Published August 01, 2011
If hockey were basketball, where the stars regularly play the large majority of minutes, the Anaheim Ducks would be among the NHL's elite.
The Ducks' first unit can play with anyone.
The line of Ryan Getzlaf centering Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry -- the NHL's lone 50-goal scorer in 2010-11 -- and Bobby Ryan is one of the League's most dangerous. The three players combined for 103 goals and 245 points last season, and those numbers might have been higher had Getzlaf not missed 15 games with sinus fractures after taking a puck to the face. The big three were so dominant that future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne (31 goals, 80 points) was a second-liner.
The Ducks also boast the NHL's top-scoring defenseman, Lubomir Visnovsky, as well as Cam Fowler, who had 10 goals and 40 points as an 18-year-old rookie, and Toni Lydman, whose plus-32 rating was second in the League. In goal, Jonas Hiller was good enough to make the All-Star Game.
That's an impressive core -- especially if Selanne opts to return for another season at age 41 -- and it was enough to earn Anaheim a fourth-place finish in the West and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against Nashville. But while the Ducks were able to overcome a case of vertigo that sidelined Hiller for most of the second half of the season, they missed him in the postseason. Nashville, one of the NHL's weakest offensive teams, piled up 22 goals in a six-game victory.
GM Bob Murray has revamped his defense during the summer while trying to add depth up front to enable the Ducks to rely less on their big line. The biggest questions are whether Hiller will be recovered from his illness, and whether Selanne decides to play again.
If Selanne decides to retire, he would be one of the biggest losses for any team entering the new season. With 80 points, including 31 goals, the Finnish Flash became only the third player (Gordie Howe and John Bucyk are the others) to average a point a game for a full season after turning 40. Selanne has 389 points in 380 games with the Ducks during the past six seasons. He had arthroscopic knee surgery during the summer, but was skating lightly by late July.
One veteran Duck who won't be back is long-time checking center and penalty-killer Todd Marchant, who retired after 18 NHL seasons. Marchant's production (8 points in 79 games) dropped sharply last season, his sixth with the Ducks. He's staying with the organization as director of player development.
Also gone are veteran defensemen Andy Sutton, who was traded to Edmonton, and Andreas Lilja, who signed with Philadelphia. Depth forwards Kyle Chipchura (Phoenix), Jason Jaffray (Winnipeg) and Josh Green (Edmonton) left as free agents. Murray also opted not to re-sign goaltender Ray Emery, who played well down the stretch as an emergency pickup but likely would have been buried behind Hiller and Dan Ellis.
The most important newcomer is center Andrew Cogliano, acquired from Edmonton for a 2012 second-round draft pick and signed to a three-year deal. Cogliano, a first-round pick (No. 25) by the Oilers in 2005, never has matched the 45 points he totaled as a rookie in 2007-08. But with Getzlaf firmly ensconced as the No. 1 center, there will be less pressure on Cogliano to produce big numbers in Anaheim than there was in Edmonton.
Cogliano has 57 goals and 146 points in 328 games through four NHL seasons -- he's never missed a game since turning pro four seasons ago. He could emerge as the No. 2 center, adding speed (he won the fastest-skater competition at the All-Star skills contest in 2009) and faceoff skills, as well as some scoring; at worst, he's an excellent No. 3 center behind Getzlaf and Saku Koivu.
The Ducks also revamped their defense by adding veterans Kurtis Foster from the Oilers (in a deal for Sutton) and Matt Smaby, a free-agent signing from Tampa Bay, as well as youngster Mathieu Carle from Montreal in a deal for minor-leaguer Mark Mitera. Foster, who had 8 goals and 42 points with Tampa Bay two seasons ago, slumped to 8 goals and 22 points with the last-place Oilers. However, his booming shot from the point should be a good fit with Visnovsky on the power play. Smaby provides depth and size, while the Ducks hope Carle, a 23-year-old who has spent four seasons with the Canadiens' AHL affiliate in Hamilton, is ready to contend for an NHL job.
GM Bob Murray also made a number of depth signings, including goaltender Jeff Deslauriers, defenseman Bryan Rodney and forwards Mark Bell, Andrew Gordon and Jean-Francois Jacques. Bell, 30, is getting a second chance in the NHL after playing the past two seasons in Switzerland. Gordon, a 25-year-old who scored 37 goals for AHL Hershey last season but got lost in Washington's glut of forwards, could be a sleeper.
The Ducks have the firepower to play with anyone -- the Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan trio is an elite unit, Cogliano adds speed, and Visnovsky, Fowler and Foster will provide plenty of offense from the blue line.
The big questions for the Ducks are Selanne's status and Hiller's health.
There's no doubt Selanne still play can -- he had 10 goals in his final 11 regular-season games and scored 6 more in the Ducks' six playoff games. He's also a fan favorite, a not-inconsiderable factor for a team that's battling the Los Angeles Kings for attention in Southern California. Losing him to retirement would be a major blow, on and off the ice.
Hiller's return to the form that earned him an All-Star Game berth is a must. He made only two starts after Feb. 2 and was unable to dress for the Ducks' playoff series against Nashville. Dan Ellis is a competent backup, but Hiller is by far the organization's best goaltender; being without him for any length of time would put the Ducks in a hole.
With Selanne and a healthy Hiller, the Ducks should be a playoff team and could press the Kings and San Jose Sharks for the Pacific Division title. Without those players, Anaheim will have to scramble for a playoff berth.