2011-12 Anaheim Ducks Preview
Thanks in large part to a late-season Corey Perry scoring surge, the Anaheim Ducks were able to call themselves a playoff team last season.
With the club's No. 1 goaltender, Jonas Hiller, sidelined for most of the second half, Perry notched 19 goals in the span of a month to help his club secure a postseason berth for the fifth time in six seasons.
In the end, Perry finished 2010-11 with 50 goals and walked away with the Hart and Rocket Richard Trophies. Not bad for a guy who is often overshadowed by his own Anaheim linemates, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan.
But, despite entering the postseason as a fourth seed in the West, the Ducks were bounced out in the opening round by Nashville. It marked the first time the Predators had ever won a playoff series and it was the second time Anaheim had lost in the first round since winning its one and only Stanley Cup title in 2007.
The Ducks' powerful top line has allowed the club to rebuild on the fly and Anaheim will have Teemu Selanne back to supply further scoring punch. However, the 41-year-old winger underwent surgery on his left knee over the summer and it remains to be seen how the knee will hold up during his 19th NHL campaign.
Head coach Randy Carlyle also hopes Hiller is healthy after missing a big chunk of last year, including all of the playoffs, with vertigo. Getting Hiller back to normal is key for Anaheim's 2012 playoff chances.
FORWARDS - The bulk of Anaheim's offense load was shouldered by five players last season -- the four forwards mentioned above and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky.
With his 98-point season, Perry staked his claim as the most dangerous right winger in the league, but now that he's thrust himself into the elite forward conversation, he needs to prove he can stay there. After all, before exploding for 50 goals a year ago, the 26-year-old Perry had averaged just over 29 goals per year in his previous three campaigns.
But, with Ryan and Getzlaf also in tow, Perry shouldn't have to put forth a Hart-caliber season every year for Anaheim to be successful.
Getzlaf, 26, is one of the best playmaking centermen in the league and was fourth in the NHL last year with 57 helpers in just 67 games. He has posted at least 50 assists in four straight seasons, but has notched just 19 goals in each of the past two years.
At 24, Ryan is the youngster of the top unit, but he has recorded over 30 goals in each of his three full seasons as an NHLer. Last year, the second overall pick of the 2005 draft potted 34 markers and also set a career-high with 71 points.
Selanne, meanwhile, finished second on the club with 80 points, but there was a huge drop-off in terms of forward scoring for Anaheim after that the top- four. Veteran center Saku Koivu -- Selanne's Finnish compatriot -- came next after Ryan's 71 points, posting just 45 points on 15 goals and 30 assists.
Centerman Andrew Cogliano was brought in this summer in a trade with Edmonton after posting 11 goals and 35 points in 2010-11. Cogliano, who signed a three- year deal with the Ducks, had 18 goals in each of his first two NHL seasons, but has a total of 21 markers in his next two campaigns.
Other options at forward include veteran Jason Blake, who at 38 years old, is in the final year of his contract. Blake notched 16 goals and 16 assists for Anaheim last year.
Also, keep an eye out for rookie centerman Kyle Palmieri, who Anaheim selected with the 26th overall pick in 2009. Palmieri had 51 points (29 goals, 22 assists) in 62 games with Syracuse of the AHL last year
DEFENSE - Visnovsky not only led all Anaheim defensemen with 68 points, he was also the top-scoring blueliner in the entire league.
Yet, despite finishing first among NHL D-men with 50 assists and second in goals with 18, the Slovakian did not make the cut as one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy.
Visnovsky was a big reason Anaheim was ranked third in the league in power- play efficiency last year, as 31 (5g, 26a) of his 68 points came while on the man advantage.
The offseason trade for Kurtis Foster could help Anaheim's power play get even better. He had a down year with Edmonton in 2010-11, posting just 22 points (8g, 14a) in 74 games, but he had 42 points (8g, 34a) in 71 games just two years ago in Tampa.
In addition to Visnovsky and Foster, Ducks also boast steady veteran defenseman Toni Lydman and blossoming blueliners Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa.
Lydman will likely be paired with Visnovsky again after posting 25 points (3g, 22a) and a team-best plus-32 rating in 78 games last year.
Fowler, meanwhile, appears to be the club's No. 1 defenseman of the future. He began last season as an 18-year-old rookie and went on to post 10 goals and 30 assists over 76 games.
Sbisa, 21, is more of a work in progress, but the Ducks, who acquired him two years ago when they dealt Chris Pronger to Philadelphia, still think highly of the young Swiss blueliner. He had two goals and nine assists in 68 games with Anaheim in 2010-11.
Francois Beauchemin is also expected to be in the top-six for Anaheim. This is his second stint in Orange County after getting traded back to the Ducks from Toronto during last season.
GOALTENDING - Hiller's lengthy absence came at a horrible time for Anaheim last year, but the Swiss netminder is expected to be free of the vertigo symptoms that dogged him down the stretch in 2010-11.
Hiller was 26-16-3 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 49 games (46 starts) last year. However, he made just three starts from February on due to his illness.
Hiller is in the second of a four-year, $18 million contract this season and should be eager to prove he's worthy of such a big investment.
While Ray Emery helped offset the loss of Hiller last year, the Ducks will rely on Dan Ellis as the main backup in 2011-12. Ellis came over in a trade with Tampa Bay shortly after Hiller's vertigo symptoms surfaced and went 8-3-1 with a 2.39 GAA and .917 save percentage with the Ducks.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - The Ducks certainly have enough talent to get back to the playoffs, but the lack of depth up front and the youth at the back end prevents them from being a serious Cup contender. Expect Carlyle to lead his club to one of the last seeds in the West, but another first-round playoff exit could be in the cards if GM Bob Murray doesn't manage to add a big piece during the season. Considering how much turnover Anaheim has had since winning it all in 2007, things could be worse.