From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.
1. Most Stanley Cup winners have “that guy” on the blue line
Don’t just take it from us.
“You watch the Kings, for example, and you watch how Drew Doughty has emerged as a superstar,” said Ducks GM Bob Murray earlier this summer. “Do we have a defenseman who can be that way? When we won the Stanley Cup, we had [Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger]. That’s in the back of my mind all the time. Where is that guy, can you find that guy, and can you afford that guy?”
The closest the Ducks have to a “that guy” is Cam Fowler, a 22-year-old whose yet to really enter the Norris Trophy conversation. That’s not meant as a criticism of Fowler; it’s just reality. Maybe he can get into the conversation this season. He’s got the talent.
And to Murray’s credit, he’s assembled a decent collection of blue-liners, with Fowler and other promising youngsters like Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, plus veteran Francois Beauchemin and new addition Clayton Stoner.
You just can’t deny the correlation between teams with truly elite d-men and teams that win Stanley Cups. It’s hardly a new phenomenon. Heck, just consider last year’s final four:
— Montreal, with P.K. Subban;
— New York, with Ryan McDonagh;
— Chicago, with Duncan Keith
— Los Angeles, with Doughty
That’s what Murray’s talking about when he talks about “that guy.”
2. The “kids”
Also known as John Gibson, 21, and Frederik Andersen, 24. Further known as, the two goalies the Ducks are hoping can lead them to the Stanley Cup.
Combined starts in the NHL: 27.
“It’s funny how this business is,” said Murray. “We go from having the deepest goaltending, everybody’s talking about it. Now, all of a sudden it’s the two kids, who are very good players. It’s the way it’s come about. I’m sure they’re up to the task.”
They certainly have the potential. Gibson is about as highly touted as it gets for goalie prospects, while Andersen went 20-5-0 with a .923 save percentage last season. Goaltending could easily be a strength for Anaheim.
But it doesn’t take a great imagination to picture what could go wrong. So much of goaltending is mental, and the mental game is not always a strength for young athletes.
Throw the pressure of championship expectations on their young shoulders and, well, in the words of Murray, “we’ll see how it goes.”
3. Ryan Kesler has a tendency to get hurt
Shoulder surgery. Hip surgery. Wrist surgery. The new Ducks’ center has had them all. Now 30 years old, one has to wonder about the cumulative wear and tear on a body that’s played 655 regular-season games, plus 57 of the playoff variety and a bunch more in two Olympic Games.
Not that Bruce Boudreau shouldn’t be excited to have a center of Kesler’s caliber playing behind Ryan Getzlaf.
“I’ve never coached a team in the NHL that’s had a second-line center that you’re going to have with Ryan Kesler,” Boudreau said in July. “It’s a great [acquisition], and it gets you excited.”
But the challenge will be to keep the hard-charging Kesler healthy, something he couldn’t stay for the entirety of Vancouver’s deepest postseason run, back in 2011. By the time the Canucks took on the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, he was basically playing on one leg. Not long after came the hip surgery.
Remember that the Ducks didn’t give up nothing to get Kesler. Nick Bonino was their third-leading scorer last season, with 22 goals and 27 assists. He was a valuable piece of that team.
“I’m going to Anaheim to win a championship,” Kesler said when he was traded. “That’s going to be my sole goal and my team’s sole goal. That’s basically it.”
Anything less will be a disappointment.