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Hockey

Ducks’ exit interviews come earlier than they have in last seven seasons

Sam Steel
Ducks’ Sam Steel, right, celebrates his goal with teammates during the third period against the Kings on April 5, 2019.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Adam Henrique, along with the majority of Ducks players, were at Honda Center for their postseason medicals. It’s a day they hoped would come much later in the year.

Last season, the Ducks were swept by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. One year later, Ducks players packed their bags three days before 16 NHL squads will begin to vie for the Cup. For the first time in seven seasons, the Ducks won’t be one of those teams.

“It’s always a tough day to come in and see the ice is out and all that and everything is changing,” said Henrique, the only player on the club who played in all 82 games. “It’s certainly been a roller-coaster year. Ups, downs and sideways.”

They never really threatened to qualify for postseason play, and general Bob Murray believes the Ducks’ lousy special teams (No. 24 power play; No. 20 penalty kill) is a leading reason. Only two clubs finished behind the Ducks in the Western Conference standings (the Kings were one of them).

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Longtime coach Randy Carlyle was fired in February after a franchise-worst 12-game losing streak, so Murray’s most important order of business will be to identify the man who will lead the rebuild now that his stint as interim coach is completed. Murray filled that role to get an up-close look at his players, and some of what he discovered was shocking to the former NHL defenseman.

“You start doubting the characters of people you never thought you would doubt. ... This team right now, there is an issue ... with accepting losing,” said Murray. “Some nights ... they put their big toe in the water and if they don’t like what they feel they’re not going to compete and that (attitude) was never here before.

“That is one of the things that needs to be changed. ... We still have old-school guys here, who when they’re hurting, they’ll play. .... But we have some others, if they’re hurting a little bit ... the thought within this group and down in this room here, ‘we’ll wait until the next game.’”

Murray said he’ll wait until NHL teams are eliminated from the playoffs before he speaks to any respective assistants out of respect. The new coach will be tasked with guiding a club infused with plenty of young talent ready to make the leap.

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Rookie center Sam Steel became the youngest play in club history to record a hat trick last month. Two other prominent rookies, Max Jones and Troy Terry, showed they’re ready for prominent roles, too.

“The future looks great,” said Corey Perry, who finished his 14th season with the Ducks. “We’ve got some kids that can really skate. They played some big minutes for us and got some valuable time to see what this league is all about.”

It’s perhaps the one silver lining from this lost season: the opportunity to give those rookies plenty of minutes to prove their worth. The Ducks need players like Terry, a play-making 19-year-old winger, and Jones, a bruising power forward, to continue to fine-tune their games in an effort to provide scoring punch alongside Steel.

The Ducks’ 2.39 goals per game was the worst scoring average in the NHL. Rickard Rakell, who led the Ducks in goals with 34 one season ago, had just 18 in 64 games (the second-highest total on the squad.) Jakob Silfverberg, who signed a five-year extension last month, led the team with 24.

Murray can no longer rely on stalwarts Perry, 33, and Ryan Kesler to carry the scoring burden. Perry, a former 50-goal scorer, found the back of the net six times in 31 games after missing the majority of the campaign following knee surgery. It’s unclear if Kesler will return. The 34-year-old was sidelined for the season last month after trudging through the pain of his problematic, surgically repaired hip.

Kesler plans to meet with specialists in an attempt to figure out a treatment plan that will allow him to continue his storied career. One option: hip resurfacing surgery. Kesler recently chatted with former Florida Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski who resumed play after undergoing a similar procedure. Another option for Kesler is a hip replacement, which he noted would “probably be career-ending.”

“We have to find some options for me. Not just for hockey, but for my life,” the center said Sunday, two days after the Ducks’ season ended. “Simple things, like putting on socks in the morning, are tough. ... I was in a good spot, and it’s just the grind of the season. The back-to-back games, and the four games in six nights. That’s what broke me down and broke my hip down over the course of the year.”

Murray said he believes the team isn’t on the doorstep of competing for a Stanley Cup, but Tuesday’s draft lottery presents a golden opportunity for the Ducks to grab one of two franchise-altering players: American center Jack Hughes and Finnish scorer Kaapo Kakko.

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Getzlaf fined

Ryan Getzlaf was fined $2,500 on Sunday after he punched Kings center Adrian Kempe with an ungloved hand in a scrum during the last minute of Friday’s finale.


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