With many picking them for fourth place in the Pacific Division the Anaheim Ducks put together a tremendous regular season, overshadowed only by the Chicago Blackhawks and their remarkable regular season. The Ducks lost their momentum and suffered an early playoff exit at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings, dampening their outstanding regular season. With both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry signed to long term extensions the once cloudy Ducks future is clear and under Head Coach Bruce Boudreau the Ducks should make another strong regular season push this year.
Do the Ducks have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup?
Up front: The Ducks have an elite combination up front in former MVP Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Both are among the most talented players in the NHL and the Ducks have locked them up with long term deals. In the new salary capped NHL signing players to expensive long-term deals comes with a price. In the case of the Ducks the move to sign Perry and Getzlaf eliminated their ability to sign the third member of their big three, Bobby Ryan. The big American forward was a consistent force for the club, scoring 131 goals over the past four seasons. He’s off to Ottawa for a package that features former Senators second round pick Jakob Silverberg. The Swedish forward is a talented player who put up solid numbers last season in Ottawa. He’ll be relied on to inject some new playmaking into the lineup and fill in for the loss of Ryan. The other player who’ll be counted on to provide some of the grit and size the Ducks lost with the trade of Ryan is Dustin Penner, re-acquired from the Los Angeles Kings. The former Ducks forward remains big and talented, but has had an up and down career. If Penner can recapture the star form he’s shown at times throughout his career the Ducks may not miss a beat with the loss of Ryan. Last season Anaheim was in the top ten in goals scored and had an elite, top five power play. With their two stars back the Ducks should be as strong as ever in special teams.
Between the Pipes: Anaheim has two solid and experienced goaltenders in Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth who split duties last season. They both performed well and this arrangement should serve them well in the long NHL regular season. If either player gets injured or has a poor spell of play the Ducks have young star John Gibson waiting in the wings. The twenty-year-old was voted the Most Valuable Player when the United States won the IIHF World Junior Championships. He’s one of the elite up and coming goaltending prospects in the National Hockey League. The trio gives the Ducks a goaltending situation that is the envy of many NHL clubs. Of course the strategy of goaltenders sharing time often creates an issue of who will lead the team when the playoffs arrive. NHL teams typically run with one goaltender during the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Ducks will have to decide who the top netminder is for their eventual playoff run.
On the Blue Line: The Ducks defense thrived last season with the arrival of Sheldon Souray and the continued evolution of Francois Beauchemin as an elite NHL defenseman. The two veterans provided solid two way play and timely offense during the regular season. Unfortunately for Ducks fans both players are now coming off injuries with Beauchemin having offseason knee surgery and Souray injuring his wrist in an offseason training accident. The Ducks expect Beauchemin back towards the beginning of the regular season, but Souray will likely miss the first two months. With Souray out the Ducks will need Cam Fowler to continue is ascent as a potential top NHL blue-liner. The young American had a breakout year last season, evolving as an elite stay at home defenseman. Luca Sbisa, Bryan Allen, Toni Lydman and perhaps young talent Hampus Lindholm round out the Ducks defensive group.
Young Talent: Beyond the veteran stars the Ducks front office has done a fine job in developing a group of young and talented players. Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem, Peter Holland, and Sami Vatanen all played roles in the team last season, with Palmieri and Etem playing significant roles. Combined with Gibson and Lindholm, soon to arrive, the Ducks may have the best farm system and group of young players in the NHL. The development of this players into future stars is a key reality to the new NHL. Salary cap limitations and the need to spend big money on stars like Getzlaf and Perry shows the need for a bench and the Ducks are in a solid position. This group of talented players will play a big role on the ice this season as well as potential trade bait as the NHL trade deadline comes late in the season.
So can they win the Stanley Cup? The Pacific Division will be a challenge. It’s a deep group of teams that includes perennial powers like the Kings, Sharks and Canucks and the up and coming Edmonton Oilers. Most have the Ducks predicted to either win or finish in the top three in their division. They’ll be in a strong position to earn at least one of the new wildcards and have a fighting chance to make a deep playoff run. Come playoff time the health of their defense is important as is the need to settle on a number one goaltender. The other key factor to watch will be the complacency question with Getzlaf and Perry. Players react differently to big contracts and there’s always the chance that performance can wane. Both players had solid years last season but poor years the season before. The Ducks will need scoring punch from Perry, like in his MVP year, and the solid two-way play that has marked Getzlaf’s career. If the two superstars play to their potential the Ducks are a strong candidate to win the Stanley Cup in their 20th season as an NHL team.
By: Chris Cabrera