After a terrible first half, the Anaheim Ducks, under the direction of newly-hired head coach Bruce Boudreau, nearly stormed back into the playoff picture last season with an aggressive second-half surge.
It ultimately wasn't enough, but one has to wonder: Will a full season under Boudreau be what the doctor ordered in Anaheim?
In recent years the Ducks have been thought of as one of the better teams in the Western Conference, and last year's poor start came as somewhat of a surprise.
So what, if any, indicators point to the Ducks getting back to the top of the food chain in the Western Conference and making it back to the playoffs?
Let's take a look.
Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf both under-performed last year and are both due for comeback seasons, especially considering they're in the last year of their contracts and will be playing for keeps all season.
If even just one of these players gets back to the 90-plus point season they are capable of, the Ducks will be in a much better place than they were last season, where neither player produced more than 60 points.
With the signings of Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen during this offseason, the Ducks' defense got a lot bigger and a lot stronger. Add to that the mainstays of the Ducks' blue line, like Cam Fowler, Toni Lydman and Francois Beauchemin, and you've got a formidable defensive core that is certainly an improvement over last year.
This is also good news for Jonas Hiller, who should be set to get some extra shot-blocking help from Allen and Souray.
The Ducks have a well-stocked farm system, with several young forwards set to make an impact at the NHL level.
Forwards Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem will both likely get significant playing time this year. If they can make it count, the Ducks will have even more offensive weapons to distribute throughout their first three lines.
An unusually bad year for the Ducks' power play shouldn't occur twice in a row. With Perry, Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne all piled onto the first unit, they'll be a frightening sight for any group of penalty killers. Add to that Souray's shot from the point and you've got even stronger power play that should produce at a high percentage.
If the Ducks' sometimes-questionable second power-play unit can pick up the pace, they'll have a huge part of last year's problem solved pretty quickly.
Boudreau had almost an immediate impact in the Anaheim locker room midway through last year, and it showed during the second half of the season. The response was positive enough to make a serious push for a playoff spot before ultimately falling short.
With a full offseason at Boudreau's disposal, he'll have ample time to implement more fully his game plan and strategy. If the Ducks' roster continues to respond positively, Anaheim fans can hope for more than just competing for a playoff spot late in the year.
If the Ducks can sustain last year's second-half success an entire season, then they'll be in great position come next April and will likely be competing for home ice advantage, rather than a low-seeded playoff berth.