Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL, leading to the start of this hockey season. Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page. Today we take a look at the 2013-14 Anaheim Ducks.
Nowhere in recent memory has the hiring of a new coach made more of an impact than when the Ducks dropped Randy Carlyle in favor of Bruce Boudreau in November of 2011. Under Boudreau, the Ducks had a massive turnaround in the second half of the 2011-12 season (though still missing the playoffs) that continued in 2013. Anaheim got off to an absolutely blazing start, losing only three games in regulation through the first 29 contests, en route to the club’s first division title since 2007.
All the credit can’t go to Boudreau alone, as a certain captain with a fat new contract named Ryan Getzlaf saw a turnaround in his game. The 28-year-old center picked up 49 points in 44 games to lead the offense, while the usual cast of characters (Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne) provided enough scoring to push the Ducks into the top ten for goals scored.
On defense, Francois Beauchemin looked rejuvenated, drawing whispers of a Norris nomination from some corners of the hockey world, while Sheldon Souray had an excellent season as well.
In goal, incumbent Jonas Hiller shared the starts with SEL veteran and 30-year-old rookie Viktor Fasth. Despite the latter having better regular season numbers, Hiller got the start against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs. After finishing second in the West, the Ducks were heavy favorites over the Wings, who snuck into the playoffs by just a few points. While the Ducks had two chances to eliminate the Wings in games six and seven, they just couldn’t put Detroit away, largely thanks to a 1-3 OT record. One has to think with a few lucky bounces that Anaheim could (and probably should) have advanced, however the hockey gods are often cruel and they found themselves out of the playoffs too soon after their incredible regular season.
It’s long been known that, in a salary cap world, Anaheim was eventually going to have to do something about their three-headed monster of Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan up front. Once Getzlaf and Perry signed nearly identical eight-year deals before the season, the writing was on the wall for Ryan. The Ducks finally found a trading partner in the form of the Ottawa Senators and on the opening day of free agency Ryan was shipped off for a package including young forwards Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen, and a first round pick.
While Silfverberg may not be able to replace Ryan’s offense initially (if ever), he had a solid rookie season and is on the upswing of his career. Noesen is likewise a prospect who shows good potential and one or both could eventually replace Selanne and Koivu in the top six over the next couple of seasons.
On the free agent front, Anaheim brought back the enigmatic Dustin Penner, a power forward famous for his lack of effort who has shown more consistency in recent years. The Ducks are hoping that he can regain some of the form he showed with the Ducks when he scored 29 goals in 2006-07 before being poached by the Edmonton Oilers via an offer sheet. Anaheim also added Zack Stortini for toughness (in a division that is bound to be full of it) and defenseman Mark Fistric for depth. More importantly though, the re-signed Koivu and the ageless Selanne to one-year deals at relatively cheap prices. While the Ducks certainly altered their core with the trade of Ryan, it’ll be mostly the same cast next season that dominated the division last year.
Story Lines To Watch:
- Can Corey Perry regain his Hart Trophy form? While Perry was no sloutch in 2013, his 15 goals and 36 points mark the second straight season that his offensive totals have regressed (even taking the shortened season into account). A dynamic Perry up front is going to be essential for the Ducks to overcome the loss of Ryan and continue to be one of the top offensive threats in the league.
- Who’s the starting goalie? The question is simple, the solution is a bit more complex. Fasth proved to be a revelation in his rookie year, winning his first eight starts, and was a huge reason for the team’s early success. Hiller however is the previously noted incumbent, and it looks like the job is his to lose…for now. Boudreau made it quite clear last season that he won’t hesitate to start either goalie, and it seems that whoever is hot at the moment will get the majority of the ice time. It gets a little bit more complicated than that though when you consider that Hiller is in a contract year, and is likely looking for a raise on his $4.5 million salary for next year and beyond. With both goalies being 31 years old, there’s a good chance that whoever performs better this season will be the Ducks goalie of the future, and cap considerations give Fasth the edge with John Gibson coming down the pipeline in a few years.
- Can the Ducks win a second straight division title? It may be a bit more difficult under realignment. The Vancouver Canucks, winners of five straight Northwest titles, should give them a run for their money. Old Pacific foes LA, San Jose and Phoenix are all still contenders, while Edmonton is certainly on the upswing. Aside from the woeful Calgary Flames, there will be no easy nights for the Ducks, and I expect the division will be a dog fight until the very end.
- Can the defense hit the back of the net with regularity? Last season the Ducks defense scored on 17 goals combined, with 13 of them coming off the stick of Souray or Beauchemin. Relying on the 37-year-old Souray to continue his level of play or Beauchemin not to regress is asking a bit much. More will be needed from the likes of Ben Lovejoy, Luca Sbisa and rookie Sami Vatanen to provide offense from the back-end. I’ve got a feeling not to expect too much though, and the Ducks may look to upgrade the defense by the trade deadline, if not earlier.
Players To Watch:
Corey Perry, without a doubt. Getzlaf will lead the way while Selanne, Koivu and Silfverberg should provide adequate scoring depth, but Perry is the engine that powers the offense. If he can regain even half of the form that he lost over the last two season, the Ducks top six will again be a force. Seeing as how this is an Olympic year, all of the aforementioned should have a little incentive to get off to a hot start.
Not to be overlooked though is young Emerson Etem. The 2010 first round pick and California native showed brief flashes of offensive brilliance last year and may be looking forward to playing a larger role. At only 21 years old, Etem might be the prime candidate for a break-out season. Also keep an eye on Kyle Palmieri. Even though it seems like he’s been around forever, Palmieri is still only 22-years old and has put up excellent numbers in the AHL over the past couple of seasons. Like Etem, Palmieri is a prime candidate for more ice time. Should any of the top six fall to injury, Etem and Palmieri are ripe to take their place and produce.
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