It seems that as we go along, the Season Previews take on a certain level of popularity.
They're so popular in their second year, that there are now at least two other versions of them on Bleacher Report!
Right here however, is the only place you'll find the predictions going in order of my misguided theory as to where the teams will finish. That is, until I forget that I didn't do the Los Angeles Kings and have to preview the Dallas Stars after the Phoenix Coyotes.
Am I kidding? Or was this simply a clever way to include both links in the article so you can go back and check them out?
And before you even ask: No, I'm still not done with the Kings. What? You think I rush these things? Nope. By the time I'm done an entire league's worth, it's taken so long I usually look like this.
Unfortunately no one like this ever appreciates the effort.
2008/09 Record: 42-33-7, 91 points, 8th in West—Lost 4-3 in Conference Semi Finals to the Detroit Red Wings
Additions: Nick Boynton—D (1 year/$1.5mil), Saku Koivu—C (1 year/$3.25mil), Joffrey Lupul—RW (Trade w/Philadelphia), Luca Sbisa—D (Trade w/Philadelphia), Steve McCarthy—D (1 year), Justin Pogge—G (Trade w/Toronto), Evgeny Artyukhin—F (Trade w/Tampa Bay)
Subtractions: Chris Pronger—D (Trade w/Philadelphia), Joe DiPenta—D (F/A-Buffalo), Francois Beauchemin—D (F/A-Toronto), Rob Niedermayer—F (FA), Drew Miller—F (Trade w/Tampa Bay)
The Anaheim Ducks didn’t necessarily shock the world by upending the San Jose Sharks in the first round of last year’s playoffs, but they proved that even an off year can’t keep the Ducks down, taking the Western Conference champs (Detroit) to seven games in the second round.
The season was still a tumultuous one: Jean-Sebastien Giguere was forced to deal with the emotional anchor of his father’s passing, which obviously hindered his play. They were then the fodder of numerous trades involving Chris Pronger, based on the assumption Anaheim wouldn’t make the playoffs.
The Ducks turned the tables on everyone however, picking up some solid pieces for their defense while swapping out some expendable pieces at the trade deadline and holding on to Pronger (for the time being).
With the changes on the Ducks’ defense, they’ve certainly infused some fresh blood into the system.
Gettin’ Jiggy on a Hill-Top?
We talked about the setbacks that Giguere forced himself through in 2008/09, but the biggest reason the Ducks were able to stay successful was the play of Jonas Hiller.
Acting in a long line of convincing Ducks backups, (Remember the Ducks—and the Toronto-bound Francois Allaire—sold teams on the fact that Martin Gerber and Ilya Bryzgalov could start) Hiller posted a sparkling season going 23-15-1 with a 2.39 goals-against and a .919 save percentage.
Going forward these look like more realistic totals for the Swiss-born netminder, rather than the miniscule 2.06 GAA and .927 save percentage in his 23-game stint in 2007/08.
Even so, those 08/09 numbers are still only bettered by six of last year’s goalies.
The 3.10/.900 season of Giguere is one that many didn’t expect, and with a clear mind he can make that a distant memory. However, Giguere will have to prove (as will Hiller) that his success isn’t merely from the works of Allaire, while the Montreal-native is going to have to re-assert himself as the number one man in Anaheim.
Changing of the Guard…
Yes Scott Niedermayer is back, but it’s only for one more year. The Ducks realized that in the off-season and, not wanting to be hampered by the impending hole on the blueline, did the only thing they could.
Trade Chris Pronger.
While the Ducks could’ve tried to fit both in under the cap for another year and then kept Pronger to offset the Niedermayer loss, unless the Ducks wanted a team full of fourth-line players, that scenario wasn’t feasible.
Instead, the Ducks were able to deal half of their $12-million pairing and acquire a big building block for the future in Luca Sbisa—a trade that insighted a very mean-spirited text message from Alan Bass.
On the bright side, he was living in Toronto at the time, so I also heard the yelling.
Sbisa is a tall kid (6’2) who still has some room to fill out, but Flyers fans were drooling over this kid’s future in the City of Brotherly Love.
Now, Sbisa has a year to learn under one of the best defensemen many of us have ever seen (and a true winner at that) and work with a core that has many different weapons.
James Wisniewski (acquired at the trade deadline from Chicago last year) posted 11 points in 17 games. Not bad for a power play quarterback who was buried on a Chicago depth chart but still registered 13 points in 31 games in the Windy City. Wisniewski has a great shot from the point, but also the vision to move the puck around as well, adding a smaller, quicker dimension to the defense in the absence of Pronger.
Breaking his career-high of 26 points (from 2007/08) should be no problem for the Canton-native in Anaheim, especially alongside such a promising young puck-mover in Ryan Whitney (who already has a pair of 40+ point seasons to his credit in his career).
While Nick Boynton can’t replace the all-around threat that Pronger was, he can be that physical presence in the Ducks’ end that they need.
What Boynton becomes for the Ducks is a defenseman who is tougher to play against than Francois Beauchemin was, but less offensively inclined than Pronger was. Boynton can also eat up minutes, as early-on last year he was playing 20-25 minutes with the Panthers, but was scaled back to 14:00-17:00 as the season wore on.
Getting back to the young defenders, Sbisa will be joined by Brian Salcido and Brendan Mikkelson. Both are offensively inclined, but need to commit more to the defensive side of the game, while Brett Festerling looked good in an extended look stay year.
Festerling really started to settle in after December 23, after that he was a plus-5 with four of his five points.
Gettin’ by with Getzlaf…
The Ducks’ forwards are certainly a source of strength.
Ryan Getzlaf is one of the best forwards in the game and he certainly proved it last year with his first 90-point campaign. Although the goal-scoring potential looks to level off around the 25-27 mark, pairing Getzlaf with big-time scoring wingers like rookie sensation Bobby Ryan (31 goals) or Teemu Selanne (who will most likely crack 600 career goals this year) will only continue to boost those assist totals (especially if Bobby Ryan continues to improve).
Although the signing of Saku Koivu does help the Ducks’ depth down the middle as well as gives them an experienced face-off man, it crowds out Andrew Ebbett who gave the Ducks four solid months of production when the calendar flipped to January last year.
Anaheim does have Corey Perry and his 72 points to keep that secondary scoring going, but to watch the development of Ebbett would’ve been a real boost to the Ducks’ offense.
Joffrey Lupul brings in another 25 goals with him, but unless a younger player (The name Matt Beleskey comes to mind but it may still be too soon) can step up and offer the Ducks some more scoring, there isn’t much to offer Ebbett in terms of third-line support, as the roster features the likes of Todd Marchant, Ryan Carter, Mike Brown and Troy Bodie.
The added toughness of Evgeny Artyukhin will help keep some of the smaller forwards (Marchant and Ebbett) on the ice, but he'll offer nothing more than third-line production on their wing.
Oh, and whatever facial hair George Parros is sporting this year is going to be there (and fighting) too.
So what's it all mean...
The Ducks have the pieces in net to compete and they know that. If Giguere is back to his old Conn Smythe/Stanley Cup-winning self, then there’s no problems between the pipes, especially with Hiller there playing tandem.
The defense may have taken a small step backwards, but only in the size and experience departments. Although it’s hard to match the towering presence of Pronger, there is still physicality back there and the Ducks may be even better at moving the puck with the likes of Whitney and Wisniewski, while Salcido and Mikkelson have the opportunity to make some good impressions back there.
After a bit of a turnover in a rough year, the Ducks look to be back to their level of performance, and know that—wherever they stand—they can compete with the big boys in the conference.
2nd in the Pacific
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile, and you can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to check out all of his previous work in his archives.