IRVINE, Calif. — Among the bevy of activity during the first day of Ducks training camp this afternoon at Great Park Ice in Irvine was an announcement from Ducks Executive Vice President/General Manager Bob Murray most probably saw coming.
Murray officially announced to a gathering of media Ducks forwards Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves will not play during the 2019-20 season. Kesler underwent successful right hip resurfacing surgery on May 9 in New York, a bone-preserving hip replacement that can provide pain relief and increase function in normal activities of daily living. At the time it was announced the surgery does leave open the possibility that Kesler could resume his NHL career following a lengthy recovery, and that includes sitting out the entirety of this coming season.
“At this point in my career, this surgery was the best option for my quality of life,” said Kesler following the surgery. “The pain I was suffering has been greatly reduced since the procedure, and I’m grateful for that. While my playing future is unknown, I’m in a good place. I’m extremely appreciative of everyone that has helped me through the process. I look forward to spending more time with my family and doing everyday activities without pain.”
Kesler is currently living back in Michigan with his family and, “He’s doing really well and the resurfacing has worked,” Murray said. “I’m not going to comment on the rest of his career, but that’s very doubtful at this point.”
Eaves, meanwhile, has played just nine games over the past two seasons and last played for the Ducks on February 4 before shutting it down for the season. “I won’t say he’s retiring, but he’s out for the year,” Murray said. “Whatever you want to call what he had keeps resurfacing. He’s tried a couple times to come back, but he and his wife have decided that’s enough for now, and I totally agree with that at this point in time.”
The Ducks are relatively healthy otherwise (“Everybody is pretty much on the ice right now,” Murray noted) though they’re taking things slow with Ondrej Kase, who suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder in a game against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 17 and underwent surgery later that month that kept him out the duration of the season. Kase was on the ice during today’s opening of camp, though he wore a yellow no-contact jersey.
“We’re being careful with Ondrej right now,” Murray said. “He’s ahead of schedule, but there’s no sense [in pushing it]. The doctors are happy. They’re not worried, but they don’t feel he needs contact quite yet. He’ll play in some preseason games and we’ll go from there.”
Today was also the first practice for new Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins, who made his presence felt by pumping upbeat music throughout the arena when the Ducks took part in certain drills. It’s a change Murray says he’s fine with.
“Things are very different here, guys,” he said with a chuckle. “If it allows them to work harder and get the work in they need, I don’t care what they do out there. Dallas wanted the music, so whatever. Different world now.”
Murray added he already likes what Eakins has brought as far as his rapport with his new players.
“It’s a different age. Communication is key with the modern athlete and in the sport of hockey, and Dallas will do that,” he said. “I think he’s started off very well, and they all know what’s coming at them. He told them back in early July what was coming at them this week, and they knew what tests were gonna happen, what skating they were going to do.
It’s a second stint in the NHL for Eakins, who had a tough time during two seasons at the helm of the Edmonton Oilers, but was highly successful coaching Anaheim’s AHL affiliate in San Diego the past four seasons.
“I’ve said this before, and I say this from experience: The second time around, we’re all better in this sport,” Murray said. “This is Dallas’ second time around, and he’s very aware of the things that went wrong in Edmonton. They weren’t all his fault, and they never are for anybody. But he’s aware of those things, and he’s very prepared right now.”
Murray liked what he saw from Anaheim’s prospects during the recent six-team Rookie Faceoff tournament in this same building, in which the young Ducks went 2-0-1 and showed a lot of promise up front. “We’re deep at forward, and it’s going to be very difficult through training camp and preseason, we’ve got a lot of tough decisions to make,” Murray said. “There is a lot of competitions for jobs, and I think our players know that right now. There are a bunch of really good young kids, and the competition is going to be really good.”
Murray also addressed his team’s need for defensemen on the right side, something he said could be remedied by a personnel deal or by moving certain blueliners to the other side.
“It’s one of those things where maybe you address that with the depth in the young forwards eventually,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of things you can do. You wait for the opportunities to come around, and sometimes they do and sometimes they do. It’s on my radar obviously, but in saying that, the best defenseman to ever play in this uniform was a lefthanded defenseman who played right [Scott Niedermayer], in case we have forgotten. We have a few guys who can play the right side. You’re always trying to maneuver, but maybe down the road it’s [move for] a young forward for a young defenseman.”
For the time being, Murray was encouraged by what he saw out of his group on Day 1.
“I sense a positive,” he said. “Last year wasn’t much fun for anybody. I hope most of them were embarrassed, and I think they want to get going. You can’t win it in September. We’ll just keep them focused.”