The Anaheim Ducks added Ryan Kesler in the summer to give them a ferocious 1-2 punch down the middle. There’s no doubt the Ducks are Stanley Cup contenders, with a bullish top line, strong blueline and depth in goalies. This is why we have them first in the Pacific. Do you agree?
2013-14 record: 54-20-8
Acquisitions: Dany Heatley, Jason LaBarbera, Clayton Stoner, Nate Thompson, Ryan Kesler, Louis Leblanc
Departures: Daniel Winnik, Zack Stortini, Jonas Hiller, Mathieu Perreault, Stephane Robidas, Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, Teemu Selanne
Top five fantasy players: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Andrew Cogliano, Cam Fowler
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: If GM Bob Murray had to do the trade deadline all over again, he’d have a more secure Plan B in place when his quest for Ryan Kesler fell through. As it unfolded, Murray didn’t give his top two lines any kind of offensive boost. Meanwhile, the rival Los Angeles Kings added Marian Gaborik, who almost singlehandedly sunk the Ducks, with six goals and 10 points in their seven-game second-round series.
Murray made amends during the summer by finally landing Kesler, who creates a one-two punch with Ryan Getzlaf that rivals every top Western Conference foe. On top of that, Murray added depth and grit to the blueline in Clayton Stoner, while bringing in a wildcard in Dany Heatley. In the right fit, Heatley can still be a difference-maker, especially on the man advantage.
If the kids continue to improve and Kesler stays healthy, the Ducks should stay atop the West and have a legit shot at knocking off the reigning champs in the playoffs.
Bust: In a span of a few months, Anaheim said goodbye to Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller. The Ducks will go with youngsters John Gibson and Frederik Andersen instead. Both had good runs last season but are largely unproven. Gibson is considered the best goalie prospect in the game, so expectations are high, and Andersen outshone Hiller and Fasth last season. It’s unlikely both will turn into busts, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the duo will have growing pains.
Another bugaboo that lingers in Anaheim is the inability of coach Bruce Boudreau to win successive series in the playoffs, dating back to his days in Washington. He has proven to be a players’ coach, but he has yet to show he can devise a successful counterattack at crunch time.
The Ducks can now be mentioned in the same breath as Chicago, L.A., St. Louis and San Jose, but they don’t have the scoring depth of those clubs. The offense is top heavy and runs through Getzlaf and Perry. An injury to either would be disastrous.
Bottom Line: Make no mistake, the Ducks are in the upper echelon of Stanley Cup contenders. Perry and Getzlaf are in their primes, there is plenty of youth, skill and mobility on the blueline, and in the crease they have the best group of prospects in the NHL. With some steps forward from youngsters throughout the lineup, Anaheim will be better equipped to push past the Kings in the regular season and maybe even in the playoffs.
Prospect To Watch: Gibson is Anaheim’s big Calder hope, but his chances at the rookie of the year award depend on how many starts he gets. Gibson is in tight competition with Andersen for the lead job, with a likely outcome being that they’ll split starts – at least until one steals (or loses) the job in-season.
THN’s Prediction: 1st in Pacific Division
Contributors: Brian Costello, Rory Boylen