First and foremost, CONGRATULATIONS to DennisKE for winning the "Guess Where The Hockey News ranks the Ducks" contest. Dennis will be able to write one thousand words on a topic of his choosing, and have it published on the front page of the site.
If you haven't said The Hockey News' list with the Ducks analysis, here it is. THN provided justification of their placement of the Ducks at 6th in the west., In turn, I'll give analysis based on their rationalization. THN gives three clear points about what will cause the Ducks success (or lack thereof) depending upon your perception. I will address each point and look at the positive and negative aspects of each.The Big Line:
It's easy to say that as the Big Line (Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry) goes, so go the Ducks, because, well, it's true. When the Big Line is on, it's a beautiful, beautiful thing to watch. It's complete dominance in every facet of the game. Yet, when it's not, it's a frustrating exercise in searching for the missing element. That missing element tends to be Bobby Ryan. As Eric Stephens pointed out, Bobby had two streaks of 10 games or more where he only scored 2 goals. That is 4 goals in some 30 games; however, his total points for those 30 games was 19. That's not awful, but Bobby has the talent to avoid those long droughts. It might not be possible for Perry to repeat the season he had, and if he doesn't, Bobby will have to pick up the slack.
Can Bobby do it? Probably. If he shows that he can be separated from the twins and still be a consistent scorer, it will bring a whole new dimension to the Ducks lineup. Carlyle will be able to create match up nightmares for teams who would otherwise focus on the top line and try to force Teemu Selanne to beat them with Jason Blake on the other wing. If he can't, then Bobby will continue to remain a nice a 30 goal luxury for the Ducks, who will have trouble providing scoring depth when top defensive pairs - like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter - find a way to get the better of the Big 3.
If you've been following this blog for a while, then you might remember discussing whether the Ducks should commit to Jonas Hiller instead of Jean-Sebastien Giguere. After the Ducks had chosen Hiller over Giguere, Arthur observed that Hiller had yet to prove that he could physically handle the workload of being a number one goaltender with typically 60+ starts. Well, Hiller still hasn't shown that he can do that. Vertigo knocked him out after 49 starts last season. The closest he's come to the 60 game plateau was the 59 he posted in the 2009-2010 season. If Hiller is healthy and returns to Vezina worthy form, then the Ducks will be a threat comparable to the 2006 Calgary Flames, only with more offense.
Although, Vertigo is unpredictable. It's great that most reports have him as feeling symptom free, but the Ducks face a tough question: If they ride him like they did last year, will he hold up for the full season? Dan Ellis should provide great relief, and quality back up service, but Hiller will have to be a Vezina goalie in 55 starts this season instead of 60 or more. He's simply too valuable to be put at risk.
Gotta save the best for last, right? The Hockey News thinks that the Ducks D is built more for putting the puck in the net than keeping it out. Honestly, it's hard to argue against that observation and the risks it represents. The Ducks have 3 blue liners on their NHL roster who are known more for their offensive abilities than they are for their defensive prowess: Lubomir Visnovsky, Cam Fowler and newly acquired Kurtis Foster. Luca Sbisa only recently added defense and physicality to his toolbox. After that, it's Francois Beauchemin and Toni Lydman. Beauchy does have a physical edge to his game, but it's not his primary role. Lydman is a solid shut down defender, but arguably the only one the team will ice.
It's going to take an upgrade in team D for the defense to improve this year. It doesn't look like they'll be adding a veteran shutdown guy; Sheldon Brookbank will be the replacement when Foster neglects his defensive duties. The Ducks are going to be trying to outscore teams, and relying on their goalies when the offense can't get it done. That's a recipe for wearing out your netminders (think of how many shots Hiller faced before he was on the IR), which they clearly can't afford to do. Despite this, I think the 6th prediction is fair. Yes, there are holes. They probably aren't an outright Cup contender, but there's still danger in the line up and tough opponent whenever they hit the ice.