Ducks Season Preview; What Can We Expect?

Leo Carlsson

The 2023-2024 season is just over a couple of weeks away, and the Anaheim Ducks will be one of the more interesting teams in the league despite not being expected to win much.

The Ducks finished dead last in the NHL with 58 points, and it was the worst season in franchise history based on point percentage (.354). They finished 31st in the league in goals scored and dead last in goals against. Needless to say, things did not go the Ducks way last year.

After a relatively busy offseason, here is what fans can expect for this upcoming season.

Coaching

Just one day after the season ended, the Ducks fired head coach Dallas Eakins and began a two-month search before hiring Greg Cronin to take the reigns. We will not know for sure how much of an impact Cronin’s coaching style will have on the Ducks until regular season games are played. Still, given his track record of developing young talent in the AHL, NCAA, and the U.S. National teams, Cronin could flourish in Anaheim with the best-ranked prospect pool in the league, according to The Athletic.

So far, Cronin has impressed in his interviews with the style of play he is trying to create. Preseason games should be taken with a grain of salt, but the line combinations that Cronin has put together have been an improvement from the last coaching regime. 

Free agents

The Ducks signed nine UFA or RFA players this offseason. The headliners of the offseason were veteran defenseman Radko Gudas and veteran right winger Alex Killorn. 

Gudas and Killorn are now the two oldest players on the Ducks, who look to be leaders on and off the ice. They have already shown leadership qualities in preseason games by standing up for their teammates and creating an edge for the Ducks that we have not seen in a while.

The first domino to fall was Gudas, signing a three-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $4 million. To go along with the leadership qualities, Gudas brings a balanced style of play, being a quality stay-at-home defenseman while also having the ability to be active on the rush when need be. 

Related Article: The Butcher and the Flock

Killorn was next, signing a hefty four-year deal with an AAV of $6.25 million just a few hours later. This one raised some eyebrows, considering he will be 34 years old entering this contract and what the production is going to look like at 37 years old and getting paid that much.

Killorn is coming off a career year of 27 goals, 37 assists, and 64 points and has proven to be a durable NHLer, never playing less than 71 games in any season, not counting the COVID-shortened 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons, and the 2012-2013 lockout season. There is a legitimate concern about his production though, given he will not be playing in as talented of a lineup as the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Of course, as I am writing this, Killorn fractures his finger and is expected to miss four to six weeks. Go figure.

The Ducks also locked up Troy Terry to a seven-year, $7 million AAV contract to avoid arbitration. Terry has blossomed into likely their best player, scoring 37 goals and 67 points in 2021-2022 and finishing this past season with 67 points. Terry is one of the potential candidates to be named captain in the near future.

After a long summer of negotiations that carried into October, the Ducks and Zegras finally agreed to a three-year deal with an AAV of $5.75 million. Negotiations took this long because, at first, the Ducks wanted a long-term deal, but Zegras’ camp wanted a short-term deal because the salary cap will rise, so Zegras could sign a larger deal after this contract, as reported by Elliotte Friedman. 

Friedman also reported that both camps agreed on the three-year term a while ago, so it appears that General Manager Pat Verbeek was playing hardball with Zegras, but the contract seems fit for both sides. Zegras is a dynamic player and the face of the franchise. He also finished his second straight season, surpassing 60 points in just his third year in the league.

Just a few days later, the other RFA stuck in negotiations was signed. Jamie Drysdale signed a three-year, $2.3 AAV contract. Drysdale only played in eight games last season before tearing his labrum and missed the remainder of the year. 

Related Article: Jamie Drysdale Signs a Three-Year Contract With the Anaheim Ducks

This is a huge year for Drysdale. He is a great skater who can move the puck but lacked strength and consistency before his injury. Drysdale has gained some weight, so it will be interesting to see how he uses his newly gained strength in his game.

The Ducks made some less impactful signings as well, the first being Robert Hägg to a one-year, $775,000  contract. Hägg is a decent-sized stay-at-home defenseman who can use his body when needed. The Ducks put Hägg on waivers this week and eventually cleared, so he will report to San Diego for AHL action.

Benoit-Oliver Groulx signed a one-year, $775,000 RFA contract. Groulx was the Ducks’ second-round pick in the 2018 draft and has yet to find his footing in the NHL, only having 20 career games to this point with just a goal and a pair of assists.

Young netminder Lukáš Dostál also signed an RFA deal at two years with an AAV of $812,500. Dostál impressed with his first season in the NHL when he took over the crease when John Gibson was injured in December. Once Gibson came back, Dostál was the backup and showed he could be a solid NHL goaltender.

The Ducks also signed Alex Stalock to a one-year, $800,000 contract to presumably be the backup goaltender. There is a chance that Dostál could earn a backup spot over Stalock, but this signing signals that the Ducks are planning on having Dostál spend another year in the AHL as a starter to develop more. Dostál in a starting role in San Diego is probably better for his development anyway.

Expectations

This roster is not entirely different than last year’s, but with the additions of Gudas and Killorn and a new coach, the Ducks should take a step forward. Playoffs are still likely not in the cards for the Ducks, but they should be more competitive. 

We will not know the impact of Cronin’s coaching style until regular season games are played. If Cronin does have a positive impact on the team, I would expect the Ducks to finish with around 75 points. 

As I mentioned, playoffs are not an expectation, so as long as we see the kids develop and the veterans do their part, this season will be a success. The Athletic ranked the Ducks’ prospect pool as the best in the league, so development is huge at this stage of the Ducks’ rebuild.

The young core of Zegras, Drysdale, Mason McTavish, and Jackson LaCombe should take steps forward. The prospects of the future in Leo Carlsson, Olen Zellweger, and Pavel Mintyukov are expected to get stints in the NHL and will get a taste of what is needed to play in the league before going back to the minors. Carlsson had to be helped off the ice at practice yesterday after falling awkwardly into the end boards and was unable to put pressure on his right skate. There is no update as to the severity of the injury or the timetable of his return.

They may not win a lot of games this season, but this season could be a big step forward for their future.

Episode 89: The Mighty Debrief Late Arrivals: An Anaheim Ducks Podcast

On this episode of LAP, the guys talk about the wonderful, one might even say MIGHTY, news coming out of Anaheim Thursday morning and share their thoughts on the long awaited rebrand coming to OC. The guys try to predict what the new uniforms may entail and share their excitement for things being how they should once more. Lastly, the guys give their Cup Final predictions and answer listener questions!Follow Late Arrivals Twitter: @latearrivalspodInstagram: @latearrivalspodFollow the hostsChris: @CJKChelConnor: @91_PlutyJake: @_JRobles71Louis: @Louiex37 Intro/ Outro done by Will Rice/ @pastorwillrice
  1. Episode 89: The Mighty Debrief
  2. Episode 88: Minute Muncher
  3. Episode 87: Coach Chaos
  4. Episode 86: It's All Your Fault
  5. Episode 85: One Last Howl

Jack Janes

Journalism major at the University of La Verne. Writer for Inside The Rink covering the Anaheim Ducks.

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