The Anaheim Ducks defeated the NHL-leading Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon—but don't worry if you missed it. There is a strong possibility the two teams will be meeting again in the Western Conference Final.
The Red Wings have been the class of the NHL this season, and for the past five years or so. Yet the Ducks continue to prove that they should draw just as much respect and attention, despite their slow start to the season.
Many considered the Ducks to be a strong candidate to win back-to-back championships after signing defenceman Mathieu Schneider and winger Todd Bertuzzi to fill the holes left by the potential retirements of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne.
The club struggled early on, and that should have been expected, as it usually happens to defending Cup champions, especially after the change of key personnel. Most thought the Ducks would be able to compete at the same level as last year with the replacements.
Now Niedermayer and Selanne are back, and playing with the men who replaced them, which makes this Ducks squad one of the scariest teams in the league simply by nature of their depth. The addition of Doug Weight, a veteran centre with a Stanley Cup ring, has made the team as strong as any. Their top six forwards are highly respectable, and they have arguably the best defensive core in the game, and a dynamite, playoff-proven goalie in J-S Giguere.
Over recent weeks, there have been many rumours linking the Ducks to the two biggest names on the market right now—free agent Peter Forsberg and Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin. After the signing of Selanne, the Ducks will likely no longer be interested in signing either of these two Swedish legends.
Brian Burke has no need to acquire another top-six forward, there is simply not enough room on this already tremendously deep roster. They have about $3 million (US) in cap space, and that money would be best invested in a veteran backup netminder.
With the 18 skater positions solidified for another deep playoff drive, Burke's best bet would be to look for someone to support Giguere. There is no question that he is proven and motivated, and playing some of the best hockey of his season right now. But should Giguere get injured, or need to attend to personal matters, rookie Jonas Hiller might not be the answer to fill in.
Ducks fans got a bit of a scare last year when Giguere missed most of the first round while attending to his ill son, but that was when they had Ilya Bryzgalov, one of the best backups in the business. Bryzgalov was shipped to Phoenix this season, leaving the rookie as the heir to the net behind Giguere.
If J-S faces another family emergency, or personal injury this season, how far will the Ducks be able to ride their rookie backup, who has just 15 games of NHL experience? Now there aren't many options available to Burke, but I think this should be the GM's top priority.
That said, barring any major injuries, or a team-long slump, this club is very capable of repeating as champions in the NHL. They have the forward depth, the defensive strength, and most importantly, the necessary intangibles—veteran leadership and playoff experience, not to mention great coaching—to bring Lord Stanley's mug back to the California sunshine.
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