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Handshake Line: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Anaheim’s done. Is it October yet?

Anaheim Ducks v Nashville Predators - Game Six Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Another year, another playoff exit for the Anaheim Ducks. But hey, at least they didn’t get bounced in another Game 7 at home, right? Right? Ya, I’ll stop.

This Series

At the start of this years playoffs, I chose Anaheim and Nashville to meet in the Western Conference Finals. Nashville looked stacked on the back end and their journey through the Central seemed fairly secure for them. And, by the time they made it to the conference finals, this Nashville team looked even more dangerous than I had originally anticipated. Add this to the fact that Anaheim had sustained some key injuries to depth forwards, and I was doubtful that the Ducks would be able to get past the Predators. I ended up predicting the Predators winning in seven games, and I guess I even gave Anaheim a bit too much credit.

Looking back at this series, it’s not easy to pinpoint one thing that really dictated the direction of this series throughout. Anaheim looked unbeatable at points, and other times they didn’t like they belonged in the NHL. Goaltending was stellar at times and non-existent at others. Hell even the Anaheim blueline, touted so much in the first two rounds, struggled at times against the Predators.

And, when Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher went down at the end of Game 4, this series seemed all but locked up for Anaheim. But, then Anaheim ran into their own additional injury issues with Rickard Rakell going down in Game 4 and Gibson missing the final 5 periods of the series. After seeing the response from the Predators to their top centers getting injured, it became clear what was going to propel the Preds into the Finals: Resilience.

I know that’s a weird thing to hear from me, someone who prefers to have the numbers take precedence over the “eye-test,” but I simply think that the Predators were more resilient and better able to deal with adversity in this series. Anaheim showed remarkable resiliency in the first two rounds, orchestrating multiple miraculous comebacks and battling through injuries. However, and we say this every time Anaheim starts stringing together comebacks, that kind of play isn’t sustainable.

Anaheim couldn’t knock down all the obstacles put in front of them in the Western Conference Final, but Nashville could. When their top center and their captain both went down with injury in Game 4, the series was headed back to Anaheim for a Best-of-3 with two of those games being in the enemy barn. All signs pointed to their chances being extinct, but they battled through. Depth players like Colton Sissons stepped up big. Big time players like Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg continued to produce for this team. Pekka Rinne showed that his struggles early in the series were no more. And Nashville gritted their teeth and pushed past a team who couldn’t do without their two leading goal scorers. In the end, Nashville persevered despite their setbacks, and it won them this series.

Credit Where Credit is Due

First, Ryan Johansen. While I think his comments on Kesler were pretty silly, and I plan on bringing them up in jest if he ever gets his stick anywhere near a Duck groin, I have to give this guy a lot of credit. The young center played stellar in this series as well as the playoffs as a whole. I never wanted to see Johansen hurt and I wish him a speedy recovery, and I look forward to more postseason meetings between he & Ryan Kesler as it will be entertaining to say the least.

Next, Pekka Rinne. Rinne was lights out for the Preds in the first two rounds. But, early in the Western Conference Final, Rinne seemed to struggle a bit and many were questioning if he was going to be able to get it done for Nashville and help them win this series. Rinne gave his critics a resounding answer in the last two games of the series, posting a .946 save percentage and playing a huge part in holding late leads for the Predators. This man can steal not only a game, but a series, and will be key to Nashville’s effort to hoist the Cup this year.

Finally, I want to give a ton of credit to the Nashville Predators’ fans. While some of you may drive me insane with your whining about Kesler and other things, I cannot deny that this fan base is remarkably hockey smart and passionate. Bridgestone Arena was raucous for every game and the passion is fantastic. It’s cool to see y’all finally being rewarded for your dedication to this franchise and I hope you guys can hoist the Cup this year.

Anaheim’s Season as a Whole

Looking back to the beginning of this season, I had no confidence in the Ducks to make the sort of deep playoff run that they ended up doing. Bob Murray hadn’t brought in the pieces over the summer that I felt were necessary to address Anaheim’s deficiencies. I wasn’t sure this team could overcome their “Game 7 Curse.” And, despite my confidence that Gibson was the right choice over Andersen, he was still unproven in the playoffs and I wasn’t sure that would change this season.

In the end, Anaheim addressed all my concerns, at least partially. Bob Murray brought Patrick Eaves in at the deadline and he immediately added was a boost to the Anaheim forward group. Anaheim conquered their curse against a young Edmonton Oilers team to prove to themselves they wouldn’t be haunted by the past. And, despite some bad games, Gibson showed in the postseason that he has come a long way and is the goalie of the future for this team.

I’m extremely proud of what this team did this season. Overcoming a very rough start, making up for the lack of goal scoring from Corey Perry, and battling through long-term injuries to guys like Cam Fowler and John Gibson, this team showed a lot of resolve. And while I’m disappointed to see them eliminated within arms reach of the Stanley Cup Finals, considering I didn’t see them anywhere near the Cup at the beginning of the season makes me nothing but proud of their performance.

While I still don’t look at this team and see “Stanley Cup finalist,” they are not far from it. It will be interesting to see just what Bob Murray’s plan is for this roster. Prior to this season, Murray said he was going to give this core one more chance at a Cup. Now that chance is gone. Will Murray go into “rebuild mode?” In my opinion, this is the best option. With the prospect pool that Murray has built and the young stars already on the roster, I don’t think a rebuild would take long at all. I just think that it would be a mistake to try and continue to force the “win now” mentality with an aging core.

And don’t get me wrong, I want this team to win the Stanley Cup sooner rather than later, and they could certainly do so with some flashy trades and signings. But, with the prospect pool that Murray has built, I don’t want to see him throw away the promising future of this franchise on more aging stars. This team has the makings of a dynasty is Bob Murray plays his cards right. We’ll just have to sit back and see what he does.

To My Readers and Staff

I will finish this handshake line with some thank you’s. I did a little thank you feed on our Twitter account after the Game 6 loss, but I wanted to make sure those of you who don’t necessarily get your Anaheim Calling fix through Twitter still got to hear what I had to say.

First, a huge thank you to my staff. For those of you who don’t know, I came into this year with a ton of uncertainty. After Todd stepped down in July, there was a lot of uncertainty in Anaheim Calling. And, when Travis asked me to step up and take control of AC, I gladly accepted, not knowing what lay ahead. I had no experience in any sort of editorial position and was suddenly being charged with running this entire site. You could say I was excited, but nervous.

And, when I started, I had nearly no staff. Along with myself we only had three staff carry over from last season, and that was going to be nowhere near enough to get all of you the content you deserve. When I asked for applications, I had plenty of people apply and I knew that I really couldn’t be picky about who I brought on staff. In the end, I got remarkably lucky. Every single person I brought into the fold was fantastic, hungry to learn, and passionate about the Ducks and Anaheim Calling. All of them picked up on how I wanted things to get done and ran with it. They all made my job so much easier with their hard work.

So, to CJ, Daniel, Lois, Kristen, Alex, Caleb, Felix, John, and Shaun, thank you all so much for your hard work and dedication to Anaheim Calling this year. I couldn’t have done it without you and I look forward to working with y’all into the future.

And lastly, a thank to all of you, all our readers. Since the inception of Anaheim Calling back in 2009, you have been the lifeblood of this site. All of you are why we do this, and it’s an absolute pleasure making content for you. I know this year started off shaky, but y’all stuck with us while we found our footing. You’re dedication to this site and this team is what inspired us to get our act together and really hit our stride in getting you all the AC content you love. That dedication will stay with us in the off-season as we look forward to October. We will still bring you everything Ducks throughout the off-season so don’t worry. But there will be some changes in the works. We will bring in some free agents this summer, restructure our training regiment, and be ready to hit the ice come Game 1 next year. I look forward to exceeding your expectations next year and bringing you more of the Anaheim Calling you know and love, so keep an eye out for us.

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