[Ed. note: Throughout the weekend, the AC staff will be giving their outlook and predictions for the Ducks 2011-12 season. We'll revisit these posts at the end of the season to see who had the powers of premonition and who should leave the prognostication to the professionals.]
Call me an optimist. By and large, I look for the positives in life, especially when it comes to my sports teams. When you've grown up a San Diego Padres and San Diego Chargers fan, you either take comfort in the few bright spots or you find another team.
That said, I think the Anaheim Ducks will catch a few teams by surprise this season. Everyone seems to be predicting the Ducks to finish third in the Pacific this year, behind San Jose and Los Angeles. These critics say that the Ducks only managed to finish fourth in the Conference due to Corey Perry and Lubomir Visnovsky playing over their heads as the team made a mad dash down the stretch. While I agree that it's unlikely that Perry and Visnovsky will recreate the level of success they enjoyed last year, I still think this team has the potential to be better than last year's squad.
One of the things that makes me laugh the most about critics and their explanations of the Ducks improbable run from last year is the fact that they conveniently ignore we were missing one of our best players in Jonas Hiller. As we all know too well, Jonas was having a Vezina-caliber season before he was sidelined for the rest of the year. It's nothing short of incredible that the Ducks managed to withstand the implosion of Curtis McElhinney and adjust to two new goaltenders (Dan Ellis and Ray Emery) in the last two months of the season.
While I'm not going to say that Jonas Hiller is a lock for 60 starts this season, available data (and personal observation) suggests that he has recovered from his vertigo issues and should be ready to anchor the Ducks this season. However, if Hiller does falter, both Dan Ellis and Jeff Deslauriers, two proven NHL back-ups, are ready to take the mantle. While Deslauriers has about the same number of NHL games played going into this season as McElhinney did last year, Ellis' presence should give the Ducks some much needed stability in the crease.
In terms of forwards, the Ducks are poised to once again be among the league's most prolific teams in terms of scoring. While coach Randy Carlyle has heavily ridden his top two lines of Bobby Ryan-Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf and Jason Blake-Saku Koivu-Teemu Selanne in recent years, the Ducks seem ready to roll three scoring lines for the first time in many years. Andrew Cogliano figures to be a fixture on the third line and he's shown great chemistry with Andrew Gordon. The last spot on that line will likely go to either Devante Smith-Pelly or Brandon McMillan, both of whom have shown a legitimate scoring touch.
Defensively, the Ducks will be a team that gives up a ton of shots. They're not going to shut-out many teams and the best characteristic of most of our d-men is their ability to score. The Ducks will give up their fair share of goals, but they're built to outscore almost any team.
I don't think the Ducks will win the Pacific but I don't think there's any reason they can't recreate last year's fourth-place finish in the conference. If Anaheim can avoid their historically slow starts to the season this year, 100 points should be within reach.