Although it might be a bit premature (Puck Daddy certainly did think so, shout out to Jen!), I thought I would take a break from my Marketing Audit series and put on my predictor hat. Given that I'm a relatively new hockey fan, I can hide behind the mantle of complete and total naievete in making my predictions. And I'm not just making predictions about the Ducks here, I'll be making predictions about the entire Pacific Divison.
Come along with me after the jump and see why I think the Ducks will finish third in the Pacific this year, netting 94 points along the way and sneaking into sixth place in the Western Conference.
First lets look at the cold hard math about the division. In the past three years, 8th place in the Western Conference has required 95, 91, and 91 points for an average amount of 92.3 points being necessary to grab the 8th slot. This year, I think the threshold will be around 93 points, with a cluster of teams finishing in the 92-95 point range. For the record, the Ducks finished the 2009-2010 campaign with 89 points, good for 11th and one point behind both St. Louis and Calgary.
Most preseason pontificators have predicted a repeat of last year's playioff miss, citing the sketchy looking defense as the reason for missing the playoffs for a second straight year. But I'm going to say something crazy here, so bear with me: The 2010-2011 Anaheim Ducks will allow fewer goals than they did in 2009-2010.
Now, before you do your spit take, again, I ask you to bear with me here. In 2009-2010, the Ducks gave up 251 goals, good for 22nd worst in the league. Contrast that with their previous two campaigns in which they gave up 238 (2008-2009) and 191 (2007-2008) and it's obvious that the Ducks defense has dropped off considerably. It's equally obvious that the Ducks have transitioned from a team that was once built for defense into one an offense-oriented squad that will live or die based on how many times they can light the lamp.
But let's look closer at the serious drop-off between 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. For one, departed goaltender Jean Sebastian Giguere had a career worst 3.14 GAA in 20 games, a slight uptick from his 3.10 GAA in 46 games in 2008-2009. But more than Giguere's sketchy goaltending was coach Randy Carlyle's unwillingness to make a definitive decision about who the starting netminder would be until midway through the season. This was likely a contributing factor in seeing Jonas Hiller's GAA rise from 2.39 in 2008-2009 to 2.73 in 2009-2010. While I don't think a full-time Hiller is as good as his numbers from 2008-2009 suggest, I do think he's better than the 2.79 GAA he put up last season.
There are a few other reasons the Ducks gave up so many more goals in 2009-2010: Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski. Both of these D-men were offense-first blueliners who brought neither compelling offense nor credible defense to the table. Coupled with the Ducks inability to block shots (they saw a ludicrous 32 shots per game last season), the Ducks were frequently in turnover or odd-man situations where they could not rely on any crease-clearing or shot-blocking to help out the goes.
As we all know, newly acquired Andy Sutton ranked 2nd in the NHL last season with 204 blocked shots. He'll join newcomer Toni Lydman and returning D-men Lubomir Visnovsky, Sheldon Brookbank, and Luca Sbisa in what should be a defensive corps that is more focused on stay-at-home defense and less oriented toward offense (although Lubo will certainly create his fair share of turnovers). Obviously, it's impossible to replace the greatness that was Scott Niedermayer. But to be completely honest, the requirement of babysitting Wisniewski and father time resulted in a season in which Scotty was on-ice for more goals than ever before in his career.
Last year, the Ducks ranked 8th in the league with 238 goals, and it's conceivable that they'll top that number with relative ease. Full seasons from Teemu Selanne and Ryan Getzlaf should certainly lift that goals-for number a bit, and I'm absolutely ecstatic about a full season of Lubo firing bombs from the point on the power play. I should note that I'm also assuming Bobby Ryan's return is a foregone conclusion in this analysis, and I think we'll see the resurgence of the dominant RPG line.
I'll certainly defer to Arthur and Daniel on the prospects, but I do think that one of our guys in the cupboard will win that bottom-pairing spot in training camp. While I don't think it will be Fowler, I do believe someone not Mikkelson or Festerling will get that last spot.
I also think the bottom-two forward lines could be a lot of fun. I really like the idea of a "kids" line built around speed and banging. The Parros-Chipchura-Marchant line seems like it could be your solid, safe line that agitates and won't embarrass itself too much on defense.
Pacific Division Standings at the End of the Year
Los Angeles - 105
San Jose - 104
Anaheim - 94
Colorado Dallas - 93
Phoenix - 87
What do you think? It's still pretty early, but how are you beginning to feel about this season? Does anyone think I'm completely insane for thinking the defense might actually be better?