ANAHEIM – Bob Murray sees where the NHL is going and where the Ducks are at within it – and where his coach fits with their need to adapt.
The Ducks have to get faster and Murray, who just wrapped up his 10th season as their general manager, saw their current level of team speed wasn’t nearly good enough in grim fashion in a four-game sweep by San Jose.
“We just played a team that was way faster than us,” Murray said Saturday, where the Ducks cleaned out their lockers at Honda Center earlier than they imagined. “And they played the game faster than us.”
And there is a large part of why their Stanley Cup run never got off the ground. With that established, Murray delved into how they will go about getting faster. Pure speed matters and the Ducks’ GM didn’t question that. But, in his mind, it’s about much more.
“Are Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski really fast skaters? Are they?” Murray asked, bringing up the Sharks’ stars. “I had one of them in Team Canada. No. They’re good hockey players. But if your team plays fast, you can make players faster. And that’s the first thing that has to be addressed around here.”
Very much in place as the organization’s top decision-maker when it comes to the on-ice product, Murray is sticking with Randy Carlyle as his coach. His confidence remains in him even with the franchise’s first failure to win a game in postseason play since 1999.
Hey, @AnaheimDucks we’ll see you this weekend at Coachella.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) April 19, 2018
Some of the confidence stems from the Ducks remaining in position to make a second-half push after surviving an unprecedented spate of injuries to many of their top players. The two, though, are to meet in the coming weeks to discuss how they must evolve to keep pace and not fall further behind.
“I have no issues with how he did,” Murray said. “I think it’s remarkable that we made the playoffs. But in making the playoffs, did we screw up some other things? That’s where I’m trying to get my head around. Sometimes it’s better to miss (the playoffs).
“I talked to (Florida GM Dale Tallon) this morning and he says look at you and look at me. My pick’s a lot better than yours right now. I said, ‘You’re bloody right it is.’ Those are the things that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s just the way the game is. I’m confident in Randy.”
The early playoff exit chafed at Murray but it also served as a stamp about the stark reality they face. Worse yet, the stunning sweep didn’t blindside him. “It wasn’t as shocking to me as to a lot of other people, from reading things,” he said.
“As I said during the year, I didn’t really think our team play was that great this year,” Murray continued. “What are the reasons for that? Well, obviously we were in survival mode for half the year. We got the rest of the guys back and we were trying to make the playoffs. So there were a lot of things with our team play that were just not good enough.
“Good goaltending tends to cover up a lot of crap. And it did a good job of that.”
Carlyle contends some changes have taken place to adjust to higher tempo that teams are playing at. “It’s almost Pong at times, where the puck comes back and it’s just thrown out and people are trying to get underneath the puck out off the boards,” he said.
“I’ve think we’ve asked, and we’ve stressed, some of the things that happened against us are the things that we had to try to do, and we know that,” Carlyle added. “There’s a template that teams are playing and the things they are doing are the things we’re trying to get our group to do, and we didn’t do it on a consistent enough basis.”
Their system and emphasis on being heavy will come under the microscope and Murray bluntly said “we have some things we have to fix.” He pointed to his distaste for defensemen passing the puck to each other and back before heading up ice to get the puck to forwards, who were often too stationary.
Too much work to get the puck out of their own end occurred and allowed opposing teams to forecheck them into turning it over. It appears Carlyle – who has another year left on his contract along with a team option for 2019-20 – will be entrusted with making those changes.
“I think he knows,” Murray said. “We had enough talks late in the year. We knew where we were halfway through the year and we knew we couldn’t do certain things this year. And that’s just because of the situation we were in.
“I know he definitely knows some things have to change. Hopefully I can give him a healthy hockey team to start the year to see if they will change.”
Murray doesn’t see any players needing surgeries like last summer. There is a greater belief that winger Patrick Eaves will get back on the ice next season. He revealed that Eaves underwent shoulder surgery in March to fix a torn labrum suffered while doing rehab work. Eaves’s potential timetable is October.
Eaves played in two games before being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder where his immune system was attacking the peripheral nervous system. “He’s ahead of schedule now but that means nothing, it’s so early in it,” Murray said.
The roster is expected to skew more toward youth. They’re expected to jettison older free agents such as Kevin Bieksa, Antoine Vermette, Jason Chimera and Chris Kelly. Murray did rave the work of fourth-line center Derek Grant and would like to re-sign him.
Bieksa played with a torn tendon in his finger that was suffered during his fight with Philadelphia’s Radko Gudas in October and said he opted to put off surgery until March because the recovery period would have taken months instead of weeks.
But the veteran defenseman also felt the March procedure made it easier for Carlyle to play youngster Andy Welinski in three of the four games against San Jose. His dissatisfaction was thinly veiled.
“It kept me out of a lot of games down the stretch, which I’m sure factored in to the decision not to play me as much in the playoffs,” Bieksa said. “Which is very disappointing. And didn’t turn out to be a good-looking decision. But you have to accept those sometimes.”
A few Ducks will continue playing hockey. Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell will play for Sweden in the upcoming IIHF World Championships next month, while Korbinian Holzer will participate for Germany.
Murray said Montour and Kase were asked by Canada and the Czech Republic but will not participate given their uncertain contract status. Jakob Silfverberg will not play for Sweden as the winger and his wife, Clara, are expecting their first child.
Others will be left to try to put a wholly disappointing end to a season full of adversity behind them. The shock of a swift exit after pushing to make the playoffs and gain home-ice advantage is only starting to wear off.
“It’s kind of a numbness that’s subsiding now,” Carlyle said.
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