Hey, Hey, Pacific Division. It's ova, fughedabotit!!!
This is Anaheim Calling to the Hockey World. It's an old school introduction for an old school kind of discussion. Predictions are a hockey tradition for me. Every year, I call my father when the playoff brackets come out and we exchange picks, even though he doesn't follow the game as closely as I do. I suppose I'm not as optimistic as Robby, but I'll settle for a team that's fun to watch on the ice. I think as a fan that's all I can really expect.The Ducks primary problem in the playoffs last year was that they didn't have the team D to overcome the loss of their number 1 goalie. Injuries happen to everyone and you won't find sympathy from anybody in the league. More importantly whatever Jonas Hiller had, it arrived and disappeared suspiciously. I don't know a lot about Vertigo, but I'm not sure it's something that just goes away. Web MD told me that it can be triggered by neck or head trauma, and I've seen Hiller stop more than a few pucks with his face. If that keeps up over the course of the season, who's to say he won't wear down again. Yes, the Ducks have Dan Ellis, who is more than a serviceable goalie. However, I don't think Ellis is the game changer that Hiller is, and no matter how good he looks now, the threat of injury will keep Carlyle from playing him for more than 55 games. That means Ellis is going to have to be a little better than solid for the Ducks to have a chance at the division. I just don't see that happening. The Ducks shouldn't focus on winning the division. If they do, there's a chance that Hiller doesn't make it through the playoffs. That's the worst case scenario for the Ducks because they don't have the depth to be a contender without Hiller.
The offense is there for the Ducks...maybe. The top line has been slow to get it going. They won't stay that way, but it certainly doesn't inspire confidence for a team that will need to ride that line's offense into the post season. Jason Blake is going to limit the potential of the second line. Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne will create chances, and Selanne will finish some of them. But, Selanne will still get most of his production on the power play. Andrew Cogliano will bring some stable production to the third line, but it's really going to depend on if he can keep it up for a full 82. No matter who is on that line with him, he's going to have to make sure the offense keeps coming - it's his responsibility. The Ducks are going to see a lot of forwards in the bottom 6, and ultimately are hoping that players step up. The bottom 6 is full of gambles, not guarantees. That's a recipe for middle third finish in the conference. If no one steps it up, the Ducks are going to be right back where they were last season.
The D is certainly better than it was last year, but that's not saying much. Toni Lydman and Lubomir Visnovsky will again be the top pair, and Francois Beauchemin with whoever will be the second pair. Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa have good potential and both look like they've grown since last season. That will be imperative for an Anaheim team going into this season. It'll be tough relying on Kurtis Foster, but he might be a great trade piece at the deadline. We need more of a shutdown style guy, and there will be a team looking for more offense from the blue line. The Foster for Andy Sutton deal is turning into a good one for Murray. He might not be the D we need now, but he'll be serviceable and tradeable. He also costs less money. This defense isn't going to win any games. But it's role is to just be good enough. As long as it can be good enough, the Ducks have a shot to play good hockey this year.
No matter what happens, this team will be fun to watch, if for no other reason than there are so many question marks. In my honest opinion, they could finish anywhere from Division champs, if everything goes right, to out of the playoffs, if the key players get injured or under-perform. I think the most reasonable prediction is to see the Ducks finish somewhere between 5-8. The Kings and Sharks are much better teams on paper and I think the Ducks will have a hard time over taking them in the standings despite having a good probability of taking each team in a 7-game-series. Those teams are built for regular season success in a way that the Ducks just aren't. As I've said before, this team will be fun to watch. The big line can dominate and the Finnish Flash is always a joy. Hiller can steal games and Fowler and Sbisa are rising Defense stars. Are they a Cup team? Yes, under the right circumstances. However, things can go downhill too. Ultimately, this is going to be a season of wait and see, so I'll wait and see.
[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.]