ANAHEIM, Calif. – Two days after Detroit abruptly ended Anaheim’s season, the Ducks were still in disbelief.
Even after they were forced to Game 7 against the Red Wings on Sunday night, the Ducks expected to spend Tuesday opening their first post-season matchup with the Los Angeles Kings, not packing boxes and bidding summer farewells after one of the best regular seasons in club history.
“I think there’s a lot of emptiness,” goalie Jonas Hiller said. “You’re sitting there, (wondering) if that really happened.”
The second-seeded Ducks expected a long playoff run after winning the Pacific Division with the best points percentage in franchise history and a balanced, deep roster. None of it helped in a seven-game loss to the Red Wings, with Anaheim losing three overtime games before falling behind early in a 3-2 defeat in Game 7 at Honda Center.
“I felt everybody was expecting that we would advance, and everybody in the room was even confident in Game 7 that we were going to win,” said Hiller, who posted a .917 save percentage in the series. “You don’t even know what’s going on the next day, because you’re thinking we’re skating again and preparing for the next round. It’s a lot of emptiness. It’s just a weird feeling.”
General manager Bob Murray and coach Bruce Boudreau don’t have the luxury of much reflection time. Murray built a potential Stanley Cup contender around cornerstones Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but he promises the same team won’t return in the fall.
Murray intends to add more toughness and depth, while expecting the Ducks’ promising young players to get even better. Although the Ducks already have an enviable mix of veteran poise and young talent, Boudreau knows the mix will change before training camp.
“We did a lot of good things, but in the end of the day, we fell short,” Boudreau said. “Maybe not of the predictions before the year, but once you start gaining that respect with what we accomplished during the course of the year, we didn’t get done what we should have got done, which is beat Detroit, because I still think we’re the better team.”
The usual question is atop the list of the Ducks’ off-season concerns: Will 42-year-old Teemu Selanne return for another year?
Selanne had another solid season, but his playing time and production decreased in the second half of the lockout-shortened campaign. Seven Ducks forwards got more ice time than Selanne in Game 7, and he didn’t score a goal after the series opener.
Selanne plans to take several weeks to contemplate his future. His family has always been supportive of a playing career in its third decade, but the Finnish Flash also has a full life away from hockey.
Selanne is still disappointed to miss out on his best chance for a long playoff run since the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007.
“This team was ready to go further,” Selanne said. “I knew with our depth, the longer we would go would be to our advantage. Not so many teams have that. … We have such a good team here right now. We know we’re better than this. I think everyone felt there is some unfinished business here. It would be easier if we didn’t feel that way. I think this team is ready to win right now.”
Centre Saku Koivu also plans to wait a few weeks before announcing whether he’ll play again. Although Selanne and the 38-year-old Koivu had less prominent roles this season, Boudreau said he would welcome back all of his three key Finns, including 35-year-old defenceman Toni Lydman, an unrestricted free agent.
The Ducks’ future is bright beyond Selanne’s decision. Murray inked Getzlaf and Perry to eight-year contracts worth a combined $135 million during the season, artfully avoiding a free-agent bidding competition for two stars drafted and nurtured by the organization. Getzlaf proved his worth with an outstanding season despite injuring his ankle in early March, although Perry didn’t score a goal in Anaheim’s seven-game playoff series.
The Ducks’ revamped defence was a major reason for their success this season, and most of that core will be back in the fall. Francois Beauchemin had an up-and-down series after an outstanding regular season, but Murray revealed Tuesday that Beauchemin played the last month with a torn knee ligament that will require surgery.
Anaheim also is loaded with two gifted goalies, although newcomer Viktor Fasth wasn’t fully healthy in the post-season due to a strained abdominal muscle. Hiller and Fasth are both under contract for next season, and Boudreau expects a competition in training camp after the duo split their starts this season.
“I get along with Viktor very well, and it’s nice to have somebody around,” Hiller said. “On the other hand, I don’t know if we’d both (be) happy if we just played 40 games next year, kind of going half-and-half.”
Once the sting of their loss fades, the Ducks will be able to appreciate the positive aspects of this season, including the Pacific Division title banner they’ll hang in the fall—just the second in franchise history.
“It was not good enough, but I think everybody felt like with this team, we can do a lot,” Hiller said. “I think everybody is excited to come back here next year and do it again. Even though we didn’t get much credit before the year and we proved everybody wrong, next year we want to do the same thing again.”