Ducks: Five Things You Need To Know
By Scott Burnside
If coach Bruce Boudreau can bottle and redistribute to his players whatever it was that saw them go on a tear after he took over for former coach Randy Carlyle on Nov. 30, then the Ducks will not just return to playoff contention but perhaps even to Stanley Cup contender status. The good news is the Ducks crawled from a deep hole to within a few points of a playoff berth in late February but ultimately ran out of gas and finished with a 34-36-12 mark, last in the Pacific Division and 15 points in arrears of the last playoff spot. They have won just one playoff round since winning the Cup in 2007, and this season looms large with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf both slated to become unrestricted free agents at the end of this shortened season. Of all teams in the NHL, the need for a solid start is perhaps most acute in Anaheim.
1. Replicating Success
For a good chunk of the second half of the season, it looked like Boudreau was going to guide the Ducks on an amazing rags-to-riches journey that would end with an unlikely postseason berth. The Ducks were 20 points out of eighth place in early January but closed to within four points after a Feb. 23 victory in Carolina. The Ducks had the fifth-best record in the Western Conference from Jan. 1 to the end of the season and went 14-6-1 in their last 21 games at home. Over their final 44 games, the Ducks were 24-14-6, a pace that would certainly have them joining the playoff dance if they can replicate that over roughly the same period of time this season. Boudreau will be reminding his players of that period of time as he prepares them for this shortened season.
2. Offensive Touch
Of course, it all begins and ends for the Ducks with the big three: Bobby Ryan, Perry and Getzlaf. The trio's struggles to find a groove early on last season buried them in the standings and cost Carlyle his job. But the bottom line is that all three got going to varying degrees under Boudreau. Perry led the team and all Western Conference players with 37 goals and, from January on, he was fourth in goals league-wide with 23. Over the past two seasons, Perry has shown a flare for late-season dramatics with 40 post-All-Star break goals. Ryan, meanwhile, notched his fourth straight 30-goal campaign (he had 31), a feat that puts him in pretty impressive company. He and Alex Ovechkin are the only current NHLers to have four straight 30-goal seasons to start their careers. Only seven players (Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla, Ilya Kovalchuk, Phil Kessel, Rick Nash and Patrick Marleau) have had four consecutive 30-goal seasons heading into this campaign. The question remains: What is the future for all three with the Ducks? Ryan's name has come up in trade rumors the past couple of years -- much to his annoyance -- while both Getzlaf and Perry can become unrestricted free agents at the end of the coming season. The feeling is the Ducks will not watch either walk away without getting anything in return next summer, so if the Ducks struggle, look for trade talks to dog the team from the get-go. "I know it [the contract situation] will be the focus of some media attention," Boudreau said. "If it affects them, I hope it's in a positive way. I think everybody would like it to be resolved one way or another."
3. Blue-Line Depth
The good news for the Ducks is that they should be tougher defensively this year, as Toni Lydman and Francois Beauchemin are both healthy and raring to go (unlike last season when both were hobbled). Also, Luca Sbisa and Cam Fowler are ready to take another step up the NHL star ladder. Throw in veteran Sheldon Souray, who signed a two-year deal last summer after reviving his career in Dallas last season, and veteran Bryan Allen, and the Ducks should have a nice blend of sand, skill and size on the back end. "We're definitely bigger and stronger back there," Boudreau said. Boudreau is also enthused about the possible contributions of Finnish defenseman Sami Vatanen, who is injured but should be available in a matter of days.
4. Teemu. Enough Said
The good thing about the lockout is that it didn't cost hockey fans another glimpse of one of the game's true legends. And who knows? If the Ducks go to the playoffs and make some noise, who knows whether this will be it for Teemu Selanne after all? One thing that seems clear is that time is no match for the peerless No. 8. Last season, his 20th in the NHL, Selanne collected 26 goals and 66 points. It was the 17th season in which he had at least 20 goals. His presence in the Ducks' locker room remains unquantifiable and his gift to the game likewise.
5. Sprint To The Postseason
Like every team, the Ducks will be hoping there's enough depth on both sides of the puck to sustain them through what will be a grueling run to the playoffs. Boudreau is looking for support from guys like Peter Holland, the 15th overall pick in 2009 who was clicking at almost a point-a-game pace for the Ducks' AHL affiliate during the lockout. Kyle Palmieri, another first-rounder from that 2009 draft, had 33 goals a year ago at the AHL level and will get a look this season from the big club. Boudreau is also excited about the development of Devante Smith-Pelly, who was a pleasant surprise during a stint with the Ducks at the end of last season. The addition of veteran defensive forward Daniel Winnik will also help the Ducks' grit factor. "We're going to have solid depth throughout our lineup," Boudreau said.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering sixth NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 0
Best bet: Corey Perry
Perry's drop in production from his 2010-11 Hart Trophy season was expected and, considering the performance of some of his teammates, was not altogether severe. In a season of dwindling offense for the Ducks, Perry's 37 goals and 60 points were not all that bad. No, it's not the 50 goals and 98 points he scored two seasons ago, but very few expected Perry to repeat those lofty numbers. Perry does nearly everything right and fills one category that is usually a black mark against elite scorers: penalty minutes. Perry has been in triple-digit PIMs in each of the past five seasons. The overall low point totals for Perry last season cannot be blamed entirely on him, as linemate Ryan Getzlaf had an absolutely dismal campaign. And while he slipped to 37 goals, that was still good enough to tie for sixth in the NHL. There is nothing wrong with considering Perry an elite asset coming into this season, and, in fact, he could reward beyond expectations if Getzlaf can get his game back on track.
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Ducks:
• May 9: Re-signed C Saku Koivu.
• July 1: Signed D Sheldon Souray, D Bryan Allen, D Jordan Hendry and RW Brad Staubitz.
• July 2: Signed D Matt Smaby.
• July 12: Re-signed RW Teemu Selanne.
• July 13: Re-signed C Nick Bonino.
• July 20: Signed C Daniel Winnik.
• Sept. 15: Re-signed D Cam Fowler.
• D Lubomir Visnovsky (traded to NY Islanders)
• LW Jean-Francois Jacques (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida)
• RW George Parros (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida)
• D Sheldon Brookbank (unrestricted free agent, signed by Chicago)
• LW Jason Blake (unrestricted free agent)
• G Dan Ellis (unrestricted free agent)
• LW Niklas Hagman (unrestricted free agent)
• C Rod Pelley (unrestricted free agent)