2007-08 Team Preview: Anaheim Ducks
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The Starting Line
By Scott BurnsideNo Stanley Cup champion ever complains about the short summer. Still, this past offseason has been a little stranger than usual for the defending Cup champs. First, the Anaheim Ducks spent the entire offseason not knowing if two of their most important players were going to come back. No one knows even now whether Scott Niedermayer or Teemu Selanne will come back or just wait for the call from the Hockey Hall of Fame. Best guess is Niedermayer comes back some time before Christmas, while Selanne is done. The second offseason ripple was the offer sheet presented to Dustin Penner by the Edmonton Oilers. Anaheim GM Brian Burke ripped his friend Kevin Lowe, but he opted to not match the offer because he has to consider how he is going to keep Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in the fold when they become restricted free agents next summer. Burke took preventative measures in July by signing Mathieu Schneider and adding Todd Bertuzzi, an old pal from the Vancouver Canucks days. Schneider immediately broke his ankle and will miss at least the first couple of weeks of the regular season. And regardless of how good Bertuzzi is (and that's a whole other issue entirely), he won't be able to make up for the loss of both Penner and Selanne. Offense figures to be an issue for the Ducks as they try to become the first team since Detroit in 1997 and 1998 to win back-to-back Cups. OFFENSE
You can argue all you want about whether Penner is worth the almost 1,000 percent pay increase he received via Edmonton's seven-year, $50 million offer sheet. But the reality is, Penner delivered 29 goals as a rookie and it will be a miracle if Bertuzzi gets to that level in his place. And then there are the 48 goals Selanne scored (a league-best 25 on the power play). All of a sudden, the Ducks will be scrambling to find someone from within the franchise to take a big step forward. Getzlaf and Perry combined for 102 regular-season points a season ago, but they finished 1-2 in playoff scoring for the Ducks, so it would not be unreasonable to see their production dramatically shoot up. Chris Kunitz and Andy McDonald presumably will play with Bertuzzi on the top line and will have to at least hold the line in terms of production (the pair of undrafted young stars combined for 138 points). You can bet Burke is scouring the landscape for another veteran scorer as we speak. As for homegrown talent, it will be interesting to see if Bobby Ryan, the second overall pick in the 2005 draft, is ready for NHL duty. Rest assured, the team's ability to generate sufficient offense will be the Ducks' biggest obstacle in returning to Cup glory. DEFENSE
There is no disputing Niedermayer's greatness. It's self-evident. But there also is no disputing the Ducks' defensive depth and strong defensive system. So, if it's possible for a team to lose perhaps the greatest defenseman of all time without missing a beat, the Ducks are that team. Schneider will fill in very nicely as a No. 2 defenseman behind Chris Pronger (Schneider had 52 points playing behind Nicklas Lidstrom in Detroit), although the broken ankle isn't the best way to start the season. Francois Beauchemin, stolen two years ago from Columbus, doesn't get the attention he deserves playing behind the Ducks' big guns, but he averaged 25:28 a night in ice time and had 28 points last season. Burke also brought in Shane Hnidy, who will eat up some minutes. In terms of team defense, the Ducks continue to boast the best shut-down line in the game in Travis Moen, Rob Niedermayer and Samuel Pahlsson, whose play in the playoffs was spectacular. Overall, the Ducks had the fifth-best penalty-killing unit in the league, and they were busy, given the Ducks were the NHL's most penalized team. Look for more of the same, both in terms of physical play and tough-nosed defense. GOALTENDING
He might not give the appearance of greatness, at least technically, but Jean-Sebastien Giguere has developed into one of the game's best clutch playoff goaltenders with a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy to his credit and a spectacular record in overtime (12-1). No wonder Burke's first order of business in the offseason was signing the potential unrestricted free agent to a four-year deal worth $24 million. The Ducks finished sixth overall in team defense, and there's no reason they shouldn't still be a top-10 defensive team. Ilya Bryzgalov, who once again did yeoman work in relief at the start of the playoffs, was 10-8-6 during the regular season. Burke might use him as trade bait for some offensive help. COACHING
It took Randy Carlyle a while to get to the NHL coaching ranks, but we guess he knows what he's doing. In two seasons as the Ducks' coach, he has guided them to an unexpected berth in the Western Conference finals and a Stanley Cup championship. For a guy who is known to be prickly and demanding of his players, Carlyle will have to feel his way along in this post-Cup season in terms of knowing when to ease off the whip and use more carrot. Most coaches struggle to find that balance in a title defense, but Carlyle is as good a coach as there is, so if anyone can find that balance, it's him. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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• Record: 48-20-14
• Division: First in the Pacific
• Conference: Second in the West
• Playoffs: Won the Stanley Cup
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The playoff hero from 2006 saw limited action at the start of last spring's playoffs, but he continues to show he's got the goods. He just needs a chance, whether it's in Anaheim or elsewhere. Defenseman: Scott Niedermayer
Oh, we know he's not in camp and has been suspended by the Ducks, but we still think the NHL hasn't seen the last of the smooth-skating defenseman. We figure his return would be a welcome Christmas present for the Ducks and their fans. Forward: Todd Bertuzzi
His past continues to follow him wherever he goes, but one imagines if there's a place the power forward can regain his form, it's with Burke and the hard-nosed Carlyle.
MORE FROM BURNSIDEBuzz Cut
The Ducks capped their season-ticket sales at 15,000 to give fans a chance to buy single-game tickets. There now is a waiting list for season tickets. In California. Go figure. Guess that old saying, "Build a winner and they will come," really is true, no matter where you put your rink. Where They Will Finish
The Ducks will finish second in the Pacific Division and fourth in the Western Conference.
SPORTSNATIONWhere do you think the Anaheim Ducks will finish this time around? Who will lead the Ducks in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench? Vote now!