwards will be 24.7 years old. Their entire top-six on defense are between 22-27 and Gibson is only 25. This Ducks team just might surprise people.
My point projection of 101.0 points is significantly above current lines at offshore sportsbooks who mostly sit at 94 or 94.5 regular season points, making the Ducks worth a full unit bet on the over. Try to grab it at Bookmaker if you can who are a half point better at 94.0 and still just -106.
Current Stanley Cup Futures list Anaheim on average from 13th to 16th which is below my projection of 10th overall. However, Pinnacle sportsbook who is known to be one of the sharpest books in the business, has Anaheim tied with Columbus as their 10th favorite overall at +2467. When you are at Bookmaker grabbing the over 94 points, be sure to add a half unit on their +3500 for Anaheim to win the Cup. Solid value, based on my numbers.
Regarding prop bets for awards, there are no Ducks currently listed for the Art Ross or Hart Trophy and that is probably a fair assessment. I was surprised though to not see Rickard Rakell listed under the Rocket Richard for the top goal scorer. Entering his prime at 25-years old, Rakell has scored 33 and 34 goals the last two seasons and could approach 40 this year as the primary goal scorer on the team. I was not interested in a bet on him here, but it seems like a slap in the face considering some of the other names on the list.
One Duck who did make a list though is John Gibson as he is currently the fourth favorite to bring home the Vezina at +800. The Vezina category is challenging this season to find value compared to last year but Gibson for a full unit would be a recommended bet to make right now.
Salary numbers from capfriendly.com, stats from hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com