NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Anaheim Ducks.
It's rare that a team's major offseason move involves a backup goaltender, but that's been the case for the Anaheim Ducks since they were eliminated by the Nashville Predators in six games in the 2017 Western Conference Final.
The Ducks' primary objective was keeping their nucleus intact with a chance to make another run at the Stanley Cup. They held on to their top four on defense by surrendering prized defenseman prospect Shea Theodore to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft. They also re-signed 33-year-old forward Patrick Eaves to a three-year contract reportedly worth $9.45 million June 23 after acquring him in a trade from the Dallas Stars on Feb. 24 for a conditional pick that became a first-round selection in the 2017 NHL Draft.
The player Anaheim did add in free agency is more than your average backup goaltender. Ryan Miller, the Vezina Trophy winner in 2010, will provide holdover John Gibson support and competition.
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The organizational thought process in signing Miller, 37, was to add an established goalie who can challenge Gibson for playing time.
"We're all going to say that [Gibson] is going to be our guy," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said, "but [Gibson] is going to have to, again, take another step from where he was last year. We think he's got all the ability and talent, but we just want to make sure we have support in our goaltending. We believe in Ryan Miller, that he fits what we're looking for.
"We've had our discussions with [Gibson] on what the plan is and I've had a discussion with Ryan Miller on what the plan is. We want to make sure that these guys are in a frame of mind that there is going to be a competition."
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Carlyle was spending a lot of time around the Ducks even before he replaced Bruce Boudreau as coach June 14, 2016, so he is familiar with Gibson and his progression. After spending a season coaching Gibson, Carlyle said he was impressed, noting that he took a step as a young goalie.
"Now he's a 24-year-old goaltender," Carlyle said. "As long as he can continue to show us that he can take the next step, that's really what is going to be the culmination of the steps he takes, that he will be through and through a very effective No. 1 goaltender in the League."
One of the reasons Anaheim lost to Nashville in the conference final was its power play faltered (2-for-18, 11.1 percent). It was no coincidence that Eaves, who provided a net-front presence on the man-advantage, missed the series because of an ankle injury he sustained in Game 3 of the second round against the Edmonton Oilers.
Beyond getting Eaves to stay, the Ducks also rewarded their No. 1 defenseman, Cam Fowler, with an eight-year contract reportedly worth $52 million July 1. Fowler said he believes the ups and downs of the past few seasons have prepared the Ducks to take the next step.
"I'm a big believer in that teams have to go through these things in order to grow up and mature and learn how to deal with them," the 25-year-old said. "We've been able to do that."
Carlyle is a fan of Fowler, whose average of 24:50 of ice time per game last season led the Ducks.
"I can remember when Cam Fowler was going into his second year," Carlyle said. "The sophomore jinx was something people talked about. Our statement then was that if Cam accomplished equal to what he accomplished in his first year, and did that in his second year, we should be happy.
"Again, it's about how our team plays. I always want to make sure we temper the growth that is expected and the pressure that we're putting on some very young players, young players that have got their feet wet and had a decent year and a successful year in their first year in the League. Now everybody is going to expect that they're going to take this huge step."
With that in mind, Carlyle wouldn't commit to a 2017-18 goal.
"We leave that up to other people to make statements and predictions," he said. "We did the same thing last year. We didn't have any grandiose statements -- we're going to be this or we're going to be that.
"We're going to continue to work to be an elite-level hockey club. That's our goal, and the rest will fall into place."
Fowler said, "We always feel at the start of the year we can compete for the Stanley Cup. I don't see why this year would be any different."