2009-10 Team Preview: Anaheim Ducks
Kyle Terada/US Presswire
10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE DUCKS
By Pierre LeBrun
Randy Carlyle wouldn't be the coach he is if he wasn't as demanding as he is.
So while the rest of the world saw an eighth-seeded Ducks team have a wonderful postseason -- upsetting top-seeded San Jose, and pushing the mighty Red Wings to seven games -- the Anaheim coach wonders, "what if?"
"It was satisfying from the standpoint that we won one playoff series against a very good team in San Jose, and in the big picture we took the previous Stanley Cup champs, Detroit, to seven games. And we had an opportunity," Carlyle told ESPN.com. "As a coach, you really look at the opportunity within the game -- we had a 5-on-3 and a 4-on-3 in that hockey game. That should have been enough to give us the advantage in the game. One goal was the difference."
Here are 10 things you need to know about the Ducks this season:
1. Renewed confidence
Last season's playoff success has given the transformed Ducks the sense they belong again after suffering through a midseason swoon last season.
"Going to the playoffs last year, I think a lot of people had doubts. Even within our group, there wasn't exactly those expectations of what happened," star center Ryan Getzlaf told ESPN.com. "Our guys were able to rally and play together as a group. Adding a few tools this year makes this that much better and we're really looking forward to the start of the season."
This is a team that once again believes it belongs with the big boys.
"Our mandate has always been to be an elite organization," said Carlyle, whose Ducks won the Cup in 2007. "It's easy to say, but we're trying to live it. We want to be competitive every year. But there's a lot of firepower in the Western Conference."
2. Secondary scoring
The Ducks were dangerous last spring, but were really a one-line team. There wasn't enough support for Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. To that end, GM Bob Murray signed center Saku Koivu in July and added winger Joffrey Lupul in the Chris Pronger trade. Suddenly, the Ducks have two top-flight forward lines.
"It's going to be different," said Getzlaf. "Ever since I got here, we were kind of more of a back-end loaded team, obviously with Prongs and Scotty [Niedermayer]. I think getting rid of Prongs was a big move for Bob and it enabled us to free up space and make our forwards a little bit better. I think anybody who watched last year, we didn't do so well in the secondary scoring department. At times, we struggled, and at times, we were good. So I think Bob's main focus was getting some secondary scoring."
Figure to see a second line featuring longtime Finnish buddies Koivu and Teemu Selanne along with Lupul.
3. Weaker blue line
Beefing up the top-six forward group came at a price. Pronger has gone to Philly and Francois Beauchemin left for Toronto via free agency. Huge losses. With Pronger and Niedermayer, Carlyle never worried about key situations -- either one would be on the ice. Now he's got to do more juggling.
"We always had one of them back on the ice after a power play or a penalty killing, so that is a change," said Carlyle. "And we also lost Beauchemin. We have to have some people within our group step up and chew those minutes that those two players had. We're not asking anybody to be Chris Pronger, but we're asking guys to play safe minutes and be able to play in the 20-plus minutes category."
Niedermayer, Luca Sbisa, James Wisniewski, Ryan Whitney and Nick Boynton figure to be the top five blueliners, with Steve Eminger, Brett Festerling, Sheldon Brookbank, Steve McCarthy and Brendan Mikkelson fighting it out for the final two spots.
4. The top line
Once Ryan had his mid-November call-up last season, he caught fire and garnered Calder Trophy attention. He'll begin the year again with Getzlaf and Perry on a scary-good top line.
5. Top pairing
It's not written in stone, but Carlyle is mulling over the idea of starting the 19-year-old Sbisa, another part of the Pronger deal, along with future Hall of Famer Niedermayer on his top defense pairing.
"It's hard to say, depending on how the Sbisa kid accounts himself," Carlyle said mid-camp. "We have a young defenseman that I don't think it's too far out of the realm of possibility to have him play with Scotty Niedermayer if he proves it to us in this camp and exhibition season that he's capable of handling it. But he's still 19 years old."
6. Goaltending battle
Carlyle raised some eyebrows at the start of camp when he declared that the No. 1 goalie job was up for grabs between Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Hiller. The latter had a breakthrough year last season, carrying the team down the stretch and into the playoffs, but Carlyle has given former Cup champion Giguere an opportunity for a reprieve.
