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Ducks: Looking ahead to the offseason

4/27/2011

As the Ducks tie the bow on an entertaining but somewhat unfulfilled 2010-11 season, they face another summer of the unknown. One area of uncertainty has become an annual ritual in Anaheim’s front office, while the other is stumbling block they’ve never encountered before.

Here’s a closer look at the key areas that need to be addressed in the offseason, and the ones that seem fine the way they are.

I. Will he or won’t he?

Teemu Selanne heads off on his summer retreat with another heavy decision on his mind. Selanne will turn 41 on July 3, but was the spriest and most productive player on the Ducks during their six-game loss to Nashville in the Western Conference quarterfinals.

After an 80-point regular season, Selanne scored a career-best six goals during the Nashville series and delivered a flat-on-his back assist late in Game 5 that provided the final roar of the season at Honda Center. He showed plenty of durability during his 19th season in the NHL and, most importantly, said he particularly enjoyed the experience.

Selanne will be an unrestricted free agent July 1 but it’s very doubtful he’d return anywhere else but Anaheim, where he has spent the last six seasons and 11 overall. The Ducks have made it clear they want him back for another year as well.

But just like his play on the ice, oftentimes Selanne doesn’t really know his next move. He just lets his instincts take over.

II. Hiller mystery

Probably the most angst will be felt every time goalkeeper Jonas Hiller heads off for another doctor’s appointment.

Hiller inexplicably came down with vertigo-related symptoms following his first All-Star appearance in late January, gave it a go a few times but couldn’t shake the feeling of always being a step behind. He played his last game March 24 in Nashville.

Hiller is still feeling symptoms, he said after his exit interview Tuesday, and continues to seek medical advice to try and pinpoint the cause.

His status also has Ray Emery in limbo. The Ducks signed Emery in February as insurance for Hiller, never realizing Emery would be their goalie for the playoffs. He did a solid job in the postseason but a healthy Hiller could have swung the tide in the ultra-close series.

Regardless, the Hiller situation has left everyone rubbing their chins, wondering which direction it will take next.

III. Blue line depth

With the retirement of Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Scott Niedermayer last offseason, the Ducks came into this year with some holes that, well, just weren’t going to be filled.

Partially patched? Maybe.

Never filled.

They got a steal in the draft, however, when Cam Fowler fell into their laps with the No. 12 overall selection, then quickly emerged as one of the bright spots on the blue line, setting franchise records by a rookie defensemen for goals (10), assists (30) and points.

He'll need to make some improvements in his defensive-zone play after wracking up a minus-25 rating during the regular season.

The Ducks are also set with veteran defensemen Toni Lydman, who tied for second in the league with a plus-32 rating, and Lubomir Visnovsky, who set a franchise record for goals by a blue liner with 17.

Where the Ducks need to see some improvement is from Francois Beauchemin and Andy Sutton, who are locked into contracts next season for a combined $5.9 million. Andreas Lilja, who got burned for the winning goal Sunday in Game 6, is an unrestricted free agent and likely not to be back.

IV: Secondary scoring

The difference between the Predators and the Ducks came down to the third and fourth lines.

Nashville’s came through with goals while Anaheim’s were good for a few hard shifts here and there.

Among the Ducks forwards, back-liners Jarkko Ruutu, Todd Marchant and Brad Winchester are unrestricted free agents, while Dan Sexton and Kyle Chipchura are restricted free agents.

Brandon McMillan and Matt Beleskey combined for the only two goals from bottom six forwards on the Ducks.

By comparison, Nashville’s bottom six forwards, Jordin Tootoo, Nick Spaling, Steve Sullivan, Jerred Smithson and Matt Halischuk combined for seven goals in the playoffs alone.

Look for the Ducks to try and ramp up its bottom two lines with more youth and energy, which typically leads to the dirty goals that make a difference in playoffs runs.

McMillan, 21, and Beleskey, 22, who have played a combined 157 regular season games in the NHL, certainly fit that bill, but they could be looking at promotions as second-liners Saku Koivu and Jason Blake move into their late 30s.

V: C stands for change?

With Selanne being the guy everybody listens to in the locker room, Visnovsky playing every game down the stretch despite needing cortisone shots in his injured shoulders and Corey Perry coming off a 50-goal season that peaked during the late push into the playoffs, Ryan Getzlaf continues to wear the C on his sweater as the team’s captain.

Getzlaf hasn’t exactly endeared himself to fans with his pass-first mentality, and the 25-year-old was the only player who didn’t practice the day after a 6-3 victory in Nashville in Game 4, the team allowing a maintenance day while Selanne sweated through every drill.

If the offseason is the best time for change, maybe this would be a good time for someone new to take a seat in the captain’s chair.