Finally, the Anaheim Ducks can stop pretending this season is worth saving, or even capable of being saved. Losers of seven straight and 19 of 21, and new residents of the Western Conference cellar, the Ducks fired head coach Randy Carlyle on Sunday and named as interim coach GM Bob Murray. Why is Murray, with no coaching experience, going to spend the next couple of months behind the bench? Changes are coming.
Problems: the Ducks have ’em. Everyone’s injured, and the old guys are the too-old-and-too-expensive sort of old, and John Gibson has proven himself mortal (and is now injured). And, according to Murray, something a little less effable. “What bothered me the most was the lack of emotion,” he said. “We’ve always pushed back. We never accept and they were accepting and that is unacceptable.”
This was Carlyle’s second stint with the club, and he’s by far the winningest coach in Ducks history. He made three conference Finals and won a Cup in 2007, and finishes 384-256-96 overall. The Ducks, who’ve only missed two postseasons since the lockout, have historically been a second-half team, and Murray said that’s why he gave Carlyle more time to turn things around than he might have otherwise, “but it wasn’t going to happen this year, so it was time for a change.”
The Ducks hung around the fringe of the playoff picture for a long time this season, buoyed by Vezina-level play from Gibson. But it was illusory: Once he came down to earth, so did their record. They’re in last place out West now, and Carlyle’s firing came after a five-game road trip in which the Ducks were outscored 29-7, and 14-0 in the first period. Last week, Gibson was yanked in three consecutive games, and then left a fourth with an injury. His struggles have been a mercy and a blessing, since his early strong play papered over this team’s many deep flaws.
Anaheim made a few relatively minor moves last month, all with an eye on getting younger and cheaper. There should and will be more of that, with pending UFA Jakob Silfverberg a prime deadline-day candidate, if the Ducks don’t re-sign him before then. In a vacuum they’d love to, but they’re going to be paying Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf big money for two more seasons after this one, and Ryan Kesler for three, and all have no-movement clauses. Kesler could end up on long-term IR for cap relief, and all three are potential buyout candidates, but until then, the Ducks are fairly well hamstrung in what they can do for their roster. Because of that, the only option is a tear-down (rather than a blow-up) and a multi-year rebuild, something the Ducks haven’t really done—or had to do—in a generation.
There aren’t many other long-term commitments on the roster, so it’s obvious (pending any shock trades) what the immediate future looks like for the Ducks. It’s Gibson and Rickard Rakell and Ondrej Kase, and you could certainly do worse for a core to build around. But the building is the hard part. At least the Ducks can no longer convince themselves they don’t desperately need it.