"That's his first exposure," Carlyle said of Hiller. "We've seen with athletes before that, over time, they have to prove themselves, not just for three months of the season. And Giguere has already done that. So it's a tough situation for them to be in; it's a tough decision for us to have to make. So we'll let them decide it and we'll see what we come up with."
7. Ryan the leader
Fresh off a career-high 91-point season, the 24-year-old Getzlaf is coming into his own as the franchise player on this team. And a leader.
"I think ever since I've been here, that's been the role I've wanted to play, the role that I've been given," Getzlaf said. "The year after the Cup was a big thing for me when Teemu stepped away for a while and Scotty was gone. We still had Prongs, but losing a big leader like Teemu on the front end, that was my time to step in and fill that role a little bit. I've been able to ease into it and have great guys around me that have enabled me to do that, as well."
8. Poor penalty killing
The Ducks were only 23rd in the NHL in penalty killing last season, a statistic that must improve if they're going to swim with the big boys this season. The addition of Koivu alone should help on that end since the Finnish veteran killed penalties throughout most of his career in Montreal.
9. A scheduling note
The Ducks just need to survive December; they play 10 of 15 games that month on the road, including twice in San Jose.
10. Olympic exposure
The Ducks could be a busy bunch come late February with as many as nine players Olympic-bound: Getzlaf (Canada), Perry (Canada), Niedermayer (Canada), Koivu (Finland), Selanne (Finland), Ryan (USA), Whitney (USA), Sbisa (Switzerland) and Petteri Nokelainen (Finland) are possibilities.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
• Record: 42-33-7
• Division: Second in the Pacific
• Conference: Eighth in the West
• Playoffs: Ousted in second round by Detroit
• We like the makeup of this team and think they'll feed off the near upset over Detroit last season. The Ducks will edge the mighty Sharks for the Pacific and finish first in the Western Conference in a mini-upset.
PACIFIC DIVISION PREVIEW
Experience: Entering 5th NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 1
• Randy Carlyle has been behind the Ducks' bench since the lockout and it's hard to argue with the results -- four straight postseasons, with seven series wins and, of course, a Stanley Cup championship.
His biggest coaching test this season will be to make a Pronger- and Beauchemin-less blue line work while tempering the egos in goal, where he has two deserved starters.
STARTING FIVE ... AS WE SEE IT
F -- Bobby Ryan
• He waited long enough for his chance and didn't waste it, putting up 57 points (31-26) in 64 games after a mid-November call-up and challenging for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.
F -- Ryan Getzlaf
• At 24, it's scary to think he's just entering his prime after already posting 82- and 91-point seasons, respectively.
F -- Corey Perry
• Perhaps the most hated player in the NHL, but he delivered a career-high 72 points (32-40) last season.
D -- Luca Sbisa
• Might be just an early-season experiment, but coach Randy Carlyle is toying with the idea of pairing the 19-year-old talent with future Hall of Famer.
D -- Scott Niedermayer
• The 36-year-old Niedermayer can still produce as shown by his 59 points last season.
Best Bet: Ryan Getzlaf, F: So Getzlaf had offseason surgery to fix a sports hernia injury he played through all last season. If he can score 91 points while dealing with an injury, what can he do now that he's had the surgery and will be ready to go for the start of the season? We have Getzlaf projected to match last year's totals, but it's fair to call that a conservative estimate. Given the departure of Chris Pronger, Getzlaf may be relied upon even more on the power play (if that's possible).
Risky Move: Corey Perry, F: While we have Perry and sophomore Bobby Ryan projected very closely, Perry's numbers should be seen as more of a ceiling than a basement. Perry has offensive skills, no doubt, but he isn't the sniper that Ryan can be. Perry has plenty of 30-goal, 75-point seasons ahead of him, but he may not ever get much more than 80 points. Working in his fantasy favor is the fact that Perry is an agitator on the ice, and he should eclipse 100 penalty minutes. Consider him an upper-tier No. 2 forward.• Player projections | 2009-10 Fantasy Draft Kit
INSIDE THE PROJECTIONS
Puck Prospectus uses its VUKOTA projection system to evaluate every NHL team in pivotal categories, while Will Carroll and E.J. Hradek weigh in on injuries and intangibles, respectively. Get an in-depth look at a new category every weekday leading up to the unveiling of The Mag's full rankings.
Where will the Anaheim Ducks finish this season in Pacific Division?
Make your 2009-10 picks here.