With only 30 days before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the Anaheim Ducks, whose big moves in the offseason could bring them back stronger than ever. With the loss of the legendary Teemu Selanne to retirement, the Ducks will have one less leader in the locker room, but after consecutive trips to the playoffs, and finishing last season at the top of the Western Conference, it appears the Ducks may be working their way back to Cup contender status.
Last Season – The Anaheim Ducks 2013-2014 season started off rocky, beginning the year with 6-1 embarrassing loss to the Colorado Avalanche and their hot-headed coach, Patrick Roy. The game was notable, not only because it was Roy’s first as a coach in the NHL, but also because the two coaches almost came to blows by the end of the night. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, both in that game and in the Anaheim Ducks’ season. Anaheim used home cooking to coast through the regular season, earning 29 wins at the Honda Center, including a 20-win stretch to begin the season. There was hope that the Ducks’ overwhelming success at home would lead to a Stanley Cup Final appearance, after securing the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, but instead, Anaheim saw its in-state rival, the Los Angeles Kings, roll off three straight wins to eliminate the Ducks in seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Offseason – It was depth that doomed the Anaheim Ducks in the playoffs, and it was depth that they addressed in the offseason. The Ducks made the first major move of the NHL’s offseason after trading for Vancouver center Ryan Kesler at the NHL draft. This trade immediately addressed one of the biggest holes in the Anaheim lineup, the position of a second-line center. Ryan Getzlaf has long filled the center role in the first line, and after a Hart-worthy season, it is hard to say he has been anything but successful. However, the Ducks always seemed to treat the second line as an afterthought, filling the center role with the veteran Saku Koivu or youngster Nick Bonino. With Jacob Silverberg and Andrew Cogliano on the wings, Ryan Kesler should be able to center a solid second line that is just as good defensively as it is dangerous offensively.
The offseason also saw the Anaheim Ducks end the brewing goalie controversy that began to form last year. Youngsters John Gibson and Frederik Andersen began to push long-time Anaheim goaltender, Jonas Hiller, out the door, and by the end of the year, the Ducks felt comfortable enough with the duo to allow Hiller to sign with the Calgary Flames.
The Anaheim Ducks also signed Dany Heatley for a throw-away contract of only $1 million for one year. Heatley is not the same dangerous winger that he was in his prime, and it is unlikely he will be taking any leadership roles in the locker room, as Selanne did, but he still should be serviceable enough wherever he is placed in the lineup.
What to Watch for This Season – There are a few question marks surrounding the Anaheim Ducks, which could determine their place as a Stanley Cup contender. The first is the play of their young goaltenders. Both Gibson and Andersen have shown to be effective in small doses, but this will be the first year as a starter for either youngster. The jump from 20 games to 50-60 could easily wear on a goalie that has not properly trained himself in the offseason, and with many other contending teams hosting long-time veterans in net, a drop in play in that position could spell disaster.
The Ducks young defensemen also need to continue to develop. While the Ducks roster does have a few veteran defenseman, it is the youth that will do the heavy lifting. Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and Hampus Lindholm will have to maintain, or preferably improve, their play from last season for the Ducks to have a shot at the Stanley Cup. While Francois Beauchemin and Bryan Allen can guide these young defensemen, should struggles arise, there are only so many minutes that the two veteran players can play and still be effective. It will come down to the young trio to lead their team to victory.
Finally, coach Bruce Boudreau should be watched carefully this year. With Getzlaf, Kesler, and Corey Perry not getting any younger, the Anaheim Ducks’ window to win another Cup could be a relatively small one. Boudreau has shown time and time again to be an effective coach in the regular season, but his playoff record shows a disturbing trend of being unable to adjust over the course of a long series. It was an issue in Washington, and it again appeared last year against the Los Angeles Kings. Last year’s elimination could have simply been a blip on the radar for the Anaheim Ducks, but if this season sees another quick exit from the playoffs for this Cup-contending team, Boudreau could find himself on the hot seat sooner rather than later.
Join the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow, where 30 in 30 will examine the enigmatic Arizona Coyotes.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner