ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks will have plenty of reasons to be proud of their yearlong resilience and late-season determination to make the playoffs after an incredible stretch of early-season injury woes.
They'll also have plenty of time to reflect on those achievements during an extra-long summer for a team that couldn't put it together in the post-season.
The Ducks began the process of breaking up for the off-season this weekend after the San Jose Sharks completed a four-game sweep of their first-round series.
"There's a numbness that's kind of subsiding now," coach Randy Carlyle said. "After the run and the season-long trials and tribulations that you go through, you get to the playoffs and win out and get second place in the division, and four games later, a week later, you're out of it, which is really numbing."
Anaheim had made the Western Conference finals in two of the previous three seasons, and its six consecutive playoff berths constitute the second-longest active streak in the NHL. The Ducks finished with their fifth consecutive 100-point season — the league's longest active streak — and went 10-1-1 with five straight victories to close the regular season, even surging into second place in the Pacific Division.
But the Ducks' streak of five straight Pacific titles ended, and then their season ended in embarrassing fashion.
The Ducks made the playoffs for the 11th time in 13 seasons, but perhaps they simply ran out of steam. Their mad dash to reach the post-season was necessitated by the slow start caused by the club's numerous injury problems during the first half. Their top two centres — Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf — missed huge chunks of early play, while goal-scoring forward Patrick Eaves never suited up all year because of Guillain-Barre syndrome.
"The adversity that we faced this year was unlike anything I've ever seen, especially at the start of the year," said top defenceman Cam Fowler, who missed the playoffs with a shoulder injury. "We grinded it out, and to get to the 100-point mark was fantastic. But at the end of the day, you have to make a name for yourself come playoff time, and unfortunately we didn't do that this year."
Once the Ducks get over the hurt, they'll evaluate the core of talent that remains in Anaheim after years of contention. General manager Bob Murray will have to decide whether that core is championship-calibre when healthy or whether it's time to break up one of the NHL's most consistent winners.
Here are more things to know as the Ducks head into a long off-season:
Murray is among the observers who think the Ducks simply don't play fast enough to compete optimally in the modern NHL. The Ducks' heavy, punishing style of play under Carlyle has won plenty of games over the past two years, but it wasn't enough to keep them in a series with the Sharks, who aren't even the fastest team around. Carlyle will be back next season to make the necessary changes, Murray confirmed. How much of the Ducks' core returns will be up to Murray, who has built and rebuilt the franchise around Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who will both turn 33 next month.
Defenceman Francois Beauchemin says he is retiring after spending the past 13 seasons in the NHL, including three separate stints with Anaheim. His departure removes another link to the Ducks' championship season, although Getzlaf, Perry and Carlyle are still around.
BIEKSA NOT BACK
Veteran defenceman Kevin Bieksa also indicated he is unlikely to return after three seasons. He was disappointed with his lack of playoff action after returning from hand surgery. The Ducks' once-incredible depth on defence has been taxed in the past year with the expansion draft-related departures of Shea Theodore and Clayton Stoner and the trade of Sami Vatanen to New Jersey for Adam Henrique. Murray will need to reload the Ducks' blue line, with prospects Jacob Larsson, Marcus Pettersson and Andy Welinski likely getting shots at a full-time job.
The season-long loss of Eaves was a huge setback, but the Ducks are optimistic their heavily bearded forward will return in the fall. Eaves also had recent shoulder surgery and will turn 34 next month, but he has been the type of consistent goal scorer the Ducks lacked. He would also provide veteran leadership after the possible departures of Beauchemin, Bieksa, Antoine Vermette, Jason Chimera and others.
Most of the Ducks' core is locked up through next season or beyond, including Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, leading scorer Rickard Rakell, Andrew Cogliano, Fowler and defencemen Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson. Anaheim has several key restricted free agents: Nick Ritchie, 20-goal scorer Ondrej Kase and defencemen Brandon Montour and Welinski.
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