It’s been a summer of transition in Anaheim. In fact it’s been a couple years worth of transition.
The Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007 and since September of that year, the team has made an astounding 27 trades, involving 51 players and 23 draft choices. Those are huge numbers and do not even take into account free agent signings and waiver wire transactions. These are not the Ducks of yesteryear; they’re not even the Ducks of last year.
This summer, GM Bob Murray has gone about remaking Anaheim’s blueline and second line – as in, the Ducks now have a second line. The biggest departure is Chris Pronger, gone to Philadelphia in exchange for winger Joffrey Lupul, young defenseman Luca Sbisa and a few draft picks. Blueliner Francois Beauchemin, too, is gone to Toronto as an unrestricted free agent. Also out the door are Bret Hedican and Rob Niedermayer, both of little consequence.
Joining Lupul and Sbisa in Anaheim black and gold this season are new No. 2 center Saku Koivu, who will be reunited with international linemate Teemu Selanne, and defenseman Nick Boynton, formerly of Boston, Phoenix and Florida.
The Anaheim blueline is assuredly weaker than last season without Pronger, but it’s still formidable. Captain Scott Niedermayer is the Steve Nash of the NHL, playing a style more akin to rover than a traditional defenseman. Ryan Whitney, acquired just before the deadline from Pittsburgh last season, is still maturing and will benefit greatly from Niedermayer’s example. James Wisniewski is physical with offensive upside in the mold of Beauchemin. Boynton, a bruiser in his own right, slides in at No. 4 and then the five and six spots are up for grabs with Sbisa, Sheldon Brookbank, Brett Festerling, Brendan Mikkelson, Steve McCarthy or Brian Salcido all vying for a chance to play regularly.
Expect Sbisa to be the 4b guy behind Boynton, gradually earning more playing time as the season continues. Remember, without Pronger eating up nearly 30 minutes a night, the Anaheim blueline will be one by committee more than it has been at any time since Niedermayer was on the sidelines to begin the 2007-08 season.
Making up for the blueline differences is the new forward corps. With Koivu and Lupul now lining up with Selanne, there’s a real second threat to score. No offense to Andrew Ebbett, who surprised with 32 points in 48 games last year and Erik Christensen, but Anaheim was desperate for a second-line center to get Selanne the puck and another goal-scorer. Now the Ducks have both.
With the additions up front, Anaheim boasts a top-six of Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry to go along with Koivu, Selanne and Lupul, a five-year veteran who has scored 20-plus goals three times. With muckers, grinders and penalty-killers filling out the bottom six spots, the Ducks are primed for another playoff run – THN has them making the playoffs as a higher seed than last year in our upcoming Yearbook predictions. And with the emergence of Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller last season, the Ducks also have a chip to play in Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who could fetch another top-six forward or top-four D-man should any problems arise with the current group, assuming he is willing to waive his no-trade clause.
What it all means is that the Ducks are assuredly better now than they were when their season ended with a seven-game loss to Detroit in the second round of the playoffs.
As Wisniewski said after re-upping with the Ducks Monday for one year at $2.75 million: “People might question our defense, but I’d beg to differ. All six can skate and move the puck. We have two absolutely fantastic scoring lines, a grinding line and a checking line and that’s what you need.”
Couldn’t agree more.
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