It’s ironic how in their first season after losing the “Mighty” from their team name, the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. Now, seven seasons later, they’re arguably even mightier.
The 2006-07 Ducks earned 110 points, while this edition of the team is on pace for 122, but that’s just half of the story. Through half of this season, more specifically, the Ducks lead the league with a 28-8-5 record (heading into action Monday night). They’ve done so on the strength of an unbeaten-at-home-in-regulation 14-0-2 record and a league-best 14-8-3 road record…all despite being second in man games lost with 196 (the Pittsburgh Penguins have 220).
Defying the Odds
Indeed, the Ducks lead the league despite having lost players like Teemu Selanne (in his final season), Saku Koivu, Jakob Silfverberg, Emerson Etem, Sheldon Souray and Francois Beauchemin for extended periods of time.
Digging deeper, there’s even less reason why the Ducks should be in the position they’re in currently. For example, the Ducks have been getting by on relatively pedestrian goaltending from starter Jonas Hiller (.913 save percentage through 26 starts).
Consequently, they’ve been forced to get it done largely on offense, with pretty much every move made by management and head coach Bruce Boudreau, who’s no stranger to high-octane offense, turning to gold.
For example, while the haul the Ducks got for perennial 30-goal scorer Bobby Ryan from the Ottawa Senators this past summer was impressive (Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a 2014 first-round pick), replacing him on the top line with perennial bust Dustin Penner wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.
Rejoining the Ducks after having left for the Edmonton Oilers following that championship season, Penner now has 24 points in 33 games. He scored just 37 total points over the last three seasons. Linemates Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are meanwhile averaging over a point per game (on the “PPG” line, no less), leading the charge on offense.
Currently third in the league with 3.15 goals per game, trailing only the Chicago Blackhawks (3.67) and the St. Louis Blues (3.50), the Ducks own an above-average shooting percentage of 10 percent. Needless to say, these Ducks aren’t the ones currently lined up in row.
Digging Even Deeper
While that percentage should realistically regress toward a more average rate of nine percent, the Toronto Maple Leafs ended the 2012-13 season with one of 11.47 percent, the Tampa Bay Lightning ended 2012-13 with one of 10.42 percent and the Ducks themselves managed one of 10.07 percent to end 2010-11.
Since the 2004-05 lockout, the highest shooting percentage sustained over an entire season has been 12.33 percent by the Buffalo Sabres in 2006-07. So, it is entirely possible that the Ducks continue to get by as they have been.
In fact, summing shooting and save percentages, the Ducks own a PDO measurement, which estimates how lucky teams are, of 1.012. That’s the same as the Blackhawks, and most wouldn’t exactly consider Chicago, a team that hasn’t been nearly as dominant as during its Stanley Cup-winning season last year, “lucky.”
What the Advanced Stats Say
However, what separates Chicago from Anaheim, and other Stanley Cup contenders from the Ducks, are strong possession metrics, like Corsi, which tracks all shots and shots attempts on the net (including ones that get blocked).
Whereas the Blackhawks have a 55.8 percent Corsi For rating at even strength, the Ducks are 20th in the league with 49.6 percent.
Other elite teams like the Los Angeles Kings (55.9 percent), St. Louis Blues (54.0 percent), Boston Bruins (53.4 percent), San Jose Sharks (53.6) and Pittsburgh Penguins (50.9) all manage to get off more shot attempts than their opposition.
In regard to Fenwick For (like Corsi but without blocked shots), Anaheim places better at 13th in the league with 50.8 percent. However, Chicago (55.3), L.A. (54.7), San Jose (54.6), St. Louis (54.4) are the top four teams while Pittsburgh (52.9) and Boston (52.5) are comfortably in the top 10.
Some might say that advanced stats aren’t that reliable, but the championship Blackhawks were third in Fenwick last season (54.9). The Kings were fourth the season before (53.7). The Blackhawks were first in 2009-10 (57.8), just as the Detroit Red Wings were in 2007-08 (59.0).
The only notable exceptions here are the 2010-11 championship Bruins, who were 16th (50.1 percent) and the 2008-09 Penguins, who ended the season 19th (49.0). However, the Pens had a rating of 54.9 under Dan Bylsma that season after Michel Therrien was fired. That rating would have been third best in the league.
Comparing the 2014 Ducks to the 2007 Edition
Rather inconveniently, advanced possession stats only started being collected in 2007-08, just after the Ducks last won the Cup. So, fans may never really know how these Ducks compare in terms of possession numbers.
However, looking at traditional stats, the 2007 Pacific Division-championship Ducks definitely had the edge, and that’s putting it politely:
-Now sixth in actual shots on goal per game (31.8; seventh in 2007 with 31.5)
-Seventh in shots against per game (27.7; fifth in 2007 with 27.4)
-10th in goals against per game (2.42; seventh in 2007 with 2.42)
-26th on the power play (14.5 percent; third in 2007 with 22.4 percent)
-17th on the penalty kill (81.4 percent; fifth in 2007 with 85.1 percent)
-22nd on faceoffs (48.8 percent; sixth in 2007 with 51.8 percent)
All the stats arguably prove this Ducks team is a middle-of-the-pack one that’s been overachieving and will quite possibly endure a worse second half. Alternatively, maybe all the stats show is a team that’s been forced to play 60 percent of its games on the road with a far-from-healthy lineup night in and night out.
However you look at it, what can’t be taken away from them, though, is that they’ve still been winning. It’s incredibly impressive stuff…unparalleled resiliency, or heart if you’d like to put a word to it. They still lead the league. That cannot be denied.
As such, perhaps the one stat that may be the most relevant to Ducks fans is the following: Only eight of 27 teams who have won the Presidents' Trophy have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
Assuming the Ducks continue to lead the league, though, all they need is one to prove what they already know to be true—that they are for real. The term lame duck describes players in a game who cannot possibly win. Obviously, that’s not these Ducks, as they stand more than a fighting chance. They’ve proven that much at least.
Are They Favorites?
The story’s only been half-written up to this point, and admittedly, few analysts know exactly what to make of Anaheim. To answer the initial question, it is too early to call the Ducks Cup favorites, as too much can go wrong in the second half. However, it’s also too early to call anyone else a favorite either.
With Selanne retiring and all, what they very well might be, however, are sentimental favorites. Everyone loves a happy ending.