We were just outplayed and outworked by Nashville, but I'm not going to dwell on that right now. There has been enough discussion about why we lost that series. Hopefully the playoff experience serves our young players well. It's time to look forward to the 2011-2012 campaign. In no particular order, here are some reasons why I think the future is bright in Anaheim...
-Unlike the last two years, we don't have to replace a HOF blueliner next season. You could tell our defense was unable to replace Chris Pronger after he was dealt to Philadelphia. We didn't have that mean bastard who made other teams afraid to play us, the guy who punishes opposing forwards for hanging out near the crease. Have we replaced that mean bastard? I don't think so, although at times Beauchemin can be that guy and I think Sbisa might grow into that role (not saying he will be the next Pronger, but he can potentially be the guy who makes the other team's forwards think twice about crashing the net). Losing Niedermayer to retirement still hurt our defense, but not as badly as losing Pronger. Lubo at least has the offensive D-man skills we lost when Nieds retired, and Fowler came in at the perfect time to replace #27. Still, it will be nice not having to watch Murray frantically try to replace a legendary blueliner this offseason.
-We won't start next season with a patchwork defense. We already have five of the six D spots filled for next season (Lubo, Lydman, Beauchemin, Fowler and Sbisa). Starting off the season with a defense that knows Carlye's system and has some chemistry will be huge for avoiding the annual awful start. No more starting out the season with several lopsided ass kickings. I'm looking forward to the season where the Ducks don't have to dig themselves out of a huge hole to get a playoff berth. Who knows who the sixth defender will be. Probably a journeyman system like we did at the end of this season. I wouldn't mind Brookbank being our final D-man, although I'm not sure if we have any talented young defensemen coming up in the minors.
-Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan are all entering their primes. I'm expecting huge things from them these next few seasons. Perry becoming more disciplined in the latter half of this season was great, and I expect that to carry over. Playing Perry and Ryan on the PK for an entire year ought to help our PK rank a little higher. Now if we could just stop Getzlaf from playing like Getzloaf from time to time and shoot the damn puck...
-We have a handful of very talented young players. Fowler and Sbisa are going to replace Lubo/Lydman as Anaheim's top defensive pairing one day. I'm sold on McMillan. He is a solid contributor at even strength and on the PK. I expect him to take over the #2 center spot after Koivu is gone. Until then, I think McMillan can help us establish a legitimate third scoring line so we don't have to roll our top two lines for a combined 45 minutes per game. I really hope Dan Sexton can get a fair shot. He has gamebreaking speed/acceleration and I'd hate to see that go to waste. I'm very excited to see how these guys play now that they have some NHL experience.
-Somewhat going back to my last point, I think Beleskey can help with the creation of a third scoring line. I was very impressed when he was playing with Getzlaf and Perry. Beleskey/Getzlaf/Perry, Blake/Koivu/Selanne (fingers crossed) and Sexton/McMillan/Ryan gives us a much more balanced offense. When the Big Line was on, or when Teemu was victimizing the other team's goalie, we were unstoppable. But when they couldn't produce, we had absolutely nobody to fall back on. Case in point: Nashville series.
-Our PP should be every bit as deadly as it was this season. Even if Teemu does retire, our PP is still going to be pretty damn good.
Are there reasons for Ducks fans to be pessimistic about next season? Of course. Will Hiller recover from vertigo? How do we replace Teemu's production if he retires or if age finally catches up to him? Is Carlyle still going to play musical chairs with the line combinations and defensive pairings every night? Will Carlyle give any young players not named Cam Fowler more than six minutes of ice time per game? Is Andy Sutton going to be on the roster again? However, I believe we have many more reasons to view the glass as half full rather than half empty. Predictions before the start of training camp are premature, so I'm holding off on saying anything more specific than I expect Anaheim to make the postseason next year. Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments.