After reading the polar ends of possibility for the Anaheim Ducks in this year's SB Nation preview, Anaheim Calling staff give their takes on how the 2015-16 season could go for the guys in Orange, Gold and Black.
Best Case: Bruce learns from Chicago's 2015 run and plays Lindholm, Fowler, Vatanen, and Despres upwards of 23 minutes a night in the playoffs. This makes life easier for whichever goalie is playing well in April and May and June (hopefully Gibson for cap reasons). Stewart meshes with the Twins and Hagelin with Kesler and Silf. Nobody I just mentioned plays in a Game Seven, and Getzlaf hoists a couple of trophies after the last game of the playoffs. The RFA crisis is averted when Gibson makes the other goalies expendable, Murray buys out Stoner, and all the young D decide they don't need to move to Newport Beach anyway.
Worst Case: Murray tries to outrun the RFA crisis by trading Fowler or Vatanen at the deadline, none of the new forwards make a difference, and Kesler can't keep up with his linemates. The Kings eliminate the Ducks in one of the first two rounds, and Lindholm's new contract forces the Ducks to cut ties with the other RFAs.
Realistic: The D pairings aren't ideal, but they get the job done through three rounds. Hagelin plays well but Stewart gets shuffled up and down the lineup. Getzlaf leads the playoffs in scoring despite his team being shut out in Game Seven against the Lightning, and Murray re-signs Lindholm, Rakell, and Despres. Hopefully Vatanen goes east.
Best Case: President's Trophy. Sweep every post-season series. Hoist the Cup. Done.
Worst Case: Somehow the Ducks fall victim to the injury and illness bug, yet again, and it leaves them struggling for a spot in the playoffs. To make matters worse all hopes for a comeback post-season run are extinguished in a devastating loss to the LA Kings in the 81st game of the season. Oh gosh, now I'll have nightmares...great.
Realistic: Anaheim excels in the regular season yet again, comfortably landing home ice advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs. They soar through the first two rounds, struggle in the Western Conference Finals, but make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they end up with yet another game 7 loss.
Best Case: The best case for the Ducks 2015-2016 would be that everyone gets through the regular season without injury. The Ducks easily win the Pacific with over 100 standings points. The team wins the president's trophy by 2-5 points to the runner-up Washington Capitals. The Ducks battle through the Western Conference Final and win the Stanley Cup against a weaker Eastern Conference team. Hampus Lindholm turns out to be the "elite" defenseman the Ducks needed, and he wins the Conn Smythe.
Worst Case: The Ducks get off to a slow start in October. They lose more than half of their games in the first month and begin to suffer injuries on the blueline late in the season (injuries may or may not have been caused by Raffi Torres, Dustin Brown or Milan Lucic). Because the Pacific Division is full of weaker teams, the Ducks manage to limp their way into the playoffs and manage to win the division by a few points. The Ducks lose in the Division Final (a.k.a. the second round) being unable to defeat a healthy Kings team.
Realistic: The best case scenario for the Ducks is almost realistic. The team needs to build chemistry over the course of the season, but winning the Pacific Division should not be difficult. I'd say the Ducks miss out on the President's Trophy only because most quality teams in the East have a better chance at it. The Ducks could realistically be in the Cup Final, but this isn't the time or place to be messing with that kind of magumbo so I'll just say they have a long playoff run.
Best Case: The Ducks are a trendy pick to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup this season, and there's no reason for them not to be. A terrifying offense led by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler boasts an impressive supporting cast that just got deeper with the additions of Carl Hagelin and Shawn Horcoff. A very young blueline (five out of seven skaters are 24 or younger) will get a decade of experience joining them by way of Kesler's BFF, Kevin Bieksa. Between the pipes, Frederik Andersen will be looking to have a strong sophomore season. Backing him up will be veteran Anton Khudobin, who boasts an impressive .919 save percentage over the course of six seasons in the league. The team is loaded with talent from top to bottom, and they should undoubtedly be in good position to challenge Chicago for the Western Conference crown, and subsequently, claim the franchise's second championship.
