Anaheim Ducks (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
It’s going to take some time for the sting of Saturday’s Game 7 loss to leave the Ducks, but there’s no reason to believe 2015-16 can’t be just as successful in Anaheim. There won’t be massive changes and some creative work by Ducks GM Bob Murray could keep Anaheim in the title picture for at least a few more seasons.
As you may have heard, the Anaheim Ducks dropped a Game 7 at home for the third consecutive season, becoming the first team in league history to drop three straight Game 7s with home ice advantage. But even with the disappointment of yet another early summer, there’s reason for hope in Anaheim.
Though this may have been the Ducks’ best shot in recent years at the Stanley Cup final – they had the Chicago Blackhawks on the ropes heading into Game 6 yet let the series slip away – it’s not likely to be their last. With the current crop of star players mixed with the right type of depth, Anaheim could still stand to be successful in upcoming seasons, but there are a few places their team can improve.
Heading into the off-season, the Ducks are going to make changes – some small and insignificant and a few that are going to take some creativity. For starters, there’s the issue of the blueline and what to do with defenseman James Wisniewski.
Wisniewski was Anaheim’s big trade deadline acquisition, a legitimate top-four blueliner that has the ability to put up points on the power play and at 5-on-5. However, after thirteen games with the Ducks to close out the regular season, Wisniewski didn’t see the ice once throughout the post-season. A healthy scratch to begin the first round against the Winnipeg Jets, he watched as the Ducks rolled through the first two rounds and was still watching from the sidelines when the club fell in seven games to the Blackhawks.
Making $5.5 million per season over the next two seasons, Wisniewski doesn’t come cheap and if coach Bruce Boudreau doesn’t feel he works for the roster then it’s going to be tough to justify keeping Wisniewski around. Regardless of Boudreau’s hesitance to put Wisniewski in the lineup, with the salary he commands, it might be wise for the Ducks to find a new home for the 31-year-old defender.
Considering that Francois Beauchemin was a mainstay of the club’s top four, potted 11 goals and 23 points in 64 games and skated nearly 23 minutes per contest in the regular season, freeing up $5.5 million of cap space to lock up unrestricted free agent-to-be Beauchemin would be wise. Otherwise, the Ducks could risk losing a veteran blueliner that has helped aid in the development of some of Anaheim’s younger defensemen like Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen.
Up front, each of Matt Beleskey, Emerson Etem, Jakob Silfverberg and Chris Wagner will also need new deals. Beleskey, the only UFA of the group, was an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses all season and managed 22 goals and 32 points in 65 regular season contests and eight goals and nine points in 16 playoff games. Regardless of whether or not he can maintain that type of play, Beleskey is going to command a significant raise from the $1.35 million he was making this past season.
Though the Ducks have less than $20 million available in cap space entering the upcoming season, they can be thankful that their big names – Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler – are locked up for next year. Perry and Getzlaf both have deals that run through to the end of 2021.
Though it was the Blackhawks’ stars that stepped up in Game 7, it was the depth players who stepped up earlier in the series to really vault Chicago to the series victory. Andrew Shaw stepped up in Game 6. Teuvo Teravainen helped make Game 5 close. Even Antoine Vermette came through with a huge overtime goal in Game 4. Through the first two rounds, when Perry, Getzlaf and Kesler were dominant, the Ducks rolled. When the Blackhawks stifled those three, the Ducks needed to rely on their depth players and they didn’t come through.
Going out and getting some bottom-six contributors could give Anaheim the boost they need come next post-season. The team itself won’t look much different – the Ducks have 19 players under contract – but shuffling out a few players to add depth scoring might help, because it’s clear Anaheim’s dynamic duo can’t do it alone.
In goal, Frederik Andersen proved steady through the first two rounds but, as pointed out by THN’s Adam Proteau, Andersen’s save percentage took a dive as the series against Chicago wore on – .964 in Game 3; .875 in Game 4; .857 in Game 5; .818 in Game 6; and .808 in Game 7. The pattern is a bit frightening if you’re a Ducks fan, but he had a fantastic regular season for a 25-year-old netminder, and there’s no reason to believe that can’t continue. Plus, with John Gibson healthy and ready to compete for the starting gig, some healthy conversation could improve what is already a fairly sound situation between the pipes.
The Game 7 loss stings, but it’s not the end of the Ducks as we’ve grown to know them this post-season. They were a good team this year and they’ll be a tough team to beat in 2015-16. In a hockey climate where one of the worst things an ousted team can hear is that their “window has closed,” it doesn’t feel like that’s the case in Anaheim. It might take some creative moves by Anaheim GM Bob Murray, but don’t be surprised if come next post-season, we see the Ducks right back in this position again.