2014-15 ANAHEIM DUCKS SEASON PREVIEW
2013-14 record: 54-20-8, 116 points; Pacific Division Champions, 1st place, Western Conference
2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Lost in second round to Los Angeles (seven games)
Additions: C Ryan Kesler, D Clayton Stoner, LW Dany Heatley, C Nate Thompson, G Jason LaBarbera
Subtractions: RW Teemu Selanne, C Saku Koivu, G Jonas Hiller, LW Daniel Winnik, C Mathieu Perreault, C Nick Bonino, D Luca Sbisa, D Stephane Robidas
There are several directions one could venture in a Ducks preview. Should the the perfectly salient argument undertaken by the advanced stats crowd be acknowledged, that the Ducks are an overachieving, luck-smitten club that has ridden an unsustainably high PDO (What is PDO?) before crashing and burning in the playoffs? This would be known as the Regression Argument. Or is Anaheim a soundly constructed team that relies on two of the game’s elite stars and a burgeoning amassment of young, skilled players who form excellent depth and one of the league’s top prospect pools?
LAKI, while acknowledging the Ducks’ #fancystats shortcomings, aligns closer to the latter argument. For the reason (briefly) explained above, count on the Ducks to once again easily surpass the 100-point plateau and earn home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Of course, attention must be paid to the ominous underlying statistics. Anaheim had an astronomical five-on-five PDO of 1024 last season, one point behind league-leading Boston and six points ahead of the league’s third place team. This notes that the Ducks relied on a very high shooting percentage – they led the league with an overall Sh% of 10.24 – and a five-on-five save percentage of 92.6%. The average NHL team’s shooting percentage is a shade over nine percent, and given that no team matched Anaheim’s 3.21 goals per game last season, yes, there should be some regression in the team’s offensive output.
It’s not likely to be a significant regular season regression, however, due in part to Ryan Getzlaf, who rode a 31-goal, 87-point performance en route to a deserved Hart Trophy nomination, and Corey Perry, the 2011 Hart Trophy winner who has scored 204 goals over his last 376 games, missing only 11 games over that six-season span.
And in keeping up with the Stanley Cup winners (in a more organized and fluid way than the method undertaken by San Jose this off-season, it should be added), the addition of Ryan Kesler via trade enhances the Ducks’ one-two punch at center. Though they seemed to be fine with the defensive-minded Saku Koivu in a number two center role, Koivu totaled one assist and a minus-three rating in 13 playoff games and was a possession drain on his team, finishing with a -11.4% Corsi relative rating in the postseason. The acquisition of Kesler clearly makes the Ducks a better team on all sides of the puck, and the center will be a great boon on faceoffs. The Ducks have finished 20th, 26th, 28th, 26th and 27th in the league in faceoff percentage over the last five years and have not been in the black at the faceoff dot since 2007-08. Kesler, with his 54.5% faceoff rate since the 2007-08 season, should help immensely at an area of need and was acquired from a position of depth. As dominant as Ryan Getzlaf is an all areas of the ice, he has finished above 50% in faceoffs only once in his nine-year NHL career.
While Dany Heatley appeared on many headlines and reports chronicling Anaheim’s off-season navigation – and surely the former pure goal scorer will be an interesting player to follow – this is a team whose greatest offensive potential will come from the glut of its highly skilled offensive prospect pool and a group of emerging players who will see their offensive totals rise with more ice time. Who will be this year’s Nick Bonino, who became a 22-goal scorer after back-to-back five goal seasons? Could it be Kyle Palmieri, who is screaming for a greater opportunity after posting a 14-goal, 31-point season as a 22-year-old who earned 11:57 of ice time per game? Or could it come from the committee of Jakob Silfverberg, who will turn 24 years old and should build on his 23-point season, Emerson Etem (22 years old / 11 points in 29 games), Matt Beleskey (26 years old / 24 points in 55 games), Devante Smith-Pelly (22 years old / 10 points in 19 games), Rickard Rakell (21 years old), and roster hopefuls Stefan Noesen (former first round pick acquired in the Bobby Ryan trade) or Nic Kerdiles (second round pick and former University of Wisconsin standout)? There will be opportunities for roster spots and important roles for this talented group of young Ducks.
Despite being a middle-of-the-road possession squad last year, the Ducks did an admirable job of keeping the puck out of their own net and finished ninth in the league by allowing 2.48 goals against per game. Their blue line, which suffered a huge blow in the playoffs when trade deadline target Stephane Robidas broke his leg in the Dallas series, will be lifted by the continued progression of poised-beyond-his-years Hampus Lindholm. Judge the versatile defenseman less on his inability to slow down a net-bound Jeff Carter in Game 7, and more on the fact that as a 19-year-old rookie, the former sixth overall pick posted six goals and 30 points while averaging 19:26 of ice time. Sami Vatanen posted impressive possession numbers in the postseason, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect the 23-year old who is undersized but a gifted skater and capable of pushing the pace of play to earn and hold on to a top-four role. He racked up six goals and 21 points in 48 games a season ago. Francois Beauchemin remains the all-situations workhorse, the skilled Cam Fowler will look to build off the all-around breakthrough that had been expected of him, and the more versatile Ben Lovejoy will return as a preferred option over the tough but less mobile Bryan Allen, a veteran shot blocker.
There are three goaltenders vying for a pair of spots in net. John Gibson, who was excellent in the second round before surrendering a soft, turning point-type goal to Trevor Lewis in Game 6 and getting pulled early in Game 7, is the budding young star who may benefit from additional time at the AHL level but certainly has a long National Hockey League future ahead of him. Frederik Andersen, who like Lindholm was voted to the NHL’s All-Rookie Team, is the expected starter after going 20-5-0 with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in 2013-14. He was shaky late in the Dallas series and was unable to break the 3.00 GAA and .900 Sv% barriers in the postseason. Andersen was 2-0 with a .941 Sv% against Los Angeles in the regular season and earned a no decision by stopping 22 of 23 shots against the Kings in a 3-2 Game 3 win, his only appearance in the teams’ playoff series. Jason LaBarbera was signed to add depth and competition in net and will serve as Andersen’s back-up if Gibson returns to the AHL.
Anaheim celebrated its 20th anniversary season last year, and in 2014-15, there will be no Teemu Selanne and no Saku Koivu as the franchise looks to embark on a new phase after performing quite well in a warm-weather hockey market after emerging from the usual trials and tribulations of an expansion team. Hopefully that new phase includes a new scoreboard.
To speak on the direction of this Kings-Ducks rivalry, and the topics on Ducks fans minds heading into a season in which they no longer sit atop or tied for first place in Stanley Cups amongst California teams, we consulted with mega Ducks fan and hockey scribe Jen Neale of Yahoo! Puck Daddy: