Best: Dany Heatley becomes the first line left wing Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have been searching for all these years, while reinvigorating the power play to the tune of 20 total goals. John Gibson establishes himself as the number one and Frederik Andersen settles nicely into a well used backup. The Ducks sweep LA, San Jose, Chicago and Boston for their second Stanley Cup.
Worst: Injuries pile up so much Bruce Boudreau is forced to play Bryan Allen, Clayton Stoner and Mark Fistric as a forward line. The Ducks finish last in the league, but don't get to pick Connor McDavid because Gary Bettman punishes them for subjecting the world to such a horrible sight as the Allen-Stoner-Fistric line by revoking their next 10 first round picks.
Realistic: Heatley gets shuffled up and down as well as in and out of the lineup too much to make any kind of connection with Getzlaf and Perry, but scores 12-15 goals. Ryan Kesler takes heat off of Getzlaf defensively, and vice versa allowing both to put up impressive numbers. Andersen and Gibson sharing time just about equally can't get the Ducks their third straight Pacific Division title and they are bounced by the Kings in the first round.
Best: Rickard Rakell is every bit as good as I daydream he is, making Getzlaf-Kesler-Rakell the best 1-2-3 in the league. Sami Vatanen is given top four minutes consistently. Clayton Stoner is shot into the sun.
Worst: Rakell is surpassed on the depth chart by Nate Thompson. The team's top three forwards (Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler) can't get along and infighting in the dressing room occurs. Stoner gets top four minutes consistently. Vatanen is traded. My dog dies. My truck breaks down.
Realistic A strong regular season leading into death matchups in the first two rounds of the playoffs. If the team's goals and shots differentials continue to surprise relative to possession metrics, continue to read questions surrounding this team. If they can put goal, shot, and attempt differentials in line, the team may get some recognition. Also, Stoner probably doesn't get shot into the sun.
Best: 2015 Stanley Cup Champions. Can't do any better than that. Dany "50 in ‘15" Heatley will be providing Bacardi showers at the parade.
Worst: At untimely points throughout the season, the Ducks get bombarded by injuries to critical players and pull a page out of the last chapter in the 2013-14 St. Louis Blues' book: making the transformation from a very talented team into a very talented team who can't even buy a win. They end up finishing in the worst possible position a team can find themselves at the end of this year: out of the playoffs, but not low enough on the league totem pole to get a shot at Connor McDavid and other top prospects entering the 2015 Draft.
Realistic: Let me preface this by saying that I consider myself to be a pretty big optimist. That being said, I strongly believe that the best case scenario is very much a realistic one, and I won't hesitate to argue that to any doubters. However, looking at how the rest of the conference measures up on paper (and because I'm not allowed to re-use best case), I also think there's a good chance the Ducks fall in the second round of the playoffs once again this year.
Best: Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry combine for 200 points, Dany Heatley scores 30 goals, Ryan Kesler is a possession monster, Hampus Lindholm and Vatanen play every game, Bob Murray trades a couple of meaningless assets for whoever Columbus doesn't want anymore, and the Ducks win their third straight Pacific Division title. They play 21 brutal playoff games in the Western Conference, then sweep the Red Wings (who have miraculously made it this far only because this is the best case scenario and how sweet would that be?) winning every game 10-0. Conn Smythe to Patrick Maroon's beard.
Worst: The team looks great for 20 games, indicating to Murray that his work is done. Getzlaf misses the next 20 with a sore back (from carrying the . . . yeah you get it), Perry is still awesome, Kesler is a possession ferret, and Lindholm buys a house in Norfolk. The Ducks need a win in Game 82 in order to grab the last wild card spot, but John Gibson allows the same amount of goals that Heatley has scored all season. Since it doesn't see playoff action, Maroon's beard must settle for the Lady Byng.
Realistic: Getzlaf and Perry combine for 180 points, Heatley scores 20 goals, Kesler is a possession djinni, Lindholm and Vatanen play most games, Murray trades a couple of meaningful assets for a second-pairing defender who gets hurt in the first round, and the Ducks finish second or third in the Pacific. They play 14 brutal playoff games, ultimately losing to one of the other California teams. Maroon's beard still wins the Conn Smythe.
Best: Frederik Andersen shines in the starter spotlight, Gibson supports him flawlessly when he needs a break, defense gets their heads on straight and actually keeps the puck away from our net, and the motley crew of forwards blend perfectly to form four neat little lines with depth and scoring contributions. The power play is a major threat, the penalty kill is nothing but the opponent chasing the puck back into their defensive zone, and everything goes as it could in a Disney movie. (Oh, is that allowed?) Anaheim ends top of the Western conference tallying enough points for the President's Trophy. They work their asses off and get to the final where... Let your imagination take over on that one.
Worst: It's sad how easy this was to imagine. The weight of the starting goalie position is too heavy for either of the youngster netminders Anaheim is relying on. The defense, which is held together with some duck-tape (hah! get it?) and a prayer, crumbles, and the offense doesn't carry the team to many victories leaving the Ducks struggling for a playoff spot, and could even conclude with the team on the outside looking in on the top eight teams of the very competitive Western Conference. Even worse? The Kings are the ones that solidified the Ducks' fate being seeded ninth, and LA goes on to make a serious run for the Cup. Shoot me. This is a nightmare.
Realistic: The Ducks start out swinging, doing relatively well both on the road and at home in front of the friendly crowd. They continue to juggle the top spot in the Pacific Division with the Sharks and Kings, similar to last season. The goaltender debate simply relies on whoever is on a hot streak to decide who starts between the pipes, and Andersen seems to take more of the work. The defense falls apart, and that makes Andersen's job even more difficult and tiring, relying on Gibson to relieve him in times of ridiculous fatigue. The Getzlaf-Kesler one-two punch down the center proves lethal against most teams. The Ducks fall in the top four of the West going into the playoffs, but are eliminated by whatever California team they face first. Unless Antti Niemi and Jonathan Quick go down with injuries, hopefully from something ridiculous like eating pancakes - Yes, I'm talking to you Dustin Penner.
Best: Kesler and Heatley are the missing pieces. Stoner replaces Bryan Allen and is competent. Ducks win Stanley Cup
Worst: Ducks fall behind early in the season. Injuries to key players adds to the struggle. Teemu reads controversial quotes from his book on Teemu night. Ducks miss playoffs.
Realistic: Kesler makes an impact and solidifies the second line. Heatley isn't a total failure. Ducks defense is stronger but still not enough to get to the Cup Final. Ducks lose in Conference Final.
Best: The Chicago Blackhawks knock us out of the Conference Final and we get to celebrate the little victory of denying the Kings back-to-back Stanley Cups
Worst: The Andersen/Gibson experiment blows up and the Ducks are left scrambling for a goalie to help them limp into the playoffs, while simultaneously realizing that they have permanently damaged the best goaltending prospect they've ever had.
Realistic: Ducks get bounced in the second round of the playoffs by a more confident Sharks team coming off a series win, or a Kings team that knows it is better than Anaheim.
Best: Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg ignite as a second-line like the Ducks have never seen. Kesler scores 40, Silfverberg gets 60 points, and Dany Heatley finally becomes the steady winger Getzlaf and Perry were looking for. The defense is just barely good enough to make the Ducks a nightmare to play again, and Freddy finishes his first full season with a .920 save-percentage. Bob Murray finally trades Bryan Allen for a half-eaten bowl of Cheerios after 40-point Sami Vatanen and rock-solid Clayton Stoner form remarkable chemistry. The Ducks win the Pacific again and rampage their way through the first round before getting a hard-fought but long-awaited revenge against the Los Angeles Kings. The Western Conference Final is a toss-up between Anaheim and St. Louis, but whoever manages to get through downright demolishes the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Final that makes Gary Bettman cry.
Worst: Kesler gets hurt, Heatley becomes a new Dustin Penner, and the defense is the tire-fire we've all expected it to be. Cam Fowler's improvement plateaus, and Andersen succumbs to the pressure of being a full-time starter and can barely keep his save-percentage over .900. John Gibson's lack of playing time slows his progress and hampers him for the rest of his career. Getzlaf forgets how to shoot and Perry can't crack the 30-goal plateau. The Ducks fall hard and barely squeak into the last wild-card slot before getting curb-stomped by the Kings for the second year in a row.
Realistic: Heatley's experiment isn't wildly successful but he still scores 15 goals. The new-look second line takes a little while to gel but Silfverberg and Kesler finally learn to feed off each other and become a bona-fide threat by midseason, so long as Boudreau keeps them together for more than 15 minutes. Frederik Andersen isn't as good as we all wished he would be, but he's good enough to keep the team afloat behind a defense that will be riddled with mistakes and defensive-zone turnovers. Nic Kerdiles makes his NHL debut. The Ducks cruise through the regular season respectably, but Murray's failure to improve the defense at all before the trade deadline proves to be the team's undoing and the Ducks get booted from the playoffs in the first round once again.
Best: Obviously everyone dreams of the beautiful silver mug, but even with breaks going the Ducks way I don't see them as a Stanley Cup team as currently comported this season. Getting through the West will be hellish and asking a team that will be relying on so many players with just one playoff trip seems ripe for the picking in the Final by a team like Boston. That said, winning the West while either Andersen or Gibson emerges as a legit number one, The Twins revive full on #clapboom Heatley while being unleashed even more offensively thanks to Kesler, and the youth acquitting itself well at forward and defense would be a great year.
Worst: The defense collapses thanks to injuries that require extended minutes for the likes of Allen and Stoner, taking with it the confidence of either one or both goalies. Anaheim remains in the playoff hunt all year long thanks to top line play but is eliminated from Wildcard contention with back to back losses to Colorado and Dallas in two of the final three games of the season. The statniks crow and dance the regression mambo, while Los Angeles and San Jose have an epic Pacific Division playoff final that the Sharks win en route to claiming their first Stanley Cup.
Realistic: More of the same. Kesler will in fact allow greater offensive impact by Getlaf and Perry that spills over into a 20-goal season from Heatley, and there will be ups and downs for the players in their first full NHL seasons. The defense is a choose your own adventure, looking solid some nights and questionable others. Anaheim once again qualifies for the postseason, but either drops in the Pacific Division playoff final or the Western Conference Final. There will be multiple occasions during the season I ponder the logistics and workability of Kid Ish's cannon plan.
Best: Bob Murray is able to make genius moves during trade deadline and acquire a sturdy blue line defender to add to a young and energetic line of defensemen, helping the Ducks on the road to the Stanley Cup Final.
Worst: Kesler ends up getting hurt & sitting out for most of the season, young goaltenders fail to meet expectations, and the decision to play a young group of defensemen ends up being a botched experiment, leading to another first round playoff let down.
Realistic: Anaheim cruises into a playoff spot, but once reaching the postseason, Bruce Boudreau endlessly shuffles third and fourth lines, and Anaheim's problematic and weak blue line ultimately becomes the Achilles heel in another disappointing early Second Round exit.
Best: Getzlaf wins the Hart Trophy. The Ducks beat the Kings in a thrilling, 7 game series for the ages before sweeping [insert any East Coast team here] in the Stanley Cup Final.
Worst: The young goaltending tandem of Andersen-Gibson is a disaster. Clayton Stoner is a turnover machine, and Corey Perry is snakebit. The Ducks miss the playoffs entirely.
Realistic: Defense and goaltending are adequate, but not really great. Ryan Kesler is a solid 2C. The Ducks make the playoffs and are eliminated in the second round.