In 2007 the Anaheim Ducks hoisted hockey’s Holy Grail, capturing the Stanley Cup in 5 games over the Ottawa Senators. This was a team brimming with Brian Burke inspired truculence and guided by a room full of seasoned veterans. However the 2011/2012 edition of the Ducks is going to look quite different. Gone are defensive stalwarts Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. Then top-line players Chris Kunitz and Andy McDonald have also departed, as well as the vaunted shut-down line of Rob Niedermayer, Sammy Pahlsson, and Travis Moen. The reigns have been in the hands of the younger studs for several years now and it is their time to guide the franchise. But the most important questions remains, will Teemu Selanne return and can the Ducks contend without him?
Randy Carlyle is firmly entrenched as the man behind the Ducks bench. Named head coach of a newly rebuilt Ducks squad in August 2005, he managed one Western Conference Finals appearance and one Stanley Cup in his first two seasons. An exodus of players hamstrung his team for several seasons after, but in 2010/2011 the Ducks re-emerged as a threat in the Western Conference. With a newly minted 3-year deal Carlyle will be the Ducks man this season and moving forward. He should have familiarity with everyone on his roster and will ensure the Ducks continue playing their hard checking, bruising style. He likes to ride his stars, which is good considering the drop off in talent after his big three forwards.
Ryan Getzlaf is the undisputed #1 center on this team. He is one of the more physically imposing players in the league as well as a top 5 pivot when healthy. Barring injury, he will wrack up the points both at even strength and on the power play. Unfortunately the picture becomes extremely bleak up the middle after Getzlaf. Saku Koivu will center the 2nd line, but lets not kid ourselves on his worth. He is far past his prime and other than an above 50% win rate in the dot, brings little offense to the table. Richmond native Brandon McMillan should see increased responsibilities as the team’s 3rd line center. He is a young and developing NHL’er who will work hard night in and night out. I doubt whether he can fulfill the checking role of a typical 3rd liner pivot, but frankly there is no one else to take this spot. The 4th line will be anchored by Kyle Chipchura. Chipchura works hard and can grind with the best of them, but does not bring anything else to the table. He will not see many minutes or offensive opportunities. OHL alum Peter Holland is next in line should one of the top 4 go down with injury.
*In my original analysis I accidentally overlooked Andrew Cogliano. Given his cap hit (a monstrous 2.39/yr for at best a 3rd liner) Cogliano will undoubtedly be on the Ducks game one lineup. However since his rookie season, Cogliano has shown no improvement, and actually regressed in several areas. He remains one of the quickest players in the league, but lacks the hands and hockey IQ to ever be an impact player at the NHL level. He will most likely take the 3rd line spot over McMillan, but shouldn’t do anything to improve the Ducks overall chances at winning the Stanley Cup.
Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan are the top two wingers currently signed with the Ducks, and frankly they are two of the better wingers in the league. While it may be ambitious to expect Perry to repeat last years’ performance, 90 points is not out of the question. Meanwhile I expect Ryan to take yet another step in his development (power forwards always take longer) as one of these seasons he will emerge as a player on par with Getzlaf and Perry. Rounding out the top 6 should be Jason Blake and one of Matt Beleskey or Dan Sexton. Either way, the Ducks currently have one of, if not the weakest 2nd line in the NHL. Jason Blake was a legitimate scoring threat for exactly 1 season. His days of 50 points a season are over. Expecting 40 this year may even be a stretch. But for all of the deficiencies of this winger group, at least the Ducks can boast one of the top mustaches in sports. George Parros can fight and then impersonate a 70′s porn star at a post-game costume party. That is about it. However the fan favourite is an absolute lock for an opening day roster spot. Moreover with the atrocious depth at forward he may even see 3rd line minutes… we can only hope. The final two spots will be contested by AHL’ers Andrew Gordon and J-F Jacques and youngsters Emerson Etem and Kyle Palmieri. None of these bottom 6 wingers will see the ice-time to make a large impact, but Etem does have the highest upside of the bunch. It is unlikely he will crack the roster this year, but he definitely possesses all of the tools to do so.
But what about Selanne? Currently mulling over retirement, Teemu Selanne, should he choose to return, would bring instant credibility to the Ducks 2nd line. Last season he sported the 8th best points per game average in the league, posting an incredible 80 points in only 73 games last year. His return would not only allow the Ducks to ice two scoring lines, but would also provide a major boost to the 1st unit power play. Simply put, the Ducks are a far superior team when Selanne is in the lineup. He changes the dynamic of the power play and also takes pressure off of the “Big 3″ at even strength.
The Ducks D-core will once again be lead by the diminutive Lubomir Visnovsky. While his 68 point campaign from a year ago will likely remain a career high, Visnovsky is still one of the premiere puck movers and power play quarterbacks in the entire NHL. With or without Selanne in the lineup Visnovsky will run arguably the most talent heavy 1st unit power play in the game and should provide a steady presence on the back end. Toni Lydman, the metal loving Finn, will complete the top d-pairing. He was vastly under appreciated while on the Sabres, and continues to be in Anaheim. He balances out Visnovsky’s run-and-gun style with rock steady defense and an enormous amount of blocked shots. Behind them Francois Beauchemin will slot in on the 2nd pairing with youngster Luca Sbisa. Ideally the more experienced Kurtis Foster would skate on the right side of the 2nd pairing, but that would leave Sbisa with sophomore rearguard Cam Fowler, who despite his good rookie numbers still needs to learn a thing or two about playing defense in the big leagues. Overall this just an average d-core. When compared to the defense typically needed to contend for the Cup, this group falls far short.
Now free from the
concussion vertigo symptoms that began after taking a clapper to the head at the all-star game, Jonas Hiller is claiming to be ready to once again assume the mantle of the Ducks’ #1 goalie. Prior to his injury Hiller was having a Vezina worthy season. However I am wary to lump him in with some of the other elite goaltenders heading into the 2011/2012 season. A common trait among the elite is durability. Until Hiller proves that he can play a full season and not suffer fatigue in the playoffs (eg. 2009/2010 playoffs) I cannot classify him as a truly elite tender, despite his numbers. Without Hiller the Ducks have only Dan Ellis to turn to, which is similar to putting an upturned milk crate in net and hoping to contend for a cup. But hey, at least he feels his role is important to society.
*J-F Jacques *Teemu Selanne
*Emerson Etem *Peter Holland
After analyzing the likely starting day roster of the Anaheim Ducks, are they Contenders or Pretenders? For the 2011/2012 season the Ducks are a Pretender. Despite an experienced coach and very top end talent, the Ducks simply do not have the depth required to legitimately contend for a Stanley Cup. They should be able to squeeze into the playoffs as one of the lower seeds (7/8), but will be in tough against the Kings and Sharks within their Division. Ryan, Getzlaf, Perry, Visnovsky, and Hiller (and Selanne if he returns) are all very high quality players. This is a core that rivals any other team’s. However the remainder of the roster is largely spare parts or raw youngsters. The Ducks are several key depth acquisitions away from jumping up to Contender status, even with Selanne in the lineup.