Ducks start season with expectations higher than ever

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Anaheim Ducks have made eight playoff appearances since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007. They've also won five consecutive Pacific Division titles and advanced into the Western Conference finals twice in the past three seasons.

Consistent success. Winning. They skate on the same line in Anaheim.

The new-look Arizona Coyotes and first-year coach Rick Tocchet are searching for their own sustainable formula. The Coyotes, minus longtime captain Shane Doan, visit the Ducks on Thursday night in the season-opening matchup for both teams.

Doan, who announced his retirement Aug. 30, spent all 21 of his NHL seasons with the Coyotes' organization. He retired as the franchise's career scoring leader (972 points).

Arizona's 30-42-8 record in 2016-17 -- good for a sixth-place finish in the Pacific Division -- cost former coach Dave Tippett his job.

The Coyotes also cut ties with goaltender Mike Smith, who spent the past six seasons with Arizona and compiled a 2.69 goals-against average.

Coyotes general manager John Chayka signed center Derek Stepan, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and goalie Antti Raanta during the offseason. Chayka and team owner Andrew Barroway believe the newcomers will compliment Arizona's youthful roster, including rookie winger Clayton Keller.

Keller was drafted seventh overall in 2016. He impressed during preseason games, seeing action on the top line with Derek Stepan and Max Domi.

"We've always been committed long term, but we made a real effort this offseason to win now, and I think you guys are going to be surprised by what you see on the ice," Barroway told The Arizona Republic. "We made aggressive moves. No one would say we were timid, but we did it because we did what we thought was best for our team."

The Coyotes' first test is the Ducks, a team that finished 35 points ahead of them in last season's division standings.

Ryan Getzlaf, former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry (717 career points) and other veterans have found ways to keep the Ducks mighty.

Getzlaf was 25 when he began serving as team captain seven seasons ago. Postseason success has defined his legacy. He has 118 points in 121 career playoff games.

"The ultimate goal is to build an organization where you don't have to rebuild," Getzlaf told the Orange County Register.

Getzlaf and Perry were rookies when Anaheim claimed its lone Stanley Cup. They learned from Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer. Now they act as mentors to a new core of young players.

Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase battle for minutes on Getzlaf's line. Rickard Rakell and Brandon Montour play with an abandon learned from Getzlaf, Perry and center Ryan Kesler, who is out indefinitely as he continues to recover from offseason hip surgery.

The Ducks remain hopeful the 33-year-old Kesler will be able to return before Christmas.

"As of right now, there is no timetable whatsoever (for Kesler's return)," Anaheim general manager Bob Murray told "He has to rebuild his glutes and quads. That's what we're in the process of right now. I'm hopeful to have him back before Christmas, but that's all I'm going to say right now."

Kesler had 22 goals and 36 assists last season, adding seven assists during Anaheim's playoff run, which ended in a six-game loss to Nashville in the Western Conference finals.

The Ducks gave All-Star defenseman Cam Fowler an eight-year extension worth $52 million during the offseason. They also locked up the services of right winger Patrick Eaves for three more seasons.

Eaves, 33, had career-high totals in goals (32) and points (51) last season. Traded from Dallas to Anaheim on Feb. 24, he quickly grew to appreciate the Ducks' winning culture.

Eaves scored 11 goals in 20 games with Anaheim, helping his new team finish regular-season play with a 46-23-10 record and edge second-place Edmonton (47-26-4) for another division title.

Goalie John Gibson returns as the Ducks' No. 1 option after posting a 2.22 GAA in 52 games last season. Adding depth behind Gibson, Anaheim signed veteran 36-year-old veteran Ryan Miller to a two-year, $4 million deal in early July.

Eaves and Miller will both begin the season on injured reserve, joining Kesler and defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen. Eaves missed the entire preseason schedule with a lower-body injury.

"(Eaves) didn't respond favorably but didn't take a setback," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle told the Orange County Register on Wednesday. "So that was the encouraging part."

The Ducks and 6-foot-3, 217-pound defenseman Josh Manson, 25, reached terms on a four-year contract extension Wednesday. Manson, a sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft, had 17 points last season, but is a physical player.

Opening the new season against the battle-tested Ducks provides the Coyotes an immediate hurdle. It also offers them a chance to prove themselves against a top-tier division rival.

"Listen, I get it," Tocchet told Sports Illustrated. "We have a lot of youth. We're an inexperienced team. But you've got to let these guys spread their wings and grow.

"There are going to be mistakes. Absolutely. But if the mistakes are hard-working mistakes, or their hearts are in the right place when they make a mistake, that's fine. I've got no problem with it."

Tocchet, as an assistant coach, helped lead Pittsburgh to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships before taking the reins in Arizona.