Return To Glory?

The World Champion Anaheim Ducks celebrate as Scott Niedermeyer hoists the Stanley Cup in 2007

The World Champion Anaheim Ducks celebrate as Scott Niedermeyer hoists the Stanley Cup in 2007

For the Anaheim Ducks, the long road back to the Stanley Cup starts at home October 3rd against last year’s Presidents Trophy winners and fierce division rival San Jose Sharks. It figures to be contentious if nothing else, as this emerging rivalry increases in intensity each year. Their last meeting culminated with the 8th seeded Ducks barely squeaking into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, before dominating and dumping the President’s Trophy winners in 6 games. What people forget about the Stanley Cup Champion Ducks team from just a little over 2 years ago, is that while the defense and goal tending were stellar, their offensive speed and depth was far better than it has been in the last two years.

That led to the major theme this off season…recognizing that tough defense and leading the league in penalty minutes and fighting majors haven’t won the team a championship since 2007, and Anaheim parted ways with physical defensemen Francois Beauchemin and future hall of famer Chris Pronger. Their toughness on defense will be missed. Beauchemin is perhaps most famous for his pummeling of Calgary’s feared tough guy/team captain/all-star Jerome Iginla in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Pronger is an imposing specimen who’s never been afraid to throw an elbow or pound the opposition with whatever method is most readily available.

The main problem the Ducks will have is replacing Pronger in the crease. The Ducks main rivals (San Jose, Detroit) make a living with sloppy, garbage, cherry picking goal scoring from big bodies they park in front of the goal tender’s sightline. The main culprits are Tomas Holmstrom from the Red Wings and Joe Thornton of the Sharks. Although Thornton is a superior all around talent, many times the Sharks choose to utilize his large frame to screen the goaltender, parking his posterior in the edge of the crease, and slapping in any rebound fired from outside that the goaltender was lucky enough to get a piece of.  Say what you what about Pronger, but his love of physical play and large frame was the best defense at getting this garbage-style goal scoring away from Anaheim goal tenders. Who will get these imposing, physical figures that camp out on the doorstep of the crease, out?

At 6’4″ 219 lbs, Ryan Whitney figures to be the guy, although Steve Wisnewski may be the toughest and grittiest. Coming over in a trade for gutty winger Chris Kunitz, Whitney managed only one goal and failed attempts at getting his hands dirty like a big defensemen should.

The other potential problem is their 2nd line. While incredibly skilled, they don’t specialize in physicality, and are much smaller at an average of 5’11″, 198 lb per man vs. their 1st line average of 6’3″, 216 lbs. They will have to avoid getting pushed around. If they protect their 2nd line from getting bullied, and kick would-be muckers out of the crease (both of these seem to involve a good deal of Ryan Whitney) the Ducks could put some distance between themselves and the rest of the West.

And, what they’ve lost in toughness they’ve gained in offensive finesse. Perennial Cup contender and bitter rival Detroit has made its living with continuous lines of fore checking forwards that play defense by attacking in seemingly endless waves. This takes pressure off the defense because the opposing offense can’t mount an attack. Imagine if Detroit actually had goal tending that was more than above average.

With the re-acquisition of Joffrey Lupul, and perhaps the most key acquisition in Saku Koivu, the Ducks gain some of that offensive finesse back. Look for Koivu to center the new and improved 2nd line, with Team Finland line mate Teemu Selanne and Joffrey Lupul. This is a legitimate, threatening 2nd line that could see 60 points per man. If this happens, and with the Ducks superior goal tending, Anaheim fans have a very real shot at the Euphoria they experienced in 2007 all over again.

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