For Ducks, the waiting is the hardest part

Anaheim hasn’t made the playoffs in six years, but the general manager suggests drought may end next year.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman was in Anaheim recently, and the evidence suggests he liked what he saw.

“We’re excited to bring tentpole events here,” he said during a scrum with reporters at Honda Center, the top button of his light blue shirt undone in an homage to the chill SoCal vibe. “We’ve talk about an all-star game, but we want to wait until OCVibe! is completed.”

We want to wait. That sentiment is hauntingly familiar to Ducks fans. The team seems to exist in a constant state of almost, like it’s always getting ready to get ready to change its fortunes in some way.

For example, the Ducks won’t return to postseason play this season, but soon.

Cutter Gauthier is coming and wait until you see him.

All the veteran leadership the Ducks have traded away over the past two trade deadlines? Those positions will be filled this offseason, and wait until you see who fills them.

And now Bettman says Anaheim must wait until the $4 billion construction project around Honda Center is complete (in around 2026) before the city can host the league for a draft or an all-star event. Anaheim has never hosted an NHL draft or all-star game despite this year celebrating its 30th season as an NHL franchise.

Forgive Ducks fans if their a bit tired of all the waiting. The last time the team was in the playoffs, its roster was peppered with names like Kase, Cogliano, Eaves, and Bieksa.

The waiting is made more difficult when one looks at the current state of the team on the ice. Having missed the postseason and collected high draft picks every year since 2016 (Lundestrom, Zegras, Drysdale, McTavish, Mintyukov, Carlsson, etc.), Ducks fans would be within their right minds to expect the Ducks to at least be competitive by now.

But when Anaheim takes the Honda Center ice tonight to host the Chicago Blackhawks, it will initiate a clash between two of the worst teams in the NHL. They are quite literally the league’s caboose (along with the San Jose Sharks). And still, Ducks fans wait for something to change.

However, recent indications suggest Ducks fans’ patience is about to be rewarded.

Ten days ago, Ducks GM Pat Verbeek fielded questions from TV analyst Brian Hayward at a season ticket holder event outside Great Park Ice. In the two years since was hired to right Anaheim’s ship, Verbeek has maintained a stoic, all-business posture that reveals very little about the inner workings of his office. He does not address trade rumors. His language is matter of fact with almost no adjectives.

But his answer to Hayward’s question about the Ducks’ future was striking in its candor and clarity.

“We’re in a transition phase,” Verbeek said. “A rebuild is when you’re just tearing down. I feel we’re at a place now where we can take a step. Our good young players are already in place, and more are arriving, like Cutter Gauthier.

“Now, for me, I want to push to where these guys are pushing forward to get into a playoff race. That’s going to be our goal: to be fighting for that right down the stretch.”

A firm, transparent, declarative statement from the Ducks front office: it’s time.

So much must happen between tonight’s cellar-dweller game against Chicago and Verbeek’s hypothetical 2025 playoff push—draft, free agency, trade deadline—but part of the long wait has already ended. The Ducks’ GM has declared his goal, his timeline, and the means by which he plans to achieve that goal.

All that remains now is to watch. And wait.