With the acquisition of agitating left winger Jarkko Ruutu the Anaheim Ducks have clearly sent a message to the rest of the West that they are in this season to win it and it won’t be fun to meet them in the playoffs.
Coming on the heels of the deal that grabbed defenseman Francois Beauchemin back from Toronto and the signing of free agent goalie Ray Emery, the Ducks are officially bolstered. They didn’t even have to raid the draft pick pantry, as swaps that jettisoned little-used Ducks Aaron Voros (Toronto in a separate trade) and Paul Mara (Montreal) both netted depth selections, effectively nullifying the loss of a sixth-rounder in 2011 for Ruutu and the conditional 2013 pick in the Beauchemin trade.
But it’s not all smiles and sunshine in the O.C.
The fly in the ointment comes in the form of star goalie Jonas Hiller’s strange bout with lightheadedness, which currently has him on the IR. While backup Curtis McElhinney is 3-2-0 in his past five decisions (including wins over Vancouver and suddenly-hot Calgary), he has not proven himself to be a workhorse goaltender at this point. The Ducks don’t have the luxury of him stepping in to a pressure situation and succeeding the way they did in the early stages of the 2007 Stanley Cup run when Ilya Bryzgalov spelled J-S Giguere in the opening round.
Is Emery the answer? It’s not out of the question. After all, he was the opposing netminder in that ’07 final as a member of the Ottawa Senators, so he’s been to the top before. But Emery also hasn’t played an NHL game this season and is only now embarking on his campaign in the American League after rehabbing a major hip injury. Hiller is needed for another Anaheim run.
Which is why the Ducks are such an interesting case study in pre-deadline zeitgeist. Here’s a team that looks incredibly strong as a post-season contender, yet its fate is essentially hanging on one player with an ailment far less predictable than a broken bone or a sprained muscle. Hiller could be back in a week for all we know at this point. If not, it would be quite a shame for all Duck lovers.
Anaheim has two potent scoring lines, beginning with the Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry combo. As an added bonus, Ryan and Perry kept ticking while Getzlaf was on the shelf with facial injuries, so the Ducks know the pair can step up if necessary. Behind them is the veteran line of Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Jason Blake providing excellent secondary scoring. From there, the Ducks now boast a formidable group of role players, penalty-killers and ruffians – Ruutu, Brandon McMillan, Todd Marchant and Maxim Lapierre among them.
The defense has offensive punch (Lubomir Visnovsky, Cam Fowler), a defensive conscience (Toni Lydman), Stanley Cup experience (Beauchemin, Andreas Lilja), size (Andy Sutton) and exciting youth (Fowler and Luca Sbisa).
When you spell it all out, it adds up to an intimidating team – and the Ducks tend to overachieve in the playoffs even when they’re not coming in as a juggernaut.
The Hiller conundrum still stands tall, but if there’s one safety valve in all this, it’s that GM Bob Murray lost very little in his pre-deadline scramble. Essentially, prospect blueliner Jake Gardiner was the only casualty, since Ruutu effectively replaces Joffrey Lupul in the forward corps even if the two have different skill sets.
Is this the deft future of quick contender-tweaking in the NHL? Anaheim has the next couple of months to make a statement on that theory.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays, The Hot List appears Tuesdays and Rookie Report appears every other Wednesday.