2010-11 NHL season preview: Anaheim Ducks

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ducksthreeforwards.jpgLast season: (39-32-12, 89 points, 4th in Pacific Division,11th in Western Conference) Ignore the fact that the Ducks would have been the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference because it ultimately doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that Anaheim keeps sliding since it won the Stanley Cup in 2007, going from a failing contender to a team who miserably flopped out of playoff status last season as the ‘Chris Pronger Curse’ continues. The best moments of their players’ years came outside of Anaheim, as Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf won a gold medal team while Bobby Ryan earned a silver and Jonas Hiller played well during the Olympics.

Head coach: I’ve often wondered just how impressive a coach Randy Carlyle really is. He won a Cup, but that was with a loaded roster that included Ilya Bryzgalov as a backup, Pronger and Scott Niedermayer patrolling the blue line and Getzlaf-Perry on the second line. One must wonder if his job’s in danger if the Ducks waddle their way out of contention again.

Key departures: D Scott Niedermayer, D James Wisniewski, D Steve Eminger, F Mike Brown. Niedermayer’s absence towers over all their losses, as the Ducks lost a Hall of Fame defenseman in each of the last two summers (Pronger in 2009). Wisniewski might have been the next best guy on their blueline. Steve Eminger and Mike Brown are ham-and-eggers, although Brown’s handlebar mustache brought me great joy during Toronto’s preseason games.

Key arrivals: D Toni Lydman, D Paul Mara, D Andy Sutton, D Cam Fowler. GM Bob Murray at least tried to fill some of those defensive holes, with the solid Lydman, up-and-down Mara and ‘expertise’ of Sutton. With first-round pick Fowler already making the team as a rookie, things are as bad on defense as they can be.

jonashillerunderpressure.jpgUnder pressure: Jonas Hiller won’t have a former Stanley Cup winner (J.S. Giguere) breathing down his neck this season. Instead, he’ll play behind the worst Ducks defense in ages. Good luck there, Jonas.

Protecting the house: Hiller is a beyond-solid goalie, as any Sharks fan should remember from their first round playoff match two years ago. The Ducks have benefited from serious competition in their goalie rotations since the days of J.S. Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov, so it will be interesting to see if Hiller could handle a likely Brodeur-type workload. Backup Curtis McElhinney knows all the best time-killing strategies to avert boredom on the bench after settling for Miikka Kiprusoff’s table scraps in Calgary.

Again, the Ducks defense is their clear weak point. Who’s going to shut down Joe Thornton and Anze Kopitar? Will they throw out offensive-minded defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky or second pairing-quality guys like Lydman? I guess the answer to who will stop Thornton, Kopitar and other elite forwards is ‘Hiller, hopefully.’

Top line we’d like to see: Rather than focusing on three forwards since the big three skate with each other often, how about this power-play setup: Forwards: Perry, Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne; Points: Ryan, Visnovsky.

I don’t normally condone forwards playing the point because it exposes your team to dangerous shorthanded counter-attacks, but my goodness, that’s a scary power play.

Oh captain, my captain: Getzlaf got the nod on Oct. 4. Interesting choice.

georgeparrosfights.jpgStreet fighting man: The Cup-era Ducks were the Broad Street Bullies Lite, but this team keeps getting smaller. Still, George Parros owns a legendary mustache (immortalized by fans many times) and some lethal fists. He’s also the product of an Ivy-league education, which means he can beat you in Trivial Pursuit when he’s not pummeling you with knuckle sandwiches.

Best-case scenario: That makeshift defense ends up being better than the sum of its parts. Selanne scores 35 goals because he’s healthy and just knows how to score on the power play. Koivu provides great leadership while Hiller flourishes as the alpha dog in net. Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan becomes the best line in the NHL and the Ducks threaten to win a Cup to the surprise of many.

