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Thursday, June 28, 2001
Updated: August 7, 10:01 AM ET
Ducks still swimming in shallow waters

By Brian A. Shactman
ESPN.com

How bad was last season for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks? Well, the Ducks had the lowest point total (66) in the Western Conference -- lower than the two expansion teams in Columbus and Minnesota. General manager Pierre Gauthier fired coach Craig Hartsburg in December after an 11-15-4-3 start. However, interim coach Guy Charron didn't fair much better, going 14-26-7-2. A major problem was the health and performance of the team's stars. Paul Kariya was limited to 66 games and had his lowest point total (33-34-67) since the 1997-98 season when he played only 22 games. His longtime partner, Teemu Selanne, wasn't at his best, either, and then was traded to San Jose for Jeff Friesen and goalie Steve Shields.

2000-01 by the numbers
Record:
25-41-11-5, 66 points
(26th overall, 15th West, 5th Pacific)
Man-games lost to injury:
258 (11th)
Goals for:
188/2.29 (27th overall)
Goals against:
245/2.99 (22nd)
Differential:
-57 (27th overall)
20-goal scorers:
Paul Kariya (33), Teemu Selanne* (26), Marty McInnis (20)
50-point scorers:
Kariya (67), Selanne (59), Oleg Tverdovsky (53)

* - no longer on team

Looking at next season
While many of the names have changed during their short history, the problem remains the same for the Ducks -- depth. The Ducks will be hard pressed to generate offense from their lower lines. With Selanne no longer playing opposite Kariya as one of the league's most potent and productive duos, the offense now centers around Kariya and Friesen, who should be fully over the shock of leaving San Jose, the only team he played for.

How much support they get could determine the team's competitiveness. Marty McInnis should be good for another 20 goals. Center Steve Rucchin only played 16 games last season due to a broken nose and cheekbone -- along with a hand injury at the beginning of the season -- but should be 100 percent. The same is true for promising left wing Mike Leclerc, who scored 15 goals and added 20 assists in 54 games.

But therein lies the problem. An injury to Rucchin could mean Samuel Pahlsson is the No. 2 center. That's a problem. An injury to Kariya or McInnis means Petr Tenkrat or Jim Cummins are go-to guys on right wing. Get the picture?

Last season, Gauthier waived goalie Guy Hebert -- the last vestige of the team's expansion draft in 1993 -- so the No. 1 job is there for Steve Shields, if he plays to his old form after late-season shoulder surgery. He's a goalie with a career 2.53 GAA and .913 save percentage. With Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2.57 GAA, .911 save percentage) backing him up, goaltending could be a strength for the Ducks.

With the acquisition of Jason York (free agency), Keith Carney (trade with Phoenix) and Aris Brimanis (free agency), Anaheim's defense should be deeper and improved. Oleg Tverdovsky remains an elite presence on the power play -- 28 power-play assists last season -- and 21-year-old Vitaly Vishnevski (minus-1 in 76 games) should continue to progress. With four other players on the roster with at least 28 NHL games last season -- Pavel Trnka (59 games), Ruslan Salei (50), Niclas Havelid (47) and Antti-Jussi Niemi (28) -- playing time will be at a premium.

The challenge of bringing it all together goes to new coach Bryan Murray, who takes over for Charron, now an assistant. Murray was fired last winter as GM of the Florida Panthers, but brings 484 wins and nearly 1,000 games of experience to the bench. He'll have to work magic to make the Ducks a playoff team, but if the forwards stay healthy, Murray shouldn't have too much trouble coaxing more than 25 wins out of this bunch. Then again, there's nowhere to go but up, and if the improvement isn't marked, Gauthier could be the next victim in Anaheim's rebuilding process.

Brian A. Shactman covers the NHL for ESPN.com.