2008-09 Team Preview: Anaheim Ducks
OUR EXPERT'S TAKE
By Scott BurnsideThings are a lot calmer in Anaheim this fall than they were a year ago. When camp opened in 2007, the Ducks were fresh off a summer of celebrating their first Stanley Cup win. They were without two future Hall of Famers in Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, their top goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere and top defensive forward Samuel Pahlsson and were jetting across the Atlantic Ocean to open their regular season in London.
GM Brian Burke told ESPN.com things are "light years" different this season. "A year ago, I sensed we weren't prepared at all for the season," Burke said. "We never really got into sync."
Although they played better in the second half, when Niedermayer and Selanne both decided they weren't ready to hang up the blades, the team's offense never got clicking and they were dispatched by Dallas in six games in the opening round of the playoffs.
This summer, despite rumors that Burke is headed to Toronto as soon as his contract officially ends next summer, the GM got Niedermayer to commit early and has Selanne in training camp, even though it was on a tryout basis, prior to dealing Mathieu Schneider to Atlanta to free up cap room.
It's hard to believe, but the Ducks ended up with the 28th-ranked offense in the NHL last season. Part of that was the early absence of Selanne and Niedermayer, some of it was the ill-fated decision to sign Todd Bertuzzi to a two-year, $8-million deal (he ended up with just 40 points in 68 games).
"Last year, we never really got two lines going. We played with one line for the bulk of the year and you can't do that," Burke said.
The Ducks shouldn't struggle nearly as much this season. Morrison should respond to a change of scenery after a couple of desultory campaigns in Vancouver; look for him to find some magic with Selanne. Chris Kunitz, who saw his production dip slightly from 60 points to 50 last season, will likely get a shot at working with Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, both of whom should continue to put up impressive numbers. This would be a good year for Bobby Ryan to step his game up after he had 10 points in 23 games with the big club. The second player selected after Sidney Crosby in the 2005 draft, Ryan is leaner and will compete for playing time in the top six. For the Ducks to return to contender status, they'll also be counting on significant production from the back end, where Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin should be able to chip in somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 points (the trio had just 89 in 2007-08).
When you start with the rock-solid Giguere in goal and then consider Beauchemin, Pronger and Niedermayer, it's no wonder the Ducks' bread and butter is to keep the puck out of their own net and take what they can get on offense. Even without Schneider, the three still represent one of the most impressive defensive units in the NHL. In terms of team defense, the Ducks still have some of the best checking forwards in the NHL with Rob Niedermayer, Travis Moen and Samuel Pahlsson, a unit that played a key role in the Ducks' 2007 Cup win.
Giguere remains one of the top netminders in the NHL, finishing second with a 2.12 GAA and third with a .922 save percentage. He is also one of best playoff goalies of his generation. Swiss-born Jonas Hiller returns as a backup after an impressive turn in his first NHL season. He went 10-7-1 with a 2.06 GAA and .927 save percentage. Impressive numbers for the No. 2 man in Anaheim.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
FROM INSIDE THE GM'S BRAIN ...
By Jay FeasterThe biggest improvement in Anaheim is the presence of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne in training camp. Not that it was easy. Selanne still took his time deciding whether to play, and that created some salary-cap problems for the Ducks. However, GM Brian Burke was able to make it work by trading Mathieu Schneider to Atlanta and moving fellow blueliner Sean O'Donnell to L.A.
The Ducks are a hungrier team this season and the Stanley Cup hangover is long gone. Despite moving two quality defensemen, Anaheim is still loaded on the back end. Niedermayer and Chris Pronger are each capable of logging almost 30 minutes of ice time per night. Imagine the flexibility provided a coaching staff when, if you desire, you can basically have one of those two defenders on the ice for the entire game!
Up front, the Ducks will require continued improvement from Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Chris Kunitz, as well as a year of solid production and good health for free-agent acquisition Brendan Morrison. You can also expect the Ducks to lead the NHL in fighting majors again this season. These Ducks are mighty once more.
Jay Feaster served as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2001-02 season before resigning last season. He is a contributor to ESPN.com.
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• Record: 47-27-8
• Division: Second in the Pacific
• Conference: Fourth in the West
• Playoffs: Ousted in first round vs. DAL
• What is it they say about February being the coldest month? Well, in Anaheim, the Ducks will play nine of 12 games away from the Honda Center Feb. 4 through March 3. The trip includes six straight road games over 12 days with stops in Detroit, Columbus, Buffalo, Boston, Dallas and Chicago.
Experience: 3 years
Stanley Cup titles: 1
• This will be an interesting year for coach Randy Carlyle. After biding his time coaching in the AHL, Carlyle had instant success with the Ducks, taking them to the Western Conference finals in 2006 and winning the Cup a season later. He will have to show the players -- many of whom remain from the Cup-winning season -- he can adjust and correct the mistakes that were made in 2007-08. Given his personality, watch for the Ducks to get off to a much better start.
STARTING FIVE ... AS WE SEE ITF -- Ryan Getzlaf
The big winger is on most people's early list for the Canadian Olympic team, but it will be interesting to see how he responds after Anaheim's disappointing finish. It's one thing to put up points -- he had 82 to lead the Ducks by a large margin -- it's another to become a more complete hockey player and leader.
F -- Corey Perry
He suffered a lacerated quadriceps tendon against Colorado in early March and was sidelined for the rest of the regular season before appearing in just three of six playoff games for the Ducks. But Perry had 29 goals and, at 23, will be looking to take another step forward this season.
F -- Chris Kunitz
Kunitz played a key role for the Ducks during their Cup-winning season with 60 points and, as an undrafted collegiate player, symbolized the great job the Ducks' staff had done in unearthing talent. Kunitz's totals dropped marginally last season, but he is a consistent performer who should be in the 60-70 point range.
D -- Scott Niedermayer
How important is Niedermayer to Anaheim? After he returned to the lineup Dec. 16, the Ducks went 32-12-4, the best record of any NHL team over that period. While the team responded to his return, Niedermayer himself never seemed to find the groove that earned him Conn Smythe honors in 2007. He finished with just 25 points in 48 regular-season games and two points in six postseason contests last season.
D -- Francois Beauchemin
What's not to love about a guy that was cast off by Columbus and then turned into a minute-eating, hard-shooting, hard-hitting defenseman? With Schneider out the door, Beauchemin will see his minutes go up and should also enjoy a jump in his point production.
Answer: Yes. After a disappointing season, the temptation is to engage in wholesale change. Burke points out no team has appeared in as many playoff rounds at the NHL and AHL level as the Ducks' organization over the past three years -- 14, eight at the NHL level, six at the AHL level.
"I know what these guys can do despite our playoff performance last year," Burke said. "From the net out, we can compete with anybody. The elements are still there that made us successful two years ago."
Bust: Chris Kunitz, LW: Kunitz's production slipped by 10 points last season and he'll be pushed for quality ice time by youngsters Bobby Ryan and Ryan Carter, as well as newcomer Joakim Lindstrom.
Fantasy outlook: Despite problems in trying to get under the salary cap, the Ducks are looking more like their 2007 Stanley Cup champion team because they'll have winger Teemu Selanne and defenseman Scott Niedermayer for a full season. Young stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are only getting better and will be worth high picks in fantasy drafts for their talents and toughness. On defense, no team has as good a 1-2 combination as Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, and goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere deserves to be a high pick among goalies in any fantasy league. -- Jim Wilkie