ANAHEIM, Calif. – Although Corey Perry has won a Stanley Cup, an MVP award and an NHL goal-scoring title in his short career, the Anaheim Ducks’ star forward remains hungry for more hardware.
Another NHL title with the Ducks is his first choice for the collection.
After a tumultuous season of impressive highs and ugly lows, the Ducks return with largely the same core in search of improvement on last spring’s first-round playoff ouster.
Perry spent the summer absorbing congratulations for his 98-point season, which included a stunning array of late-game heroics during Anaheim’s sprint to the playoffs. Largely on the strength of that clutch play, he won his first Hart Trophy in a mildly surprising vote, and he claimed the Richard Trophy with a career-high 50 goals—18 more than his previous career high.
“It was a different off-season than I’m used to, that’s for sure,” Perry said. “It’s great to get individual honours, but I’m always thinking about what we can do to get better in Anaheim before anything else. I think we’ve got a team that can play with anybody, but trophies won’t help you do that.”
Perry and his linemates, captain Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, lead the Ducks into another season likely to feature impressive offence and up-and-down defence from one of the NHL’s most exciting clubs. Perry’s line is among the NHL’s best, yet the long-standing combination isn’t resting on the laurels of last season’s remarkable play.
“We’re always experimenting, always trying different things,” said Ryan, who’s coming off his third straight 30-goal season. “We’re not there yet, but we’ve been playing together for too long for it not to happen.”
Despite their first-round playoff loss to the Nashville Predators, the Ducks ended last season with a wealth of reasons for optimism. Anaheim surged back from a mediocre start with a fantastic finish featuring multiple heart-stopping victories in the regular season, winning 15 of its final 20 games.
The Ducks even did it without Jonas Hiller, the Swiss netminder who played just 83 minutes after his first all-star game appearance with an apparent bout of vertigo. The Ducks’ long summer benefited Hiller, who took much of the summer off to heal, returning to workouts several weeks ago in Switzerland with no symptoms.
“I’m going to keep working and trying to get back, but I’m feeling really good,” Hiller said. “It’s going to take a while to say for sure, but I’m happy and confident.”
Hiller is the Ducks’ most important off-season addition, and he appears to be back on his formidable game. He allowed just three goals on 67 shots in 130 minutes of pre-season action, showing no apparent signs of last season’s still-unexplained head injury.
Teemu Selanne’s return was less certain, but the 41-year-old Finnish Flash bounced back from early off-season knee surgery and decided shortly before training camp to return for a 19th NHL season. He was the NHL’s eighth-leading scorer last year with 80 points, and he’ll be the guest of honour when the Ducks visit Finland in a few days for an exhibition against Jokerit, his former club in the Helsinki area.
“It’s going to be fun, especially for me,” Selanne said. “There’s already a lot of people calling me and asking for favours. It’s going to be a great experience to go into the (Jokerit) building and play in that atmosphere, but you’ve got to keep focused on what you’re really there to do, and not try to do anything extra that gets in the way.”
The Ducks made remarkably few changes to their roster, keeping their core completely intact with the exception of retired centre Todd Marchant. Anaheim acquired speedy centre Andrew Cogliano from Edmonton and added several candidates for depth jobs—including 19-year-old right wing Devante Smith-Pelly, who could get a nine-game look during the regular season before Anaheim decides whether to send him back to juniors.
High-scoring defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky is healthier after an off-season of rest, and Kurtis Foster is the only major addition to a defence that struggled mightily for stretches last season, relying heavily on Hiller and departed goalie Ray Emery for help.
Coach Randy Carlyle spent much of training camp teaching instead of scrimmaging, hoping to instil defensive discipline in every player—including those three stars on his top line, who sometimes neglect the dirty work of backchecking.
Carlyle is grateful that Anaheim has much the same roster as last year’s club. Continuity and teamwork will only improve with another year together, Carlyle believes, perhaps sanding off some of the rough edges in the Ducks’ exciting approach to the game.
That approach didn’t beat defence-minded Nashville in last season’s playoffs, but Carlyle still believes his array of offensive talent can match up with anybody in the NHL.
“We’ve done some good things so far this year,” Carlyle said. “Everything we do defensively has improved, but we’ve got to keep improving. We won’t be done improving, hopefully ever.”