August 07 2012 07:24PM
Once again, it's up to Getzlaf to carry the Ducks offense
Photo by Arnold C, via Wikimedia Commons
I'm not going to lie to you: the Anaheim Ducks were a bad team last year. And they're probably a year or two away from getting substantially better. That's the kind of stuff that happens when you swap out Lubomir Visnovsky for Sheldon Souray, your best players have mostly peaked or are past their prime, you have to fire your Stanley Cup-winning coach mid-season, and the youngsters are not quite ready.
Yet, at the same time, this is an exciting team for me. I love watching Jonas Hiller and Teemu Selanne play; ditto Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf. I have a great appreciation for how Toni Lydman and Saku Koivu play the game, and Cam Fowler and Devante Smith-Pelly can be fun guys to watch on the ice.
But what makes up these 2012-13 Ducks, coming off a dismal 22nd-place finish in Fenwick Close? And why could they be slightly optimistic?
Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Kyle Palmieri - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Andrew Cogliano - Daniel Winnik - Devante Smith-Pelly
Matt Beleskey - Nick Bonino - Brad Staubitz
In the mix: Brandon MacMillan, C/LW
DefencemenCam Fowler - Francois Beauchemin
Luca Sbisa - Sheldon Souray
Bryan Allen - Toni Lydman
In the mix: Mat Clark, RD
In the mix: Viktor Fasth
Key Additions & Subtractions
Probably the biggest subtraction comes with the loss of Lubomir Visnovsky, who was a solid possession player and a great powerplay quarterback. His replacement is essentially Sheldon Souray, but the real message is that Cam Fowler is ready to be the guy.
Sheldon Brookbank and George Parros weren't major losses team-performance-wise, but Parros had long been a fan favourite so there's some sentimental loss there. Jason Blake wasn't a half-bad player at evens, but he was really past his expiration date if you were looking for offence out of him. Losing Dan Ellis doesn't hurt nearly as much when you're absolutely stacked with goaltending potential - the Ducks signed SEL stud Viktor Fasth to complement solid youngsters John Gibson and Frederik Andersen.
Bryan Allen was a solid (if a bit expensive) signing out of Carolina - he's taken on the toughs for years and plays well, but provides zero offence. He's great insurance if Sbisa can't handle the 2nd pair.
Finally, Daniel Winnik should slot into the 3rd line and play some hard minutes, a quality lacking in the rest of the bottom 6. Oh yeah, they signed ruffian Brad Staubitz as well. Yay.
What's to say that couldn't be said last season? There's loads of potential offence in this lineup, but depth and age are perpetually an issue. Ryan, Perry, and Getzlaf are all in their prime, and a bounceback from Getzlaf would go a long way towards bolstering his teammates' results.
Teemu was, and is always, Teemu: great on the powerplay, fairly sound at evens. He and Koivu had great chemistry last year and could continue forever in one another's arms. Beautiful.
The big story is what minty-fresh Kyle Palmieri can do with a full NHL season. He's more than proven himself in the AHL (33 goals in 51 games last year), and is ready to go. The only question will be what kind of ice time he receives.
In general, Winnik is the only guy who sticks out in the bottom 6, though Nick Bonino might have a litte upside. Smith-Pelly is a banger that negated the need for a Staubitz, but so it goes. Ultimately, this team should not come in 26th in the league in shots-for at 5v5 again.
Surprisingly, the Ducks were not necessarily a disaster defensively at 5v5 (9th in the NHL in shots-against), and with the addition of players like Winnik, Allen, and the return of Lydman, they should be able to hold their own in this regard. What they need to turn in their favor is spending less time on the kill; they tied for 6th in the NHL (with Detroit ?!) in most times shorthanded.
Lost in all the teeth-gnashing about Fowler's perceived "sophomore slump" was the fact that he was quite solid at evens and was the victim of extraordinarily bad puck luck, especially in terms of save percentage while he was on the ice (tied for 5th-worst among all defencemen with 20+ GP). It looks like he and Francois Beauchemin are a very good pairing, and I'd expect a full bounceback (by the boxcars and in public opinion) from the youngster.
Losing Visnovsky obviously hurts here, though Souray should mitigate some of the damage. Getting Selanne back should be a huge relief for coach Bruce Boudreau, as the old man definitely still has it (10th among all forwards in SFOn/60 with 2+ mins/60 of 5v4 time).
The Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry line, of course, will contribute in some capacity, though it may or may not be kept intact. If Palmieri can add anything to the mix, expect this powerplay unit to continue to hum along amongst the top 5 in the NHL.
The Ducks actually were pretty strong on the kill (7th in the NHL in shots-against/60 at 4v5), but marginal luck and a large number of times shorthanded tend to undermine team success. Beauchemin, Allen, and Lydman should all be able to help maintain this success, though once again the success will be relative if the PK unit is forced out there alot.
The big question will be what combination of forwards will be out there in support, as it seems they never could settle on a set of lines last year. Maybe sorting out those pieces of the puzzle will increase their effectiveness.
Though Hiller had a scary bout with vertigo in 2010-11, he turned in the busiest season of his career in 2011-12, playing over 4,000 minutes for the first time. This was largely because Jeff Deslauriers is nut-dirt terrible and Dan Ellis's crippling escrow meant he had to forego purchasing his own pair of skates, but I digress...
I suspect Hiller will still get a pretty heavy workload, but it's not like it's undeserved. He's been one of the best goaltenders in the league these last 5 years. As for Viktor Fasth, just remember that Jonas Gustavsson was a great player in the SEL, too.
In the System
The graduation of Palmieri doesn't altogether sap the Ducks' prospect system - in fact, there are a number of very good prospects that are still a year or two away, and should help replace Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu when they retire in 2021.
Rickard Rakell just completed a solid season in the OHL, playing well enough to earn a spot ahead of Palmieri in Corey Pronman's list for Anaheim's top prospects. Peter Holland, William Karlsson, and Emerson Etem could be great 2nd line options in the near future, as they have exhibited strong production in their respective leagues.
Though a reach where he was drafted, Hampus Lindholm will provide a capable offensive defenceman to the big club a few years down the road. The other big time potential is in net, where John Gibson and Frederik Andersen both have the ability to become capable NHL goaltenders down the line.
USHL stalwart Kevin Roy is an intriguing wild card, though a bit small.
Individual: Look for Getzlaf to bounce back this coming season and help Corey Perry challenge the 40-goal barrier. Getzlaf himself should push towards a 70-point season again. If Bobby Ryan sticks around, he's almost a sure bet for 30 goals and 55+ points. Koivu and Selanne will both continue to show their age; I don't think they'll be together on the 2nd line for the whole season.
Bolstered by powerplay points, Selanne should still be able to post around 55 points. Cam Fowler will bounce back and justify his 1st round billing, but I'm suspicious whether Souray will play nearly as well as he did last year.
Still Calder-eligible, Palmieri could definitely be a contender, especially if Ryan is moved and Palmieri gets bumped up to the 1st line. Hiller will have a bit more support and better results, though he'll still be in Anaheim and get half the attention of his equals.
Team: So, remember when I suggested there were reasons for "slight optimism"? They're peppered in with the prose above, but here's another cause for hope: the Ducks were unusually bad early in the year, and their final results - even in Fenwick Close - were probably not entirely indicative of their abilities.
It would be wrong to predict the Ducks could top the Kings in the Pacific, but I could see them in the thick of the playoff race come spring 2013. With a bit of luck, they might even be one of the teams that sneaks in.