This 2014-15 NHL Season Preview features the Anaheim Ducks.
What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?
The Ducks were 1 point away from having a Presidents’ Trophy season, and perhaps 1 win away from a Stanley Cup Final berth. They also finished 1 behind the league leading Chicago Blackhawks in goals scored.
Anaheim also witnessed the resurgence of defenseman Cam Fowler, who did an admirable job taking over the point on the top powerplay unit posting 15 of his 36 points on the man advantage.
Ben Lovejoy, once a discarded spare part in Pittsburgh, emerged as one of the team’s top shutdown players, playing nearly 20 minutes per night against top competition, and coming away with a +21 on the season.
Another pleasant surprise for coach Boudreau was rookie goaltender Frederik Andersen, who posted a .923 save percentage in his 28 games played, earning him the starting spot going into the playoffs.
What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?
Speaking of Andersen, he unfortunately could not hold on to the starting job come playoff time. In fact, Anaheim’s goaltending simply let them down in the post-season, forcing them to turn to unproven 20-year old John Gibson. This was not good news for a team that had championship aspirations last spring.
The writing was finally on the wall for the Finnish Flash this season. After 2 decades of being a Hall of Fame calibre player on and off the ice, Teemu Selanne managed just 9 goals in 65 games this season, while only playing just over 14 minutes per game. The hockey world finally said goodbye to Selanne, who announced his retirement shortly after the Ducks were eliminated.
If there was one area the Anaheim Ducks were mediocre in last season, it was faceoffs. They tied with Tampa Bay for the worst percentage (49.2) among the NHL’s top 10 teams.
This likely greatly contributed to their powerplay woes as well, as their 16% efficiency rating was the 2nd worst among the league’s top 10 teams.
So what did they do to get better?
Arguably the most sought after player this off-season was centre Ryan Kesler. Anaheim beat out offers from Chicago and Pittsburgh to secure his services, and with good reason. His faceoff prowess as well as his powerplay production will help shore up two areas that were weaknesses for Anaheim in 2013-14. That said, they did pay a steep price, giving up 3rd leading scorer Nick Bonino, young defenseman Luca Sbisa and a 1st round pick, for a player who has a lot of tough miles on his 30-year-old body.
Joining Kesler in trying to help revive the powerplay is Dany Heatley. He was signed to an inexpensive, 1 year deal in hopes that he can recover some of what once made him a 50-goal scorer in the NHL. It seems the Ducks have overlooked the fact that in order to score in the NHL, you need to be able to skate into position, something that’s become difficult for Heatley as he’s lost more than a few steps the last few seasons.
One very underrated addition this off-season was bottom six center Nate Thompson. He adds experience and grit to the bottom siz, as well as another better-than-50% faceoff man. He will also help improve a penalty kill that was mediocre, ranking 13th in the NHL last season.
Player to watch
Goaltender John Gibson showed flashes of brilliance last season in the few games he played, especially in the playoffs. If he can translate that into a solid first full season, he has a chance to supplant Frederik Andersen as the starting goaltender and be the first goaltender to contend for the Calder Trophy since Steve Mason won it in 2008-09.
If one of the two (Andersen or Gibson) emerges as a top goaltender, Anaheim may well be the team to beat in the entire league.
They will make the playoffs if…
An earthquake doesn’t swallow California. Anaheim will be there.
They will miss the playoffs if…
What should we expect this season?
The Ducks will have better offensive depth this season with the additions of Kesler and Heatley, and will be much improved in areas that were a concern last season.
While the goaltending is a relative question mark for a contending team, the tandem of Andersen and Gibson should perform well enough to earn the Ducks another run at the Presidents’ Trophy and top spot in the West. If one of the two emerges as a top goaltender, Anaheim may well be the team to beat in the entire league.
51-21-10 112 points, 1st in the Pacific Division, 1st in the Western Conference, Presidents’ Trophy Champions