ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) The Anaheim Ducks have stayed the course, even as a second Stanley Cup title has eluded them.
They have stuck with their core players, staying true to a philosophy of building from within and only adding via trade or free agency without making undue sacrifices of future flexibility. It is an approach the Ducks believe will be rewarded, perhaps as soon as next spring.
The Ducks won another division title last season and outlasted the surging Edmonton Oilers in a fantastic seven-game series before falling to the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference final. Injuries decimated the Ducks as they lost in six games, playing without top goal-scorer Rickard Rakell and midseason addition Patrick Eaves, while others dealt with the usual postseason bumps and bruises.
Those sorts of ailments would seem to be the only thing that can keep the Ducks from reaching the playoffs for the sixth straight year. Center Ryan Kesler could be sidelined until January because of hip surgery, though it didn’t impact his sense of humor during the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, where he joked that he would abscond with the motorized scooter Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson was using to get around after his own offseason medical procedure.
“It’s going to take a while,” Kesler said in June. “It sucks, but it had to be done. It was a struggle all year.”
With Kesler out, Rakell has been working at center in training camp. The Swede scored a career-high 33 goals last season but the hope is that featuring him as more of a playmaker can offset the loss of Kesler’s offensive production. As for Kesler’s ability to frustrate the opposition’s top line, there are few players in the sport capable of so consistently mucking things up.
Rakell hasn’t exactly been gung-ho about the switch, preferring to play alongside captain Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf had 73 points last season, notching a point in 17 of the Ducks’ final 22 regular-season games, and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
“He’s got to get over the personal view of it that he wants to play with Ryan Getzlaf. So do I, if I was player, but that’s just not the way it’s going to be right now,” head coach Randy Carlyle said. “We don’t have that luxury.”
Here are more things to know about the Ducks:
DEFENDERS DOWN: D Hampus Lindholm (shoulder) and Sami Vatanen (shoulder) could miss the first month of the season as they recover from offseason surgeries. However, the Ducks have plenty of options until they return. Francois Beauchemin, who spent nine years with the Ducks in two previous stints, is back for a third go-round. Brandon Montour came up big in the playoffs as a rookie. And Cam Fowler will get more opportunities to justify the eight-year, $52 million extension he inked in July.
MILLER TIME: After three seasons in Vancouver, G Ryan Miller signed a two-year deal with the Ducks to back up John Gibson. At age 36, Miller started 54 games and allowed 2.80 goals with a .914 save percentage, and should be more effective as a spot starter with an upgraded supporting cast. Gibson started a career-high 49 games last season, and then manned the net for 16 playoff games.
LEAVING MONEY IN VEGAS: The Ducks got the Vegas Golden Knights to take D Clayton Stoner and his pricey $3.25 million cap hit in the expansion draft, helping give them the flexibility to re-sign Eaves on a three-year contract. The man with the mighty beard scored 11 goals in 20 regular-season games after being acquired from the Dallas Stars in a trade, and added two goals and two assists in seven playoff games before being hampered by a high-ankle sprain. But the Ducks had to give up promising D Shea Theodore to get the Knights to take Stoner and pass on one of the many other youngsters on the roster.
PACIFIC POWERS: The streak of nine consecutive division titles by the Colorado Avalanche, including one from their final season as the Quebec Nordiques, seems unlikely to ever be matched in the salary-cap era. But the Ducks are making a solid push, having won the Pacific Division five years in a row.
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