Defending Big D continues to look towards the 2011-2012 season and the Dallas Stars' Pacific Division competition. Today, we'll take a look at the Anaheim Ducks: the team that seems to be in stasis.
The Ducks seemed to rid themselves of several of their older players, with Marchant, Lilja and Ruutu all in their mid to late 30s. The one loss that will be interesting to see affect the Ducks will be the loss of Ray Emery. A steady and reliable backup to Jonas Hiller is now gone, and the Ducks find themselves going into camp with a streaky backup as well as the unknown health status of Jonas Hiller (who suffered from vertigo for most of the second half of the season last year.)
The Ducks improved down the center by acquiring Andrew Cogliano, who is expected to push Saku Koivu for the second line center position. The rest of the signings appear to be depth signings, much like the Stars did with the signings of Adam Pardy and Jake Dowell.
Big Question Mark:
Teemu Selanne is still contemplating whether he is coming back this season or whether he wants to officially hang the skates up. Recent reports have Selanne making his decision in September, around the time that camp will start up. Plenty of players have decided to come back even after the season starts, so for now there is no clear cut picture of which way Selanne appears to be leaning. For selfish reasons, I'd like to see Selanne retire if only because I'd appreciate fewer goals scored against the Stars.
After the jump, we'll hear from Jen at Anaheim Calling for a Ducks fan perspective of their offseason as well as a look at what to expect this year from the Ducks.
Jen from Anaheim Calling on the Ducks offseason:
For those not intimately acquainted with the Anaheim Ducks, I can break down our off-season in two simple words: "Teemu" and "boring".
Teemu Selanne has been the heart and soul of the Ducks organization after returning to the club post-lockout with a completely reconstructed knee. Since winning The Cup (sorry Dallas fans for bringing that up, but it is [somewhat] integral to my point) we have been left to wonder "will he or won't he" at each season's end. Fortunately he's come back each of the last four seasons and been exactly who we expect him to be - Teemu effing Selanne. Last season, he was third on the team in goals with 31, behind Corey Perry's 50 and Bobby Ryan's 34. Teemu lead the team in power play goals with 16, propelling the Ducks to the third best power play in the league. Did I mention he's 41 years old? By losing Teemu, our depth on right wing goes from Corey Perry directly to veteran enforcer George Parros and perennial frequent flyer Dan Sexton. Long story short, Teemu's off-season started like normal with his returning to Finland in late June. A Finnish newspaper reported (later confirmed by the Ducks) that the winger had his previously reconstructed knee scoped. Flash forward to where we are now, Teemu announced he wouldn't be making a final decision until September. Which brings me to the boring part of the off-season.
Following the lockout, the Ducks were purchased by Broadcom billionaire Henry Samueli. Samueli has tightened the budget because the Ducks aren't making money the same way they used to. This off-season GM Bob Murray stated that he was given an internal budget of $56 million. He had about $8-ish million dollars to work with beyond the already guaranteed contracts. Not surprisingly, the Ducks did nothing and July 1st was the most boring day of my life. The biggest change to our roster was sending overpaid and underperforming defenseman Andy Sutton to Edmonton for defensemen Kurtis Foster. Later on in July we picked up the negotiating rights for RFA center Andrew Cogliano from Edmonton for a draft pick and struggling minor league d-man Mark Mitera. Cogliano signed a new deal and will play for the big club. The other minor signings Murray made were to stack our AHL team full of players with two-way contracts. The Ducks are now at about $52 million in payroll, and I can guarantee you that the $4 million hanging in the air is already written on a check for Teemu if/when he returns. The team is handcuffed until hearing from Selanne.
Going into this season, I'm cautiously optimistic. There isn't much doubt in my mind that Selanne will come back if he feels his knee can hold up. A clever move by the Ducks was to plan to open the season in Selanne's native Finland. The only other huge question mark is the health of goalie Jonas Hiller. When healthy, Hiller is absolutely superhuman. He carried the Ducks the first half of the last season until falling ill to vertigo. The team is reporting that Hiller is in good spirits back in his native Switzerland, but nothing on if he actually started skating in July as reported he would. Hiller's backup is the streaky Dan Ellis. I have Dan Ellis Problems. He is easily rattled and prone to Goalie 101 mistakes. The Ducks had a safety-net in Ray Emery. Yet, after what he did in the playoffs, he deserves a starting gig and a big pay raise. Unfortunately, the Ducks couldn't give him that. We'll find out at camp how Hiller has progressed, otherwise it's the frightening (?) goalie tandem of Ellis and TBD (we have six extra goalies - not kidding). I do have some stability in my life, though. We've still got the RPG Line of Bobby Ryan, MVP Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf. As much as people hate them, they really are one of the elite lines in the league. Such a homer thing to say, but it's true. For once in the post-Scott Neidermayer Era we've got a clear view of the defensive core coming in to camp. Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman had fantastic seasons. Trading to bring back Francois Beauchamin helped by way of adding another veteran mentor for youngsters Luca Sbisa and wunderkind Cam Fowler. The only other murky point is our third line. We know that Cogliano will center it, but his wingers are up in the air. Camp and the preseason games will be the big audition for all the Ducklings (rookies and AHL-ers) to fill those spots.
Once again the Pacific Division will be insanely competitive. Last season, the Ducks were picked to miss the playoffs and ended up finishing fourth (on the back of Perry). That's kind of how we roll lately. I like to think of it as setting the bar low and then delivering higher than expected. To all you Dallas fans, I can only wish you the worst of luck. Your success means we're not doing something right :) And please, for the love of all things holy, keep Duck Hunter Loui Eriksson away from my team.
As long as the Ducks continue to have Star killer Lubomir Visnovsky, the tilts between the two teams will most likely continue to have proverbial daggers thrown into Stars fans hearts with all of those late game tying/winning goals. On the plus side, we'll get to see Loui "Duck Hunter" Eriksson (who scored a point in each game versus Anaheim last season) do more of this:
Finishing at least third in the Pacific is probably what it is going to take to get into the playoffs this year. After a late season surge and an early round exit from the playoffs last year, do you think the Ducks will have enough depth and solid enough goaltending to beat out the Coyotes and the Stars to get back to the playoffs again this year?