The Anaheim Ducks entered the offseason on the tail end of their rebuild, but with how unexpectedly explosive they’ve been to this point in the 2021-22 season, it’s safe to say that the rebuild might be on its last legs. It’s good news for Ducks fans, who haven’t had much to cheer for since the Ducks last won the Stanley Cup in 2007. And, with an influx of young talent, a slew of key re-signings, and some notable departures in the offseason, the re-tooled Ducks are looking better than ever.
The Ducks are sitting comfortably within a playoff berth in the Western Conference and are competing with the Vegas Golden Knights for first in the Pacific Division, just three points below the Knights in the standings, with 45 to their 48 points. It’s a far cry from the Duck of yesteryear. They were last place in the temporary Western Division in the 2020-21 season, with a 17-30-9 record, but currently sit with a 19-13-7 record on Jan 13.
Former general manager Bob Murray (who has since stepped down following allegations of workplace harassment), leaned heavily on pulling from the Ducks’ pool of developing young players within their system and re-signing expiring contracts rather than acquiring unrestricted free agents (UFAs) in the offseason.
Notable Ducks Acquisitions
Eight big-ticket Ducks players were re-signed to short-term deals in the offseason, and some of these cheaper, shorter contracts are looking especially smart in light of the team’s current bounce-back season.
On Aug. 9, Max Jones, Max Comtois, and Josh Mahura were all re-signed, with Jones pulling in the longest deal of any of the re-signed Ducks – at a placid, three-year deal. It’s been a tough season so far for Jones, who was put on injured reserve (IR) on Oct. 21 following surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. He’ll be out for four to six months after playing just two games this season.
The other Max, Max Comtois, is one of the Ducks’ young prospects, taken in the second round in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Expectations for all of the young forwards have increased this season, and the two-year deal he was given shows that the Ducks are excited to see what he can offer the team. Comtois led the team in goals (16) and points (33) last season but has yet to find consistency in his scoring touch in 2021-22, with just one goal and three assists in 19 games.
Josh Mahura was re-signed to a league minimum ($750,000) two-year, two-way contract, and in 12 games for the Ducks this season, he’s netted one goal and one assist for two points. Mahura hasn’t hit his stride in the NHL yet, but defensemen often need more time to develop versus forwards, and at only 23 years old and with his new deal, the team hasn’t given up on him.
On Aug. 6, Isac Lundestrom and Sam Steel were re-signed, both to one-year, two-way contracts. Lundestrom and Steel are both products of the Ducks’ development system and were both drafted in the first round, in 2018 and 2016, respectively.
Lundestrom has already shown a steep improvement compared to last season. He has twice as many points (18) at the mid-way point of 2021-22 than he had the entire 2020-21 campaign, and Steel is nearly there himself with nine points currently to last year’s ending total of just 12 points. Lundestrom especially has been given a larger role within the forwards’ group this year, and his plus/minus percentage of +7 shows that he’s taken well to the increased responsibility.
On July 29, Buddy Robinson and Greg Pateryn both signed as free agents on one-year, two-way deals. Robinson and Pateryn are on the older end of the spectrum, both 30 years old and older, so the upside of Robinson and Pateryn is in their experience, guidance, and depth presence. The Ducks organization knows how to cultivate young players, and part of their secret to success is bringing in players like Robinson and Pateryn who can provide a steady, guiding influence on younger players, both on and off the ice.
Neither Robinson nor Pateryn has produced much this season while up with the Ducks, and the two have mostly occupied the taxi squad or San Diego Gulls (AHL) lineup. Robinson has two points (one goal, one assist) in 13 games, and Pateryn has zero points (but a +1 rating) in just four games for the Ducks. Again, neither player was brought back for their offensive upside, so those numbers aren’t too upsetting, especially considering the limited role they’ve been playing.
The last of the notable signings, captain Ryan Getzlaf was signed to a one-year deal as a free agent. Prior to this season, there were rumblings about whether or not the Ducks would choose to move on from Getzlaf to signify the end of the rebuild. Instead, they decided to lean on the identity and direction Getzlaf gives the team and re-sign him on a limited contract. It was a smart move for a team whose 2021-22 season success is largely predicated on the deep pool of young talent they’ve spent the last five years cultivating.
Getzlaf’s production has slowed down the last few seasons (a wholly expected reality of aging in the NHL), but buoyed by young players like Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry, Getzlaf has found a new lease on life. In the 2020-21 season, he ended the year with five goals, 12 assists, and 17 points in 48 games with a -14 rating. At just the mid-season point of the 2021-22 campaign, Getzlaf has two goals, 21 assists for a total of 23 points, and a -3 in just 31 games. Talk about a worthy improvement.
Notable Ducks Departures
We can’t talk about the notable re-signings without examining the other end of the stick; the notable departures. As the Ducks continue to shed the last of their rebuild, older veteran players and those that didn’t quite fit the system were on their way out to make room for the next generation of core Ducks players.
Alexander Volkov was waived for the purposes of contract termination on Oct. 25 and was officially released on Oct 26. Volkov was the first Duck to have his contract extended in the offseason on July 17 for another year, but with his limited role on the team, Volkov and the organization agreed to move on from each other.
Haydn Fleury, who has struggled to find his place in the NHL since his departure from the Carolina Hurricanes, was exposed to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. For the Ducks, Fleury played in just 12 games for two goals and one assist and has so far been a common healthy scratch for the Kraken.
Danton Heinen and David Backes were both UFAs. Heinen was not given a qualifying offer from the Ducks and chose to sign a one-year deal for the Pittsburgh Penguins instead. At just 26 years old, Heinen still has a lot of potential – it’s just about finding the right fit for his style of play. Last season for the Ducks, Heinen had seven goals and seven assists for 14 points in 43 games. Currently, he has nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in 34 games for the Penguins.
Backes chose a different track. He also signed with another team, but just for one day, with the St. Louis Blues. While Backes ended his storied career with the Ducks, he spent ten seasons – the majority of his career – with the Blues after being drafted by the team in 2006.
Ryan Miller also chose to retire at the end of the 2020-21 season, with the most wins from a US-born goaltender under his belt. Miller’s departure signifies a changing of the guard for the Ducks. Towards the end of last season, he had been pushed into the third-goalie spot, and it was clear he would be leaving the game at the end of the year. He took last year to just enjoy the game and his team; a true sign of leadership.
While Backes and Miller’s veteran presence are sorely missed, it’s clear that the Ducks’ short-term success wasn’t a red herring; the rebuild is nearly over. The Ducks organization put in the work to begin to transition the team back into playoff contention in the offseason with the emphasis on re-signing short-term deals to younger players and moving on from older or ill-fitting players. And with the Stanley Cup playoffs in sure sight, the Ducks’ offseason moves are looking like the work of a genius.
Host of This Is Hockey Culture, a Fear The Fin Podcast, and journalist for Fear The Fin. Created Off The Ice, the first and only hockey sports news media show and digital source that covers men’s and women’s professional hockey equally. Former board member and Media Relations Coordinator for The Sports Shot, a popular multimedia platform dedicated to highlighting women’s professional sports in North America, now Women’s Sports Alliance. Created FNews Magazine’s, (an award-winning multimedia arts and culture magazine), first sports section and first sports column, and hosted Out Of Bounds, an Fnews sports podcast.