There were opportunities Monday during exit interviews for the Ducks to define their season as progress.
Ownership awarded General Manager Bob Murray a four-year contract extension and praised him for "meticulously [adding] youth, skill and depth" to a team that set franchise records in victories and goals while advancing to the Western Conference semifinals.
Coach Bruce Boudreau noted that his team was the "fifth-last team standing," and called Friday's sloppy, season-ending performance in a 6-2 Game 7 home loss to the Kings an "anomaly."
Yet, as the Stanley Cup playoffs proceed without the Western Conference's top-seeded team, it is clear that there are frustrations that will gnaw at the Ducks all summer.
"We could see the end of the tunnel," forward Corey Perry said. "And we just couldn't quite get there."
Said forward Andrew Cogliano: "Obviously, we're missing a little bit of something."
Murray will spend the next few months trying to find that "something." He made it a point to meet with each player Monday to "re-evaluate everything" as he strives to move the team forward.
"We're not as close as everyone thought we were," Murray said. "You have to learn to play under pressure. Obviously we didn't do that very well. You evaluate every piece of it."
There were some fundamental areas where the Ducks fell short. For example, Murray lamented a power play that went scoreless in five advantages during a 2-1 Game 6 loss to the Kings. He also said the team must win more faceoffs.
"I'm not satisfied, no way . . . very sour taste in my mouth at this moment," Murray said.
Goaltending is another area that will require attention.
Jonas Hiller, the primary goalie for the last six seasons, probably has played his last game as a Duck. Frederik Andersen and John Gibson are expected to battle for playing time next season after the rookies combined to start 11 of the team's 13 playoff games.
Hiller was largely passed over during the playoffs after going 6-9-3 to close the regular season and being in the net as the Ducks lost their first two home games in the series against the Kings. Murray said that in hindsight, Hiller should have been given more rest after playing in the Olympics for Switzerland, but Boudreau wasn't looking back.
"We played the players we thought were going to win us that game," Boudreau said. "If you look back and second-guess yourself, you're going to be in trouble. . . . It doesn't work."
With Anderson sidelined by a strained knee ligament, Gibson, 20, was torched for four goals in the Kings' first 18 shots in Game 7.
"We gave it a great shot," Boudreau said. ". . . Some guys were too wound up; others didn't want to make a mistake. The combination made a lot of mistakes. We'll live and learn, I hope."
There were some positives to consider, among them a 20-0-2 start at home, a streak of 19 wins in 21 games from Dec. 6-Jan. 30, and valuable experience gained by young defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen.
"All the stars were aligning," said Perry, who scored 43 goals skating alongside NHL MVP finalist Ryan Getzlaf. "You have to experience [losing]. It's not fun to go through, but . . . it pushes you to be that much better."
The off-season will be time for some decision making. Teemu Selanne is set to retire and the Ducks must decide whether to retain another veteran, center Saku Koivu, who will be 40 in November, or give his job to rookie Rickard Rakell.
Koivu expects to meet with Murray within a week. "It has to work both ways," Koivu said. "I don't want to come back if [I'm] not wanted."
The other unrestricted free agents are forward Daniel Winnik and veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas. Center Mathieu Perreault and forward Jakob Silfverberg are restricted free agents, meaning the team has the right to match a contract offer a player gets from another team.
Also, forward Matt Beleskey might require surgery after suffering a torn abdominal muscle during the Kings series.
Murray said he might revisit his trade-deadline attempt to acquire Vancouver center Ryan Kesler, or pursue other upgrades.
"I don't think I'll offer as much as I did at the trade deadline," Murray said, without naming Kesler. "There's [other] things I might like to do and I would spend — I'm deep enough in players — to do so."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times