And a child will lead them? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
SBN Season Previews are under way. Your Ducks preview after the jump...
The season is best summed up as, "Woops," and I mean, Woops from the starting gate. Murray has previously explained his vision for last year's team, a vision of blueline-offense backing up three scoring lines, something in the vein of Detroit or Pittsbrugh. It makes you wonder if there's a parallel dimension where it worked. Is there a parallel dimension where every small blueliner from Michigan plays like Brian Rafalski? Or a dimension where you can acquire an offensive defenseman (Whitney) from the very team you are trying to emulate (Pittsburgh), but ask him to play a completely different role offensively than the one that brought him success on that team-- and then have it be a positive thing? Cripes, is there even a dimension where Murph decided to stick with Luca Sbisa, and Nick Boynton was sent packing for spare parts much sooner?
But I derogate. And the problems weren't all on defense. 'The forwards had trouble finding chemistry' is the understatement of the year. There was nothing by way of the instant Wonder Finns connection expected of Selanne and Koivu. And Bobby Ryan's playing style changed to the point that shifting him from the first line suddenly became both attractive and effective. The Ducks found their most valuable new face in Koivu, but they also got much needed contributions from rookies Dan Sexton, Troy Bodie and Matt Beleskey. And at the end of the day, injuries seemed to hurt the team the most: Getzlaf, Selanne (twice), Parros (healing his hand), Koivu (briefly), Lupul (forever).
However, on a year that was decidedly off-target, the team did eventually approach a successful course correction. And while another year of statistical assassination may have sent Scott Niedermayer into the sunset, the team is now banking on Lubomir Visnovsky and a completely revamped blueline, which brings us to:
# / Defenseman / Anaheim Ducks
Sep 07, 1979
The Ducks also added Danny Syvret, but he'll be battling, perhaps unsuccessfully, for the 5-7 spot.
Another key departure here is Newell Brown. It's a big change behind the bench for a power play that was still statistically strong even if it hit droughts on the road.
- Mutability - The Ducks acquired a 'Boynton' in Paul Mara, but even if his offense is shot, he could still be an effective third pairing option as a physical player. The Ducks aren't betting on the rookies staying in the minors like they did last year, and that provides a little more flexibility.
- Ryan Getzlaf - The Ducks' game changer is healthy again. 'Nuff said.
- Saku Koivu - As the only forward averaging 2+ minutes on the penalty kill and 2+ minutes on the power play, a consistent Saku Koivu will go a long way in keeping the special-teams-reliant Ducks squad competitive in most games.
Defense, Defense, Defense: To the degree that there IS a defensive corps, their names are still unclear, and the Ducks will again look to players like Brett Festerling and Brendan Mikkelson to fill out a blueline that the pair haven't effectively cracked for the past two seasons. In fact, when you consider that Lydman is currently injured with double vision, Sutton is injury-prone and Paul Mara is returning from major shoulder surgery, the battle for the bottom pair offers plenty of potential for promotion.
Assuming (and hoping) for a healthy corps, the Ducks still ice a squad that is, remarkably, even less familiar with each other than last year's group and will sorely miss the services of Captain Scott Niedermayer. I hope the half a dozen shifts that Visnovsky and Brookbank played together were productive, chemistry-wise.
Everything else is up for grabs. That includes Koivu/Selanne after the latest announcement that Bobby Ryan will take a turn at center. First line left wing could be anyone from Matt Beleskey to (a returning) Bobby Ryan to Aaron Voros. Second line wingers aren't much more settled. The bottom six will feature some permutation of Todd Marchant and Kyle Chipchura, but will the Ducks retract their decision to waive Ryan Carter? Will Bodie split time with Parros? How much of a shot does Bonino or anyone else get? Are the pro tryouts or rookies going to be a factor?
Defense is murkier still. Will Sheldon Brookbank be asked to play a second pairing role as he did last year, managing to rack up the team's best +/- after playing time with Ryan Whitney behind a strong second line? Are the Ducks really just planning on making another major acquisition during the season or is Fowler or a minor league defender going to get a better shot than recent fill-ins Festerling and Mikkelson?
If ever a depth chart needed a training camp, it's this one.
HA! We don't do that here, but my official prediction for Chen and FTR was this:
"The Ducks will struggle to find their footing, just as they did last year. Whether they fall on their face after that (just as they did last year) or not, I can't say. They've purged the lineup of young, inept offensive-defensemen whose last names start with the letter "W," and they seem to have learned to trust their cupboard as I don't see any Nick Boynton's or Kyle Calder's. However, I think this group will be trying to find a groove and the coach and front office will consider moving pieces around until that happens. And unless there's a contagious outbreak of chemistry, I expect Bob Murray will be forced to kibitz in the locker room, the fans will be forced to kvetch on the blogs and the lineup will have a theme of mutability for much of the season."