There’s only one goal for the Anaheim Ducks this season: win their second Stanley Cup in franchise history.
After finishing with the best record in the Western Conference last season, the Ducks defeated the Dallas Stars in six games in their first-round playoff series before losing in seven games to the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings. With the new NHL’s new playoff format pitting divisional opponents against each other in Round 2, the Ducks probably will need to go through the Kings if they’re going to win another title.
The Ducks responded to last season’s disappointing finish by making a trade with the Vancouver Canucks for former Selke Trophy winner and top-six center Ryan Kesler. Anaheim gave up very little to acquire Kesler, who gives them a fantastic 1-2 punch down the middle along with Hart Trophy finalist Ryan Getzlaf.
Let’s preview the 2014-15 Anaheim Ducks.
Key arrivals: Ryan Kesler (via trade), Dany Heatley (free agent), Nick Ritchie (No. 10 pick in draft)
Key departures: Nick Bonino (via trade), Luca Sbisa (via trade), Saku Koivu (retirement), Teemu Selanne (retirement), Daniel Winnik (free agent)
Player to Watch
Dany Heatley is looking to revive his career in Anaheim after three disappointing seasons with the Minnesota Wild. The veteran right winger, who signed a one-year contract as a free agent, scored 50 goals twice with the Ottawa Senators and played a part in the San Jose Sharks being among the most dynamic offensive teams, but he has totaled just 47 goals since the start of the 2011-12 campaign.
Heatley likely will play on the Ducks’ first line alongside captain Ryan Getzlaf (who finished second in scoring last season with 87 points) and Corey Perry (a perennial 40-goal scorer former MVP). This opportunity will Heatley him in a lot of scoring positions, and the presence of two power forwards on his line should give him plenty of space to operate in the attacking zone.
Heatley once was among the NHL’s best goal-scoring wingers, and it will be interesting to see how playing for a contender and being surrounded by so many quality players will impact his career trajectory at age 33. He’s among the biggest wild cards for Anaheim.
The Ducks’ goaltending lacks experience (more on that below), but luckily for head coach Bruce Boudreau, he has a high-powered offense to make up for some of the blue line’s mistakes. Anaheim led the league in goals scored last season and had 10 double-digit scorers, highlighted by Getzlaf’s career-high 31 tallies and Perry’s 43 (second-most in the league).
In addition to a talented group of veterans bolstered by the addition of Kesler, the Ducks’ excellent drafting in recent seasons has stocked the cupboard with quality prospects who will compete for bottom-six jobs. That group includes first-round picks Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell, Nick Ritchie, as well as second-round selections Devante Smith-Pelly and Nick Sörensen.
The Ducks have three lines capable of providing consistent scoring, a strength many teams lack.
Most Glaring Weakness
Inexperienced goaltending is the one issue that could derail the Ducks’ Cup march. Frederik Andersen is a quality goaltender and impressed as a rookie in 2013-14 with a 20-5-0 record, .929 save percentage and 2.29 goals against average. His save percentage decreased to .899 and his GAA rose to 3.10 in the playoffs as he struggled to a 3-2 record.
Andersen’s backup will be rookie John Gibson, who helped Anaheim win the Pacific Division crown with a 3-0 record and .954 save percentage in the final few weeks of the regular season. His GAA more than doubled in the playoffs, and his save percentage decreased to .919 in five postseason games.
Both of these netminders are tremendous talents and should become star players in the near future, but are they ready to lead a team to a Stanley Cup title right now?
Expectations In 2014-15
Anything short of a championship would be a failure for Anaheim. This team has underachieved in the postseason over the last four years and hasn’t advanced past the second round since it won the Cup in 2007. With a deep forward group, a blue line that features some of the league’s best young puck-moving defensemen and a solid goaltending tandem, the Ducks arguably are the premier team on paper.