Anaheim Ducks 2011-2012 Preview: Defensemen

KRISTEN:

Is Drew Doughty still available?

(I kid, I kid).

But the Kings have struggled to lock up their prized RFA all summer, and things are beginning to look grim. Some AC readers have suggested offering Bobby Ryan (or Bobby Ryan AND Luca Sbisa) in exchange for Doughty, but Kings GM Dean Lombardi has said that he refuses to trade his star defenseman. In addition, LA would be able to match any offer sheet that the Ducks may present (if we had the money to present said offer sheet).

But do we really need a Doughty-caliber defenseman? Casual Ducks observers argue that the team consists only of RPG, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, and Jonas Hiller. Our defensive corps, on the other hand, consists of an extraordinarily gifted - but very young - offensive d-man, another talented young defenseman who has struggled to create an identity in the NHL, more talented but injury-prone veterans, and assorted pieces of flotsam and jetsam that we collected over the summer.

It's not fair to reduce our defense to these descriptions, of course. But I would still love to see the Ducks acquire a young, elite, and durable defenseman. He doesn't have to be Doughty - an elite stay-at-home defenseman would be as welcome as the offensive, puck-moving variety - but this acquisition would allow Carlyle to switch either Toni Lydman or Lubomir Visnovsky to the second pairing, and reduce our dependence on bubble figures like Kurtis Foster.
(A poster on HF Boards - don't judge me - argued that seeing Foster on the PK would make him/her "cry sad tears," but I'll let Jen handle special teams).

Yet, despite the concerns that many have about our defense, there's quite a bit of talent in the Pond. Let's analyze our blueliners by pairing:

Top Guns: Lubo and Lydman

Even though my fantasy d-man would take the pressure off of Lydman or Lubo, it's hard to make a case to separate the Ducks' top defensive pairing. Weber-Suter and Keith-Seabrook may get the attention, but our Big 2 (in significance, not stature) quietly took care of business all year. The offensively-minded Visnovsky scored a career-high 68 points (18 goals, 50 (!) assists) last season, and finished +18 and 4th in Norris Trophy voting. He also scored the first ever hat trick by a Ducks defenseman during a March game against the Stars. Most importantly, Lubo's third goal was also the GWG, and occurred with less than five seconds left in OT. That, ladies and gents, is the definition of clutch.

The penalty-killing Lydman was +32 for the year (and also finished 13th in the Norris voting). SK argues that he fits into the "good defenseman goes unnoticed" category, but one could argue that he also provided the bedrock (and big minutes) upon which Lubo's Norris Trophy-caliber season was built.

However, both Lubo and Lydman have struggled with injuries in the past. Lubo, in particular, has had to deal with recurring shoulder injuries in recent years. Back in 2009, the Oilers put him on IR after he dislocated his shoulder in a game against the Blackhawks. His shoulder problems reemerged last season as well, but Lubo was still able to play in all but one of the Ducks' regular season games (and all six playoff games). If he can stay healthy, I predict more awesomeness (play and interviews) this year.

Lydman's situation is more troubling. Last season, he had problems with double vision, which kept him out of action until October. He's in a similar situation now (shoulder surgery), and as of September 19, he had still not been cleared for contact drills. It would be nice to see his scoring increase (he only scored 3 goals and 22 assists last season), but he is a defensive defenseman through and through, blocking 178 shots last season and recording 141 hits.

The Old Man and the Kid(s): Beauchemin, Fowler, and Sbisa

Referring to 30 year old Frenchie as an ‘old man' is hyperbolic, but he has the most Ducks experience of the blueliners discussed in this preview. Beauchemin was initially acquired at the end of 2005 in the Fedorov trade (we were still ‘Mighty' then), and immediately contributed to the team, scoring 34 points in 61 games. The following season, Beauchemin's big minutes would be a crucial part of the Ducks' Stanley Cup victory. And when we reacquired him back in February of last season - in exchange for Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner, who's currently tearing it up with the Leafs - he was expected to transition seamlessly back into the Ducks' system.

That was not the case, and his partnership with Cam Fowler - playing on his opposite wing - has been widely criticized for its lack of chemistry (see: preseason game two). Frenchie did assist on two of Cam's goals against the JV Canucks on Saturday, but I am more intrigued by the potential of Sbisa-Beauchemin pairing. Carlyle experimented with this pairing last spring, and it was pretty effective. Sbisa has said himself that he and Beauchemin have similar styles (physical play + puck-moving ability), and this might be a good opportunity for the younger man to explore his offensive upside.

Sixth or Seventh: Brookbank and Foster

Where does this leave us? If Beauchemin-Sbisa becomes a regular pairing, we need somewhere to put Cam Fowler. I don't anticipate a Brookbank-Foster pairing, so these two blueliners will likely battle for the sixth spot, paired with everyone's favorite teenager. (The seventh defenseman will be rotated in and out of the lineup as necessary.)

Sheldon Brookbank is an interesting case. During the 2006-2007 AHL season, he put up Visnovsky-esque numbers for the Milwaukee Admirals, and earned the Eddie Shore Award as AHL Defenseman of the Year (he was also a first-team AHL All-Star). He has never been able to replicate that success in the NHL, and last season was particularly bad for him (he only played in 40 games, and failed to register any points at all). However, Cam's plus/minus rating did improve when he was paired with Brookbank, and if he's able to put everything together, Brookbank might be able to play Lydman to Cam's Lubo.

Foster's health concerns have kept him away from preseason action, so we don't really know what he'll be able to do in the Ducks organization. During the 2004-05 lockout, he played 78 games with the AHL's Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, where he put up a solid 42 points. But like Brookbank, he is expected to play more of a shutdown role in the NHL, and would be a useful seventh defenseman if he can stay healthy.

(Please graduate soon, Justin Schultz).

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