Worst-case scenario: Selanne and Koivu show their age and struggle with injuries and a lack of ‘zip.’ Hiller falls apart thanks to a big workload and a bad defense. Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan struggle since the team lacks other scoring options (and the trio doesn’t have the financial inspiration of contract years in their near future). The team falls well short of the playoffs and sends Carlyle and his Julius Caesar haircut packing.

Keeping it real: There is no denying that if you played a video game with no line changes, the Ducks would be a contender thanks to their best players. Perry-Ryan-Getzlaf-Hiller is quite the foursome and the Pacific Division is a little softer than last year. But man, that defense and the Ducks’ lack of depth really worries me. It’s possible that no team in the NHL could produce such a wide array of results as Anaheim. The Ducks might shock many and win the Pacific, but they can also be the worst team in the division. My guess is that they’ll either be in third (if Phoenix regresses) or fourth (just ahead of the troubled Stars).

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Ducks earn a 3. I consider three the “If Zone.” They could have a deep run if their older players stay healthy and their defense is competitive yet they could face disaster if those things aren’t there. The Ducks’ upcoming season will be one big cosmic coin flip.

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    Rebuild on hold? Red Wings reportedly eye Girardi, Hainsey, Daley

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    For the first time in ages, the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. To some, the sliver lining was that this might send a message to management to truly commit to a rebuild.

    Perhaps GM Ken Holland & Co. aren’t quite ready for that.

    Look, one or even a couple of potential free agent signings won’t disqualify the Red Wings from going younger. Still, the rumored defensemen they’re targeting aren’t exactly spring chickens.

    Three names floating out there are Trevor Daley, Dan Girardi, and Ron Hainsey.

    Daley was mentioned by The Athletic’s Craig Custance, MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, and the Detroit Free-Press’ Helene St. James. Khan and Custance both mention Hainsey and Girardi, too.

    Even in one-case mentions, the “veteran” theme continues, with Brian Campbell‘s name coming up while forward Thomas Vanek seems like at least a remote possibility to return to Detroit.

    Let’s look at the ages of the defensemen mentioned, noting that Daley is older than some might have expected.

    Daley – 33
    Girardi – 33
    Hainsey – 36
    Campbell – 38

    In the case of Daley and Girardi, you could also argue that each blueliner also has a lot of “mileage” for their age. Girardi, in particular, plays the sort of grinding, shot-blocking style that might have accelerated his troubles with the Rangers.

    As great as experience might be, even for a “final push,” this sends a troubling signal. In Mike Green (31), Jonathan Ericsson (33), and Niklas Kronwall (36), the Red Wings already have an aging group of defensemen. Kronwall and Ericsson are dealing with injuries that may hinder them for the remainder of their careers, too.

    When you also note that Holland exposed 25-year-old goalie Petr Mrazek instead of 33-year-old Jimmy Howard, the picture isn’t especially pretty.

    Maybe the Red Wings can have their cake (push for a playoff rebound) and eat it too (start to transition to youth), yet it’s not necessarily the aggressive move toward a rebuild that many likely hoped to see.

    At least there’s time for Holland to prove these early worries wrong.

    Note: In other Red Wings news, the team signed Ben Street to a one-year extension.

    Blue Jackets sign Schroeder after trading for him

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    Not long after acquiring him in a minor trade from the Minnesota Wild, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Jordan Schroeder to a two-year contract.

    The team confirms that it is a two-way deal for 2017-18 and then becomes one-way in 2018-19.

    Schroeder is guaranteed $350K for the first year of that contract and then $650K in 2018-19, according to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

    The 22nd pick of the 2009 NHL Draft receives a fitting contract: he’s been a “tweener,” bouncing around the NHL and AHL. He hasn’t been able to make much of an impact, Schroeder at least provides some organizational depth.

    That could come in handy, as Portzline indicates that Sam Gagner – not so surprisingly – is expected to garner a lot more attention this time around in free agency. Perhaps Schroeder could serve as insurance for Gagner?

