Okay, not only were they in the air, they were soaring majestically and finally dominating, like many thought they would, looking at this team on paper. The Ducks were able to string winning streaks together, one as big as 11 games in February, and they were able to capture the Pacific Division title, snatching it from the grasps of the Kings, who nonchalantly finished up their regular season.
That's sort of where the magic dried up though. The Ducks were up against a good defensive team in the opening round in the Predators and as much as their offense showed up some nights, it was nowhere to be found in their other nights and they dropped a 7-game series in the opening round, feeling exceptionally disappointed.
That was the last straw for the management team, as they dismissed the coaching staff and now sit and ponder their future, trying to sort out which direction they would prefer to go in, looking for a coach to fit that need and look for more moves to help them win right now.
The Ducks representation in the hockey pool draft was around the average of 13 players taken, their number one goalie, Frederik Andersen, was the only 1st round pick in the draft. The Ducks awful start led to three drops and two picks in the Week Nine Waiver Draft, but they were already picked apart when Week Eighteen rolled around and no Ducks were moved at the time. Anaheim was wheeling and dealing through the year and they added a number of players, who were taken in the pool and they finished with 14 players on pool rosters when the season ended.
Ryan Getzlaf, who was taken in the 2nd round of the draft, led the team in pool scoring in the year, picking up 13 goals and 63 points in 77 games this season, which was good enough for 46th overall in pool scoring, a ranking that equates to a mid-2nd round pick in the draft, so that was about right for him. He was one of many Ducks to get off to a very slow start, which obviously hurt his numbers for the year, but he bounced back in a big way for a strong finish.
By the end of the year, 14 Ducks players were pool worthy, including Getzlaf, so the draft had it bang on. Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Rickard Rakell, Jamie McGinn, Jakob Silfverberg, David Perron, Andrew Cogliano and Brandon Pirri all finished in Ducks uniforms and worthy of their spot on pool rosters, while Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler did the same from the blueline. Both Frederik Andersen and John Gibson finished as worthy from the crease, as injuries did well to help split the time all year long for these two.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
For the 2016 season, given the standard set, it will be incredibly hard to match the 2015 season, but they do have a good deal of the pieces in place to do so. Perry, Getzlaf, Kesler, Vatanen, Fowler and Andersen will make for a great combination again in 2016 and they'll all get pushes from the depth below them, but I am a true believer in depth to win everything. Assuming the Ducks make good use of their remaining cap space, they should be back in the mix for a Conference Finals and if Andersen can raise his game even further, that will be how Anaheim succeeds and adds another trophy to their case.
The Anaheim argument may start with their goaltending in the 2016 season, but it was a good argument from both Andersen and Gibson, as they finished 4th and 5th in team scoring, according to the pool standards. When Andersen went down, Gibson stepped up, but the argument fizzled after the regular season concluded, because it was a let down when the playoffs started, no matter how hard the core was working for them. It was a great regular season, but no one raised their game to the playoff necessity level and that's why they went out so early.
2017 Pool Outlook
|Corey Perry||8.625||Cam Fowler||4.000||John Gibson||2.300|
|Nate Thompson||1.600||Kevin Bieksa||4.000||Kevin Boyle||0.925|
|Nicolas Kerdiles||0.925||Simon Despres||3.700||Matthew Hackett||0.600|
|Kalle Kossila||0.925||Clayton Stoner||3.250|
|Kevin Roy||0.925||Jacob Larsson||0.925|
|Ryan Garbutt||0.900||Brandon Montour||0.925|
|Nick Ritchie||0.894||Andy Welinski||0.925|
|Nick Sorensen||0.803||Shea Theodore||0.863|
|Julius Nattinen||0.776||Josh Manson||0.825|
|Ondrej Kase||0.670||Markus Pettersson||0.825|
|Chris Wagner||0.638||Keaton Thompson||0.795|
|Kenton Helgesen||0.627||Jaycob Megna||0.787|
For having 14 pool worthy players at the end of the regular season, the Ducks have a lot of work to do to put some names back in the top of their table, as potential free agency has them down to only seven players there now. I'm sure they would have liked it more if some of their $3+ million defenders could have popped a few more points, but those are the breaks. It will be interesting to see who goes back up to the top of the table and who gets shifted around, but it looks like the Ducks could be a little less popular at next season's pool draft.
There is plenty of belief that the Ducks will have lots of blueline help coming up the ranks and in short order, so it could be a fresh group before too long. Shea Theodore made his NHL debut this season and played 19 games, which means he'll still have his rookie status in 2017 and he could have a regular job this coming season. The Ducks have also recently signed Swedish youngster Jacob Larsson and he's a kid that could make an impact in North America soon. With lots of spots open on their current 2017 roster, the kids will likely be offered up the chance to jump ahead, but at what cost?
Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft
The Ducks are fortunate to be one of those division winners with their 1st round pick this Summer and from here, I would think that they should be looking for some flash up front, trying to find that scoring forward that will give them some goals for years to come. They may opt to stay among the power forwards, but just a scoring forward will do, as they could always put some power around him. Victoriaville centre Pascal Laberge seems to have the NHL projection that we're looking for and plays with a bit of an edge, something that is an Anaheim trait in recent years. He has he potential to be a great fit here.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
As mentioned earlier, free agency does take away a number of players from their pool-worthy spots on their team table. Heading to the open market are Jamie McGinn and David Perron, both brought in via trade and made good names for themselves once they arrived. It will be interesting to see if they're brought back. The restricted free agents are the big project, as they include Rickard Rakell, Brandon Pirri, Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm and Frederik Andersen, some of which will be harder to sign than others.
Then it all comes down to what they have left to spend. The seven pool-worthy players signed on already are coming in at $36.8 million, while the team already has three defenders on their list that make enough to be on the roster, adding another $11 million to the total. 10 players, $47.8 million in total. That isn't a terrible number by today's standards, but when you look at that free agent pool they have to drain, there are potentially some big numbers in there and that could mean one, two or possibly three of those guys don't come back.
The star power of this Ducks team is seemingly enough to carry this team forward into the playoffs, year after year. Their top two forwards, a decent defense corps and goaltending that they can lean on from time to time, all combine together to be a pretty strong force, especially in a weaker division, like the Pacific. There's no doubt that the Ducks are in to lock up Vatanen, Lindholm and Rakell this Summer, but they can sort of pick and choose what they want to do afterwards. I don't see this team throwing money away, but they'll try and find ways to improve their side with reasonably priced talent and then adjust when the season starts. The playoffs are all but certain next season, but how they dress up the depth will be what takes them to where they end up.