Out of habit, Ryan Getzlaf turned toward the space next to him when Corey Perry’s name was mentioned even though he knew Perry wouldn’t be there to respond.
Born six days apart and drafted nine spots apart by the Ducks in 2003, Getzlaf and Perry became regular linemates and steady friends, earning the nickname “The Twins” because they were so often in each other’s company. Their friendship is intact but their partnership was broken up when the Ducks bought out Perry’s contract in June to clear salary-cap space and open a roster spot for a younger and more productive forward.
Getzlaf understands the reasons for the move and said Perry had accepted the club’s decision, too. But Getzlaf, the Ducks’ captain and the last player left here from their 2007 Stanley Cup championship team, still finds it odd that Perry isn’t sitting in the locker stall beside his at training camp.
“I’ve been to 17 of them, I think, and ‘Pears’ has always been on the left,” Getzlaf said, gesturing at the spot now occupied by Adam Henrique. “So it’s obviously a little bit different, for sure.”
The absence of Perry, who signed with Dallas as a free agent but has been hobbled by a broken foot, is one of many significant changes the Ducks have made since they missed the playoffs last season.
They have a new coach in Dallas Eakins, who worked with many of their young players for their San Diego farm team but is still getting to know the veterans. They have a new training facility in Irvine with four ice sheets, ideal for dividing the mass of bodies in camp into small groups for specialized instruction.
And they have a lot of new faces challenging for lineup spots, the result of good drafting and development. They’ve stockpiled enough talent to avoid a complete rebuild but must make a complete break from their “heavy hockey” and adapt to the NHL’s trend toward youth and speed.
At the center of it all, the biggest constant is Getzlaf, their captain. On Tuesday, a heavy work day, the 34-year-old Saskatchewan native kept up a good pace in scrimmages and didn’t lag behind when they finished a long session with end-to-end sprints. “To be quite honest, Getzy’s been one of the guys really pounding the drum here early to establish our culture,” Eakins said.
Getzlaf, who ranks third among active NHL players with 662 assists and eighth among active players with 923 points, is so intent on setting a good example that he plans to play more exhibitions than in previous seasons, “just to make sure I’ve got the system and make sure the team’s headed in the right direction going in.” He feels invigorated by what he’s seeing and hearing from Eakins.
“As much as they’re around for training camp, minor league coaches don’t really talk that much or anything like that. So it’s a new voice,” Getzlaf said. “There’s lots of energy around our group right now, which is awesome.
“I’ve been through so many of these camps that they get pretty monotonous at times. I’ve only had two coaches or three in my life,” he said, referring to Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau, Carlyle again, and now Eakins. “Having a new guy in here is a breath of fresh air. You’ve really got to pay attention to what he’s trying to message, his terminology for things, stuff like that, so it keeps you on your toes. Which is great after 17 years.”
Eakins had spoken to Getzlaf “maybe once last year for more than five minutes” during four previous Ducks training camps. “I’ve always quietly admired his career, even when I was in other organizations,” Eakins said. “I didn’t know much about him personally until I got here this summer. I tried to reach out immediately to all of them but obviously with Getzy having such a history here, me doing my homework, the guy’s been a great captain. He’s an amazing father. He’s a good teammate. I knew I was sitting down with a good person.”
Like every coach who has worked with Getzlaf, Eakins would like to see him use his nasty wrist shot more often. But Getzlaf, who peaked at 31 goals in the 2013-14 season, is more comfortable being a playmaker and that’s fine.
“He’s got eyes in the back of his head when he’s passing that puck. So if he can set up other guys, great,” Eakins said. “Am I going to encourage him and maybe show him some spots where he can get the puck to the net because I’ve seen him shoot it and he can blast it? We’ll see where it goes.”
After being staggered by a barrage of injuries and a belated coaching change that put general manager Bob Murray behind the bench for the final 26 games, there’s nowhere for the Ducks to go but up.
“There’s definitely anger and frustration from what we kind of let slip away. It felt like the waste of a year,” Getzlaf said. “I’m talking about the talent we had, the emotion we had at the start of the year, those kinds of things. We didn’t respond well. Those are things you learn from as a group and moving forward on how to deal with those situations in a better way.
“It’s a mental lesson, I think, the fact that not everything is going to go your way all the time. Last year, the injuries we dealt with were pretty outrageous and we have to understand that the league doesn’t feel bad for you because you have 10 players down, and whoever’s in the lineup has got to be ready to go and compete at this level.”