Lost in the Kings improbably Stanley Cup run last year was the second half resurgence of the Anaheim Ducks. Under new coach Bruce Boudreau the Ducks went on a decent run that provided a little redemption from the brutal start under Randy Carlyle, but still left them in past place in the Pacific Division. The competitive form under Boudreau, combined with his offensive-minded coaching style, does provide a little bit of excitement for Orange County hockey fans. Still, the club has missed the playoffs two of the past three years and most “experts” agree that they’re a fringe playoff contender at best. So the upcoming strike-shortened season will be an important gauge of the direction and future of the club.
The talent is there, unfortunately the on-paper talent didn’t equate to production this past season. For all the big names on the roster the club heads into this season with a whole bunch of “ifs”.
Some keys to the upcoming Ducks season:
Getzlaf, Perry and Bobby Ryan:
With the new collective bargaining agreement in place NHL clubs will need maximum performance from their top paid players. With tighter salary cap limitations the pressure on the high paid stars to perform will only increase. In Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan the Ducks have a young trio that virtually every other team in the league would take in a heartbeat—if production would only match up with promise.
There are few players more talented than Ryan Getzlaf. When at this best he’s a big and physical two-way center. Unfortunately, at least over the past two seasons, his promise and potential hasn’t lived up to his actual performance and contract. After averaging more than a point per game in his previous four seasons, Getzlaf managed only .69 points per game last year, with only eleven goals in 82 games. He has the ability to be a transcendent, top five-center NHL center and the Ducks need a lot more from their captain.
It would have been hard for Corey Perry to top his Hart Trophy winning fifty-goal scoring season, but near forty-point drop in overall production was indicative of the Ducks overall season. You can’t expect your top goal-scorer to light the lamp fifty times ever year, but perhaps more concerning was Perry netting twenty-five fewer assists than his MVP year.
Bobby Ryan’s production didn’t dip as much as the aforementioned Getzlaf/Perry duo, but it did dip a bit. The American-born power forward scored thirty-goals for the fourth straight season, but did see a fifteen point drop in points from the season before. Part of this lack of production was a failed move to center for Ryan, who’ll be back at and more comfortable in the forward spot. In all there was a near point a game reduction in scoring from the teams big three, a major factor in the slow start and disappointing season.
In the Net:
When healthy Jonas Hiller is one of the top talents in the league and after his struggles with vertigo he was healthy most of last season and provided a respectable 2.57 goals against average. Of course goaltending is only part of the defensive equation, but the Ducks have every right to feel confident about Hiller and his backup Viktor Fasth. The veteran Fasth, who’s played his entire career to date in the Sweden, received the Honken Award as the top goaltender in the Swedish league each of the past two seasons. He’s also the goaltender for the Swedish National Team. The acquisition of Fasth should provide competition for Hiller and give the Ducks comfortable depth behind Hiller, or a capable starter should Hiller get injured or struggle.
Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen
The pickup of veteran puck-moving defenseman Sheldon Souray should help the Ducks defensively and be a boon for the power play. The Ducks were in the bottom half of the league last year in power play efficiency and really lacked what Souray can potentially provide. His puck moving abilities and strong shot from the point should help Getzlaf and Perry and improve the power play. In spending over twenty million in offseason contracts the Ducks are committed to improving their defense. In additional to Souray they signed defensive defenseman Bryan Allen to further shore up the defense. On paper the defensive group should be much improved, with Souray and Allen providing assistance for the Ducks top tandem of Francois Bouchemin and Cam Fowler.
A Bunch of “If’s”
With a huge part of their salary cap tied up in a handful of players the Ducks are not alone in today’s NHL. The moves up upgrade the defense will surely help and the Ducks don’t lack in top line talent. As pointed out by several pundits the Ducks still have the talented core capable to being a contender, but there’s a lot that has to go right to get back into playoff contention. It’s hard to imagine that Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan will repeat the down season of last year, on sure talent alone. Souray and Allen will shore up the defense and the goaltending situation is a good one. Daniel Winnik and Brad Staubitz should provide veteran grit, as will the ageless Teemu Selanne. If young players such as Kyle Palmieri and Devante Smith-Pelly can step up and provide production on the second and third lines the Ducks shouldn’t be as top heavy as they’ve been the past couple of years.
So What Gives?
For all the talent there’s still a bunch of question marks, especially regarding the long-term future of Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan. Bruce Boudreau has had a prolonged offseason to institute his system and he’s a proven commodity. They’ve made some good defensive pickups in the offseason that should help the overall product. Unfortunately they need to make more than marginal improvement. In a division that includes the Kings, Coyotes, Stars and Sharks it’s difficult to imagine the Ducks finishing higher than fourth and a fringe playoff spot at best.
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