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Column: Ducks GM Bob Murray still has total confidence in coach Dallas Eakins

Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins talks with players.
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins talks with, from front left, Adam Henrique, Ryan Getzlaf, Kevin Shattenkirk and Rickard Rakell in overtime against Colorado.
(David Zalubowski / AP)

The Kings’ Stanley Cup Era, which peaked with their championships in 2012 and 2014, ended around the same time as the Ducks’ Pretty Good Era, a stretch highlighted by their 2007 Cup win and trips to the Western Conference finals in 2015 and 2017. The two Southern California teams then began synchronized rebuilds, each waiting a year or so too long to upgrade their speed and skill and missing the playoffs together in 2018-19 and 2019-20. It took special skill to miss out last season, when the NHL expanded the playoff field from the usual 16 to 24, but they managed to slide under that low bar.

They’re not skating in lockstep anymore.

After years of slow progress, the Kings’ drafting and developing has produced a wave of young players who are handling big roles. The kids’ performances have rejuvenated veterans Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty, creating a healthy balance. The Kings have been staying alongside Arizona and Minnesota for the fourth West playoff spot, behind Vegas, St. Louis and Colorado. This is the first time in a while they’ve faced high expectations, a pressure that can test young players, but with a few tweaks to the roster the Kings look ready to continue their upward arc.

Then there’s the Ducks.

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They’re behind the Kings in rebuilding and in the standings. The only suspense about the Ducks’ season has been whether they would finish last in the West and whether general manager Bob Murray would fire coach Dallas Eakins, which seemed possible during a nine-game winless streak in which they squandered 3-0 leads in back-to-back games at Arizona. They ended the streak with a 5-4 overtime victory over Colorado last Saturday but did it the hard way, scoring the first two goals and needing a rally to score the last three.

Adrian Kempe scored in overtime, Anze Kopitar had two goals and an assist, and the Los Angeles Kings rallied for a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues.

Before the Ducks beat the Kings in 6-5 overtime Monday, Murray said he has “total confidence in Dallas.” However, Murray said they’ve discussed bringing in an experienced assistant to work with Eakins, as Darryl Sutter did until Sutter took the Calgary Flames’ coaching job last week. “I think he’s doing a pretty good job right now, with everything that’s going on,” Murray said of Eakins. “I have no issues whatsoever.”

But Murray’s team has issues. Lots of them. “I’m not going to sugarcoat anything. Our record is not good enough,” he said. “And I expected to be better and we’re not and there’s no sugarcoating it.”

Since he insisted: The Ducks’ average of 2.16 goals per game through Sunday’s action ranked 30th among 31 teams and their power play had converted a feeble 13.6% of its chances. They were 5-7-6 in one-goal games, occasions when a power-play goal or two could have made a difference. That failure is on the coaching staff and, ultimately, on Murray. The Ducks have had key injuries on defense, notably to Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm, but most other teams have had similar problems.

Despite his insistence on not sugarcoating the situation, Murray found a shred of a silver lining in the team’s recent narrow losses. “I’m much more encouraged by our play this year than last year except for obviously, we’ve got to score some goals. The power play has to be better. It’s unacceptable the way the power play is now and that’s hurting us big-time,” he said.

Ducks coach Dallas Eakins and general manager Bob Murray pose with a jersey.
Dallas Eakins, left, and general manager Bob Murray at Great Park Ice in Irvine upon Eakins’ hiring as Ducks coach on June 17, 2019.
(Greg Beacham / Associated Press)

“The other part of this is, in this league this year, the way it’s being played, we’re in games every night. The staff is telling me we could set some records for one-goal games. The problem is that you’ve got to win them. That’s the next thing. You’ve got to learn how to win the one-goal games.”

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At some point he must decide whether his priority should be to pursue a playoff berth or to make this a development year and clear out older assets before the April 12 trade deadline. Of the kids he has stockpiled, forward Trevor Zegras — the No. 9 pick in the 2019 draft—stands out as potentially having the most star power and pure skill. Defenseman Jamie Drysdale, drafted sixth in 2020, has been with the Ducks recently to sit in meetings and power-play sessions and get a feel for what to expect when he makes the big jump to the NHL.

“I’d like to see us make some sort of run at some point, have a streak of winning at some point. I think we have to learn how to do that,” Murray said. “There’s development still going on. The playoffs, we’ve got to get going.”

In a wide-ranging conversation, Murray also said forward Sonny Milano is seeing a brain-injury specialist after suffering a concussion. Milano, who was acquired from Columbus just over a year ago and signed a two-year extension in July, had a severe concussion last season. “I’m not thinking about hockey with him. I’m thinking about him getting mentally in the right place, and that could take some time,” Murray said.

Ryan Getzlaf scores in overtime to lift the Anaheim Ducks to a 5-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche and end the team’s nine-game losing streak.

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He also said he has spoken to Ryan Getzlaf’s agent regarding the veteran center’s contract, which expires after the season. Please, Murray said, stop the Toronto-originated rumors that the Ducks want to trade him. “The only way Ryan Getzlaf would go anywhere is if he came to me and said, ‘Bob, can you try to trade me to a contender again?’ He’s never said he wants to do that. He never will,” Murray said.

“As for next year, we’ve talked and we’re going to see how he feels after this year, see how his body feels. We’ll see how it’s going. He may just say, ‘I don’t want to keep going through this little bit of a rebuild that we’re doing here.’ But the relationship is wonderful and he’s not going anywhere.”

In the meantime, the Ducks will try to get back into lockstep with the Kings again, this time on the road back to the playoffs. Synchronized success would motivate both teams and would be fun to enjoy again.


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