Worst Case: Perry gets injured, Getzy gets injured, Andersen undergoes a Lehtonen-esque regression, and the power play unit is the first in NHL history to go below 5% on the season. Fed up with the poor string of events, Swedes Carl Hagelin, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg and Hampus Lindholm make a collective decision to pull an Ilya Kovalchuk and return home to play in the SHL. The Ducks go from strong Cup contenders to missing the playoffs.
Realistic: It goes without saying that my best case scenario is a lot more likely to happen than the worst case. Although there are more than a fair share of skeptics who like to shoot down the Ducks' Cup aspirations by pointing at the dynasty that is the Chicago Blackhawks and the likelihood that Anaheim will have to get through them, or their consistent Game 7 failures, the fact still remains, in spite of said arguments, that the Anaheim Ducks have a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup this year.
Let's just say that the 2015-2016 season for the Anaheim Ducks can be summed up as 'Stanley Cup or Bust'.
Best Case: Pretty damn obvious. The Anaheim Ducks get through the regular season on top of the standings (as projected), and actually get through all rounds of the Stanley Cup finals before Ryan Getzlaf skates out to hold up Lord Stanley on home ice.
Worst Case: At this point would be if the Anaheim Ducks get to the Stanley Cup Western Conference finals and fall once more in Game 7. This would ensure Bruce Boudreau's departure, as well as settle hopelessness among all the Anaheim faithful.
Realistic: The Anaheim Ducks become Western Conference Champions and win the Stanley Cup. We will see Nick Ritchie play in the post-season. Bob will actually make a boom-or-bust trade move to acquire a reliable veteran defenseman to anchor the blue line in addition to Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm. Freddie Andersen is finally noticed after he puts on a show for the entire league.
Best Case: Luck is on the Ducks side in more than just analytics. Perry finds that scoring spirit no matter who he's playing with, Getzlaf breaks the 90 point barrier, and Kesler manages to stay healthy all year long once again and doesn't slow down a bit. Fowler, Lindholm, Despres, and Vatanen all take tremendous steps forward and suddenly Anaheim has the league's best defense nobody has been talking about. Josh Manson shoots off like a rocket so well that Clayton Stoner is gone by November in a move to save cap space for next season. All the young kids get their extensions signed before the trade deadline and Bob Murray gets a late acceptance letter to Hogwarts for pulling off such stunning wizardry with such efficiency (oh, and another GM of the Year award). Anaheim cruises their way to another comfortable division title and then pastes whoever they face in the first round before exacting sweet (though at times slightly too close for comfort) revenge against Los Angeles. Riding their confidence from that big series win, Anaheim moves swiftly through the west final in a performance that has analysts scratching their heads as to why a team from the mighty Central could fall so quickly. Anaheim then faces a tough, fast opponent in the Stanley Cup Final but its new, balanced system of speed and physicality ultimately overcomes at home in five games to give the team its second championship.
Worst Case: All the luck from the past couple seasons runs out and the Ducks are the next ones to be smacked upside the head with the injury stick. Kesler gets hurt and misses significant time, dismantling Anaheim's defensive second-line. Jakob Silfverberg regresses, Carl Hagelin just can't find a scoring touch, and Andrew Cogliano finally has his streak snapped. All the practice time Paul MacLean could ask for is not enough to make the power play become anything better than atrocious. Frederik Andersen is average and the team drops more than a few games in the new overtime rules purely by being out-skated. The kids are an OK defense core but that's not good enough in such a brutal West. The team goes through spurts of success and slump but ultimately surrenders the division to Los Angeles for the first time in three years. After a rough first-round series, Anaheim ultimately loses in the second round of the playoffs to Los Angeles yet again.
Realistic: Anaheim has a season almost identical to the previous two, only finishes with its highest point total yet despite some key players missing time with injuries. Josh Manson is a full-time NHLer by the trade deadline and a defenseman is shipped out to make room (though it isn't Clayton Stoner). The power play gets a slight uptick in production but still finishes middle-of-the-pack. Andersen continues to improve and retains the starting job the entire season. All but a couple of the big free agents are re-uped before the trade deadline and Bob Murray ships one off for an upgrade at forward at the trade deadline. Anaheim cruises without much difficulty through the first round before barely squeaking past Los Angeles in the second round. Anaheim then soars through the third round before making the Stanley Cup Final, only to lose by more than two goals in game seven at home.... Again.