Season Preview: Anaheim Ducks
In a Conference swamped with Cup contenders; a lot of people were caught almost ‘off guard’ by the Ducks last year. Bruce Boudreau’s team blazed through the regular season, finishing top of the West and earning Captain Ryan Getzlaf a Hart Trophy nomination.
But a goaltending controversy laden loss to arch rivals Los Angeles in the Conference semi-final meant Anaheim’s quest for a second Stanley Cup would have to wait for at least one more year.
With a marquee addition this summer, and one of the most dynamic pairings in hockey, the California outfit is no underdog this year – they are bona fide contenders, if their gamble between the pipes pays off.
Getzlaf and line mate Corey Perry were, once again, tremendous for the Ducks last season. Only an exceptional effort from Sidney Crosby denied Getzlaf his first Hart Trophy, with the Regina native posting 31 goals and 87 points in 77 games. Alongside Perry’s 43 goals and 82 points, any idea that their 8 year contract extensions would somehow dent their determination or drive was quickly put to bed.
Ryan Kesler was the clubs big addition this summer, adding further depth to a group of forwards who can sometimes feel underrated. Nate Thompson also joins the franchise after five seasons in Tampa, whilst a 1-year, $1m contract for veteran Dany Heatley could pay dividends – if the former Minnesota winger recaptures even the slightest semblance of his former scoring prowess.
After missing 24 games with a broken hand, Anaheim will also hope Jakob Silfverberg can make the most of his first full season at the Honda Centre while speedy centre Andrew Cogliano passed the 20 goal marker for the first time last season.
Winger Patrick Maroon was also signed to a 3-year contract extension over the summer, and though Teemu Selanne has departed, the Ducks have a number of young players ready to step up – including Devant Smith-Pelly, Emerson Etem and Kyle Palmieri.
At The Back
Francois Beauchemin has been revitalised since returning to Anaheim, Cam Fowler is developing in to one of the games top offensive D men and Hampus Lindholm was unlucky not to get a Calder Trophy nomination.
The addition of UFA Clayton Stoner helps round out a defensive unit that also boasts the physically imposing Mark Fistric, veterans Ben Lovejoy and Bryan Allen and 23-year old Sami Vatanen.
If Sheldon Souray is somehow able to get over the wrist problems that caused him to miss the entire 2013/14 season, Anaheim adds another veteran presence to the room and someone who can help the all important powerplay.
Between The Pipes
Whilst there is little doubt John Gibson is considered the long term future of Duck’s goaltending; Jonas Hiller’s departure this summer leaves Anaheim resting their hopes on two young netminders who have a combined 31 games NHL experience.
Even the addition of veteran backup Jason Labarbera does little to redress that balance, with the 34-year old sporting just 182 games on his NHL resume.
It’s undoubtedly a gamble for a team so close to the Cup to go down this road. The saving grace might be the window in which the club has to challenge. Much of the clubs core is still under 30 (including Perry and Getzlaf), allowing Gibson and/or Frederik Andersen to learn on the job without the pressure of having to win ‘now’.
Behind The Bench
Bruce Boudreau has nothing to prove in the regular season. The ‘let ’em play’ style he seems to promote worked in Washington, and it works in Orange County.
But the former Toronto and Chicago centre still has questions to answer in the post season. He’s position as the teams Head Coach isn’t in jeopardy – but a Bruce inspired series win would go a long way for his reputation, and the clubs Cup chances.
Biggest Addition – Ryan Kesler
The almost year long courtship of Ryan Kesler ended on 27th June; when Anaheim sent Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and 1st and 3rd round picks at the 2014 draft to Vancouver in exchange for the Team USA centre (and a 3rd at the 2015 draft).
Kesler is a proven 20-30 goal scorer with Selke Trophy potential – exactly the kind of player pretty much all Cup winners have.
Biggest Loss – Jonas Hiller
Anaheim’s treatment of the Swiss stopper over the past two years has been mind boggling. Despite being among the leagues best goaltenders over the past few seasons, his position as the teams number one had been ‘under review’ for some time.
First Viktor Fasth seem to be anointed as the clubs new goaltender of choice, then Andersen and Gibson arrived on the scene.
Despite playing 50 games last season, Hiller’s days in Anaheim appears to be numbered; and the post season sideshow, in which the team flip flopped between Andersen, Hiller and Gibson, seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.
Hiller headed to Calgary, while Anaheim hands the reigns to the young guns.
Key Man – Ryan Getzlaf
Getzlaf is undoubtedly one of the games elite talents – with an honourable mention to his line mate, he has become the heart and soul of the franchise and thus an integral part of their plans.
With two Olympic gold medals and a Stanley Cup ring to his name already, the 29-year old still has plenty of miles on the clock and seems to have relish the role of Captain.
This Seasons Chances…
It seems inconceivable that Anaheim won’t finish in the top 3 in the Pacific again – especially given that San Jose is undergoing an identity crisis right now, and Vancouver is trying to pull itself out of a tail spin.
The big question is whether they have they have the horses to go all the way – and it’s hard not to feel like they do.
As with any contender, there are ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’; but the Ducks have good depth at forward and a solid defence. If the goaltending holds up, they have to be considered one of the favourites heading in to the play-offs.
There is also the added bonus that GM Bob Murray could grab a deadline day boost as well, courtesy of the handsome amount of cap space the club still has.
Posted on August 26, 2014, in Anaheim Ducks, Hockey, NHL, Season Previews 2014 and tagged Anaheim Ducks, Bruce Boudreau, Corey Perry, Jonas Hiller, NHL, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Season Preview. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.