There’s been a lot of talk lately about Randy Carlyle and his future with the Anaheim Ducks. Some are of the opinion that blame for the Ducks’ horrible start lies at Carlyle’s feet for not producing better results. It’s not just that they’re losing— it’s how they’re losing. They’re getting wildly outshot and predictably outscored, as well. The GM says it’s not the coach’s fault and the players are to blame. But we’re talking about very smart people who think he needs to get the axe, so it’s an idea worth thinking about.
But here’s the thing; when I looked at the Ducks roster this offseason, I knew they were going to be terrible. Their defensive corps had to learn to play together AND they aren’t very good to begin with. Even in August it was apparent that they needed Cam Fowler to come in, earn a spot, and play serious minutes on the power play. It’s one thing to hope he can contribute, but a completely different situation when a team is depending on him to make contributions.
We’re talking about a team that knew they’d play Lubomir Visnovsky, Andy Sutton, and Toni Lydman. Behind them—it was a toss up as to who would earn spots on the team. That means they were gambling and hoping for the best with half of their every day defensemen. Add in that they lack depth up front and their back-up goaltender gets beaten more than a horse coming down the stretch at Churchill Downs, and it seems obvious that they will struggle badly this season.
So when I look at who is responsible for this disaster, I look to the people who put this team together. Sure, Carlyle is the visible guy on the bench and the teams are piling up L’s, but you can only get so much out of so little. They have good top-line forwards and their power play is one of the best in the league (6th). They don’t have very good defensemen and they’re one of the worst in the league on the PK (22nd). This isn’t rocket surgery—without the horses in the NHL, it’s going to be tough to succeed.
I wonder why GM Bob Murray isn’t catching a little more heat for putting together a team with such little depth. Losing the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, and Francois Beauchemin is tough for any team to deal with. But it’s not like any of those came out of left field. Niedermayer has been contemplating retirement since the 90’s, Beauchemin was up for a big payday two years ago, and Pronger was willingly traded for a forward and draft picks. Even though he knew all of his Cup contributors would be out the door in the near future, no contingency plan was put into place. The Ducks defensive prospects look like a who’s who for a future AHL contender. And just imagine how bad it would be if Cam Fowler hadn’t dropped into their laps this year?
Now whose fault is that?
We knew this season was going to be rough because they don’t have the players to compete. Plain and simple. Look back to the Tampa Bay Lightning circa 2006-08 to see just how far one line and a bad defense can take you. Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan are all spectacular players and will win a few games on their own—but they won’t be able to single-handedly make the Ducks a contender.
The case against Murray is so much simpler than it is against Carlyle. They lost players. They knew they were going to lose them. They didn’t replace them and they don’t have anyone on the horizon to replace them. That’s it—and that is precisely the General Manager’s job. Anything else is clouding the issue.
If you think the Ducks players are better than they are playing on the ice, then that’s a different issue completely. If they were underachieving, then that would fall squarely on Carlyle’s portly shoulders. But looking at the roster in the offseason I just didn’t see it. And through the first 12 games of the season, I’m seeing exactly what I expected to see. I see a team that can’t compete on a nightly basis with some of the better teams in the league. I see a team that will struggle on the road all season because they are built around one line. I see a team that, if they play their very best game against their opponent’s best game, will lose far more games than they will win.
Even if Carlyle’s the guy who gets fired this year, it will be the predictable conclusion when a coach is the scapegoat. But this time, it’s not the players who are to blame—it’s the GM.