    NCAA star Spencer Foo chooses the Flames

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    NCAA standout forward Spencer Foo decided to sign with the Calgary Flames, as The Sports Corporation and team confirmed. The signing might not be official until free agency kicks off on Saturday, July 1, but he apparently made his decision.

    After managing 25 points in each of his first two seasons with Union College, Foo exploded in 2016-17, racking up 26 goals and 62 points. You can see some of his highlights in the video above.

    He didn’t go drafted, so this could be a case of another scorer blossoming late.

    Foo is an Edmonton native, so playing close to home in Calgary likely factored into his decision. He was connected to the Edmonton Oilers in earlier rumors while MLive.com’s Ansar Khan indicates that his final choice came down to the Flames or the Detroit Red Wings.

    Calgary is already classifying him as a RW. Perhaps he’ll be that long-desired fit for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan? There’s another positive aspect for the Flames, as this might help to soften the blow of giving up a bundle of assets in the Travis Hamonic deal.

    The Sports Corporation tweeted out a photo of Foo, 23, in a Flames jersey:

    Which NHL teams face toughest, easiest schedules in 2017-18?

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    For NHL schedule nerds, Tuesday felt a bit like Christmas.*

    On the Forecheck’s Dirk Hoag is mostly retired from hockey blogging, but he still puts out his beloved “super schedule,” and he combined with Alex Daugherty to do a 2017-18 version, which you should absolutely check out here.

    Hoag and Daughtery listed all 31 teams’ total miles traveled and also their number of back-to-back games for next season.

    Here are the top five teams for most miles:

    1. Avalanche – 48,639
    2. Flames – 47,931
    3. Blackhawks – 47,926
    4. Coyotes – 46,856
    5. Oilers – 46,815

    Note: the Panthers are the sixth-ranked team and face easily the most travel among East teams with 44,395, up from 41,891.

    Now, here are the bottom five for travel time:

    31: Penguins – 34,041
    30: Devils – 34,052
    29. Sabres – 34,175
    28. Red Wings – 34,759
    27. Maple Leafs – 35,689

    The Los Angeles Kings tend to be frequent flyers, but not here; they face the least travel of any West team with 39,915.

    That’s not the entire picture, however. These teams face the most back-to-back sets:

    1 (tied) – Penguins and Senators with 19
    3. Hurricanes – 18
    4 (tied) Blackhawks, Blue Jackets – 17
    6 (tied) Blues, Islanders, Sabres, and Devils – 16

    While these teams face the fewest.

    1. Jets – 9 (Winnipeg faces 43,296 miles of travel.)
    2. Canucks – 10
    3 (tied) – Avalanche, Oilers, Predators, Ducks, and Rangers – 11

    Oh, and in their inaugural season, the Vegas Golden Knights travel 42,128 miles and must endure 12 back-to-back sets, so they deal with a pretty middle-of-the-road haul.

    ***

    As you can see, plenty of teams see their low travel rates balanced out by high back-to-back game totals. The Penguins are a good example of that.

    Then again, some teams just suffer tough draws. As much as conspiracy theorists love to harp on the Blackhawks, they face the third-most travel miles and deal with 17 back-to-back sets.

    On The Forecheck’s full list can be seen here, yet they are not the only outlet to do some interesting schedule analysis. Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy put together a list of rested/tired games for each team:

    Though he also narrowed it down in a way that might make the biggest difference: a rested home team facing a tired road opponent.

    Long story short, it’s difficult to really boil down who has the toughest schedule based on one metric. It’s a subjective matter, as you can weigh these “rest/tired” factors, go broad with sheer back-to-back sets, and even lean on jet lag more than anything else.

    Still, if you’re the type to wear a tin foil hat, the lists above could really help you cook up some theories about the bad hand your team allegedly drew.

    (Opinion: it does seem like Chicago faces more than just salary cap challenges next season, however.)

    * – Or whatever holiday resonates. So, Festivus?