The Ducks’ six-year streak of Stanley Cup playoff appearances has ended, but their veterans are determined to make sure this disappointment leads Anaheim right back to the postseason.
“It’s the worst thing to have to go out every night and know you’re not competing for a playoff spot,” Getzlaf said after the Ducks finished their worst regular season since 2012 with a 5-2 win over rival Los Angeles. “We’ve got to build off of that.”
Before it all fell apart during a profound winter slump, the Ducks had won five Pacific Division titles and reached two Western Conference finals in a six-year span of consistent excellence. Anaheim clearly had more talent than its 35-37-10 record suggested, yet none of it mattered during a 5-21-4 midseason stretch that proved too large to overcome.
“This whole year has just been a roller coaster of emotions and new experiences,” said forward Jakob Silfverberg, who led the Ducks and hit a new career high with 24 goals.
The Ducks got off to another solid start to their season: After they beat Pittsburgh on Dec. 17, they sat comfortably in second place in the Pacific, just three points off the Western Conference lead.
Anaheim also finished strongly, racking up an NHL-best 23 points from its final 17 games (11-5-1).
In between was some of the worst hockey played by this franchise in the past 15 years.
Anaheim’s misery included a 12-game skid, a separate seven-game losing streak, seven shutout losses and individual defeats by scores of 6-2, 6-1, 9-3 and 7-4.
Coach Randy Carlyle was fired during that drought, and general manager Bob Murray moved behind the bench to examine his franchise up-close. With a few tweaks of their system and a fresh start, the Ducks returned to playing postseason-worthy hockey under Murray, including a 7-2-1 finish with the playoffs out of reach.
“The wins and losses down the stretch don’t mean a whole lot at this point,” Getzlaf said. “But getting back to the way we wanted to play … in training camp next year, the guys in this room that are back will have a good idea of what we need.”
Barring major trades — which Murray has been historically reluctant to make — the Ducks could return with most of this season’s core, including stellar goalie John Gibson and a solid group of players near their prime including Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell, Adam Henrique, Ondrej Kase, Fowler and Hampus Lindholm.
The Ducks’ productive farm system also has another burgeoning crop of young talent, much of which got a chance to play late in this lost season. Forwards Troy Terry, Sam Steel and Max Jones all appear NHL-ready, along with defenseman Jacob Larsson and young trade acquisition Daniel Sprong.
Getzlaf and Perry are under contract for three more high-priced seasons apiece, and both contributed decently through injuries this season. But the Ducks must figure out what to do with Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves, two well-paid veteran forwards who have five months of rest and rehabilitation coming up after their careers were ground to a halt by health woes.
Murray also must replace himself as the Ducks’ coach. Dallas Eakins, the former Edmonton coach currently finishing his fourth year in charge of the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego, is thought to be the favorite.
The Ducks’ 5-1-1 finish to the season culminated with a comfortable win over their biggest rivals in a sold-out Honda Center. The players and their fans all expect to have much more to celebrate next spring.
“We’ve been playing pretty good lately, and we’ve been feeling pretty good in this room,” Silfverberg said. “So I wouldn’t say it’s a shame, but it’s tough that it ends here. … We’ve had a good team all year. We had a team to compete against all the teams in this league, and if we play to our level, we can beat anyone. We have a bright future here, and we’re going to set our standards high for next year. We’re going to be a team that’s pushing hard for the playoffs.”