The Anaheim Ducks have been eliminated deeper into the post-season in each of the past three campaigns, but they’ve got their minds set on changing that pattern in 2015-16. With the outstanding duo of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, and young guns like Jakob Silfverberg and Sami Vatanen, the Ducks could very well end this season hoisting the Stanley Cup.
2014-15 Record: 51-24-7 (109 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 1st, Pacific Division
What To Expect: In the past three playoffs, the Ducks have inched progressively closer to their second Stanley Cup, taking 3-2 series leads before falling short. Most recently, they appeared destined for the dance, before the resiliency of the Blackhawks overpowered them. This string of near misses could be spirit crushing, or it could be the perfect motivational elixir. Bet on the latter. The Ducks are once again all in. General manager Bob Murray made clever off-season tweaks, upgrading his wings with
Chris Stewart’s size and
Carl Hagelin’s speed while adding veteran bottom-six help in
Shawn Horcoff and
Mike Santorelli. Anaheim’s offense dipped from first to 11th and lost 22-goal scorer
Matt Beleskey this off-season, along with
Kyle Palmieri and
Emerson Etem. The Ducks needs new additions to pitch in and to see progress from youngsters
Rickard Rakell and
Jiri Sekac. Anaheim relied on a top-heavy structure led by
Corey Perry and
Ryan Kesler. Secondary scoring must take the heat off the top guns.
Last season’s goals against ranked 20th, not nearly good enough. Personnel-wise, the Ducks ‘D’ is exceptional, and the young trio of
Sami Vatanen and
Cam Fowler haven’t blossomed fully. The 21-year-old Lindholm, a No. 1 defenseman in the making, could surge. Stable vet
Francois Beauchemin left for Colorado as a UFA, but Murray acquired
Kevin Bieksa to fill that hole. Goaltending is good but not great, with
Frederik Andersen the incumbent No. 1. But don’t be surprised if
John Gibson takes the reins.
Anton Khudobin is an option in case either falters. Imagine how dominant the Ducks can be with a power play ranked higher than 28th? New assistant coach Paul MacLean will be tasked with bettering the lowly PP, which saw Getzlaf and Perry combine for seven goals. In another Cup-or-bust season, Bruce Boudreau is on the hot seat after failing to close out a tight series. With MacLean and AHL San Diego coach Dallas Eakins in the organization, and a handful of veteran coaches looking for work, Boudreau can’t afford to stumble.
Best-Case Scenario: The season ends with Getzlaf hoisting the Stanley Cup. After losing the Western Conference final in seven games to the Blackhawks in 2014-15, Anaheim will care little about personal accolades and be gunning for only one thing: the NHL’s top prize. Getting there won’t be easy in a division with a Kings team set for resurgence, but bank on the Ducks making a strong push for Stanley Cup No. 2.
Worst-Case Scenario: From an emotional standpoint, this team cannot afford another post-season series that goes to seven games with them dropping the clincher on home ice. At some point, it has to weigh on the collective mindset of the team and if it happens for a fourth season in a row, the Ducks are going to need to try to shake yet another excruciating defeat.
Who To Watch: Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler are the go-to players, but after an outstanding post-season,
Jakob Silfverberg may be the breakout star on the roster this campaign. After potting 13 goals and 39 points in 81 regular season contests, he went off for four goals and 18 points in 16 playoff outings. He more than doubled his points-per-game. At 24, Silfverberg is entering his prime right now and is surrounded by a stable of veterans that can guide him and also shelter him from needing to be an impact player night in and night out. With that pressure off of his shoulder, he could explode this campaign. He was rewarded with a four-year, $15-million contract this past off-season. Expect Silfverberg to reward the Ducks good faith with an even better season.
What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):
Click here for more detail on these predictions. The Anaheim Ducks have been perhaps the most divisive team in the league between old and new school over the past few years. They’re the poster child for sustainable unsustainability, but that may change this season because the Ducks are fielding what is likely the best true talent team they’ve had in the Boudreau era. It starts with something the eyes and numbers agree on and that’s an elite defense. The combined projected WAR of Anaheim’s top three of Vatanen, Lindholm, and Fowler is behind only Ottawa and San Jose in the entire league and they might be able to exceed that too based on their age and pedigree. Bieksa rounds out the top four and while he doesn’t look great here, he’s a big improvement over an aging Beauchemin.
Simon Despres and
Clayton Stoner make a capable bottom pairing. The forward group on the other hand doesn’t look as great. While the top three D-men are just beginning to come into their own, the top three forwards are all in their 30s and are likely on the decline. Getzlaf and Perry are still elite, but Kesler is a shade of the player he once was. Hagelin was a good addition to the Ducks’ top nine, but there’s few standout depth players outside the big three. Goaltending should be just average, but might excel considering the strong D-corps in front of it. Andersen has been good in the past and Khudobin should be able to bounce back after an awful season in Carolina. In past years the Ducks seemed like pretenders due for a bit of regression, but that’s not exactly the case this time around. They won’t win as many one goal games as they did last season, but the team is much stronger now to offset that. While the forwards and goaltending don’t look very special, the defense group is elite and should propel the team towards the upper echelon of the West.
THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.