What's actually wrong with the Anaheim Ducks? (Trending Topics)
Let's talk about two teams that are having very, very different seasons.
Team A is one of the best possession teams in the league, just about on par with Dallas. It has two of the greatest players in the world over the last six or seven years, depth at every position, and was widely expected to be one of the league's top teams after a summer of significant roster improvement.
Team B is a terrible possession team, worse than Calgary and Edmonton. It has very few even good players, no real depth to speak of, and simply never has much reason for optimism.
And yet, on Christmas day, Team A is second-last in the entire NHL. Meanwhile, Team B is a point out of a playoff spot and has at least two games in hand on the two teams directly in front of it.
So what matters more, results or process? Would you rather be the should-be-great team that's spinning its tires and getting nothing to go its way, or the should-be-awful team that keeps getting wins to go their way?
Obviously you should have figured out by now that Team A is the Anaheim Ducks, and B is the Arizona Coyotes.
And given what we know about the underlying numbers for these teams, we can probably also safely guess what their percentages look like. The Ducks have the second-lowest PDO (via the worst shooting percentage and seventh-worst save percentage) in the league. The Coyotes' is seventh-highest (highest shooting percentage, fifth-worst save percentage). And that gives you an idea about just how much luck has conspired against the Ducks this season.
Since 2007-08, the lowest 5-on-5 shooting percentage ever recorded in a full season was that of Arizona last year, at 5.7 percent. The Ducks' current number is just 5 percent (down from 8.3 percent a year ago) while the Coyotes' are shooting 9.7 percent this season. No matter how skeptical you may be of the ways in which teams have influence over the percentages they carry from one year to the next, we can all agree that there's no way the Coyotes made themselves nearly twice as talented when it comes to putting the puck in the net, nor that the Ducks made themselves about 40 percent worse.
There's no doubt that Anaheim shed some goalscoring talent, with the loss of Matt Beleskey being the real headliner there. But Beleskey moving on to Boston and Kyle Palmieri to New Jersey shouldn't crater a team's shooting percentage. And yet, these are the year-over-year, on-ice, score-adjusted shooting percentages for the Ducks' eight most-used returning forwards.
The identities of these guys on an individual basis don't matter much because you can see the overall trend, but I will say that the purple line — the only one that has moved up — is Rickard Rakell, whose on-ice shooting percentage is up 0.2 percentage points.
There is, however, one player for whom these struggles are perhaps most significant, and whose performances have usually led people to begrudgingly acknowledge that the Anaheim Ducks' often-lofty shooting percentages were talent-driven rather than the product of luck. And that guy's year has been positively rotten.
Ryan Getzlaf, in 29 games this year, has zero goals at 5-on-5, and just one overall. That was scored into an empty net. The idea that Getzlaf would go 29 games with no goals, in what you'd consider the two game states that happen most often for his team, is appalling. But if you look at his personal shooting percentage on an historical basis, you can see that this isn't unprecedented.
Yes, he's usually coming in shooting in the low teens and often above, but there was a stretch of 40(!!!) games from Dec. 2, 2011, to Feb. 29, 2012 in which he didn't score a single goal at 5-on-5, on 54 shots. So far this year, in 29 games he has 45 shots at full strength and likewise hasn't scored on any of them. Anaheim also went 20-14-6 (a mediocre 94-point pace), so people probably noticed a lot less.
But the other difference between then and now is a simple one: He at least had two goals on the power play during that time, and another at 4-on-4, in regulation. It's not ideal, mind you, and Getzlaf still isn't so far gone that we're looking at a 40-game stretch of futility, but at least he was scoring a (very) little bit.
So the question becomes one of what has gone wrong for Getzlaf, and how (or whether) he can power out of this slump. The fact is that he's 30 now, and it's not as easy to score on the other side of the Big 3-0 as it is in your 20s. Of course, it's not “no goals in 29 games” difficult, but this stretch is not implausible for a lot of players. For Getzlaf it's a bit shocking but, again, it's not unprecedented.
Is there anything wrong with Getzlaf? Have a look at these three samples from his career: One is the 40-game run from the 2011-12 season, one is 2014-15, and one is the other 528 games of his career. You tell me in which group he's playing his best hockey.
Obviously these are all strong numbers, across the board. He seems to be doing everything you can ask of him in each set. And yet in two of them he went entirely goalless. So in which two groups was the futility most likely? On a mathematical basis you'd probably say the ones with the fewest high-quality scoring chances going his way, or perhaps those with the fewest shots for. You'd probably therefore say that “Sample A” is the one where he was the Platonic ideal of what we consider Getzlaf to be.
But given the way in which this is being asked, you can also guess that it's a bit of a trick question. That is, of course, correct. So let's add in percentages and points, and see if you can figure which stretches are the two in which he's been the worst.
So obviously Sample B is every game of his career that isn't the two long stretches of goalless hockey. That leaves samples A and C as the droughts, but Sample A is actually the 2015-16 season. You could argue that in Sample C, from 2011-12, he didn't play to an especially Getzlaf-ian level, but combining the individual numbers with his share of things like possession and high-quality chances, you're still getting a damn good hockey player.
And here's the thing, too: Even after he scored again at 5-on-5, Getzlaf still only had two more goals for the rest of the season, and the Ducks missed the playoffs. The next season, with a full year of Bruce Boudreau behind the bench, the Ducks won the division, and have done so every year since.
This isn't entirely one of those, “As Ryan Getzlaf goes, so go the Ducks” things, but it's pretty damn close. Both the player and the team are too good to keep playing like this.
The good news for Getzlaf is that if he keeps playing this way, he's going to start scoring goals by the barrel. He's taking more shots than usual, and his personal high-quality chances are still right in line with his career norms as well. Some of these numbers are among the best in the entire league, and he has as many goals at 5-on-5 as Jared Cowen and Deryk Engelland. He's one back of Barret Jackman. The fact that the puck isn't going in for him is kind of crazy at this point, and gets crazier with each passing game. It'll end at some point, and when it does, he could go on a stretch of like 12 goals in 10 games and make opponents cry.
Likewise, the good news for Anaheim is that their division is a joke. They're 29th in the league and last in the Pacific, but they're also just five points out of a playoff spot, meaning that they can go on just about any hot run over a period of two weeks — say, when Getzlaf starts pouring goals into the net again — and close that gap with ease, or even overcome it altogether.
This looks like a team entirely capable of pulling off some sort of insane second-half run that finally gets Bruce Boudreau the Jack Adams he deserves; a team that will be a terror for anyone they draw in the first round of the playoffs, regardless of where they finish. Not unlike the 2012 eighth-seeded Kings that went on to win the Stanley Cup with terrifying ease.
But then again, percentages and luck being what they are in this league, another bad month for Getzlaf and the Ducks in general could get Boudreau fired and maybe none of it will matter.
Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
All stats via War on Ice unless otherwise stated.
Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
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