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The Hockey News

We're only a month into the season so it's far too early to label the struggling Anaheim Ducks as cooked, but here are four legitimate reasons why they could follow in the footsteps of the Carolina Hurricanes and miss the playoffs the year after winning the Stanley Cup.

MISSING INGREDIENTS: The loss of all-world defenseman Scott Niedermayer and Anaheim's top two goal-scorers Teemu Selanne and Dustin Penner has been devastating.

With Todd Bertuzzi and Mathieu Schneider injured, that means the big three have been replaced by Shane Hnidy, Mark Mowers and Drew Miller. They've combined for two goals and four points in 14 games.

CUP HANGOVER: After more than 100 games spanning almost nine months, it's only natural for the bodies and mindsets of the Cup champions to keep it out of fifth or even fourth gear in October.

The players learned from experience last season the Cup chase is a marathon, not a dash. You can't unteach them that.

OVERRATED: A handful of unheralded Ducks were exceptional during the spring run last season. It's quite conceivable we're expecting those players to do the same again this season. But it's more probable those players will fall back to the norm.

Andy McDonald, Chris Kunitz, Francois Beauchemin, Travis Moen and Todd Marchant are all good players in various roles. But we can't expect them all to exceed or even match what they did last season.

Even with Nashville slipping this season, the Western Conference is more competitive than ever.

Rest assured Detroit, San Jose, Calgary and Minnesota will finish somewhere in the top eight. With Colorado off to such a fantastic start, it would be surprising to see them slip out of the playoff picture.

Columbus, St. Louis and Chicago are all doing well now, but let's say two of them fall out of bed the next few months and the third becomes the surprise team of the West.

That gives us six teams in the playoffs and Anaheim battling Vancouver, Dallas and Los Angeles for the final two playoff spots.

I'm still picking Anaheim to make the playoffs, but what seemed like a sure thing a month ago isn't so anymore.


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