The Anaheim Ducks are struggling so far this 2015-16 NHL season. That is why it was particularly ill-timed news that captain Ryan Getzlaf was heading back to California to have a non-emergency appendectomy according to the team announcement Tuesday, Oct. 27.
They lost their first game without him to the Dallas Stars Tuesday to fall to 1-6-2. Getzlaf will miss at least one more game.
The Ducks have won the last three Pacific Division titles. They were not only the consensus pick to repeat during the 2015-16 NHL season, they were a popular choice to win the Stanley Cup.
After all, Anaheim had more than success in the regular season to draw upon. It was one game from beating three-time Stanley Cup-champion Chicago in the Western Conference finals last season and still has a core from the 2007 title team intact. Roster additions were considered by many to be more significant than roster losses.
At some point, how the Ducks actually perform in the 2015-16 NHL season will mean more than the preseason analysis. Already four full games behind the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings, they have to play 55 percentage points the rest of the way to catch up.
Of course, Los Angeles opened its 2015-16 NHL season with three regulation losses and is already on top six games later. It is the only team in the Pacific Division more than two points over .500 (6-3-0), so making a run with 73 games left is made all the easier for its crosstown rival.
Still, losing Getzlaf for a couple more games is not going to help the cause. Anaheim’s main problem so far is a lack of scoring—just nine goals in nine games—and the play-making captain generally facilitates one of the top lines in all of hockey.
Worse for Getzlaf, he has yet to get on track with only one point in eight games of the 2015-16 NHL season. When he does return, he could be dealing with not only a slump but rust.
Finally, there are teams in the Pacific Division that could wake up much like Los Angeles did. The Calgary Flames are much better than their record, the San Jose Sharks got their only three losses during Paul Martin’s brief absence and will be getting a few other players back by some point in November.
By the end of the 2015-16 NHL season, the Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks should fall back and the Ducks should also be able to pass the Flames and Edmonton Oilers. That almost ensures third place in the Pacific Division and an automatic berth into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
However, Anaheim could quickly be too deep in the hole for home-ice advantage in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. If it deepens by a couple more games during Getzlaf’s absence, this team could be backed into needing to play over .700 hockey to catch either San Jose or Los Angeles.