Originally Published: September 27, 2013

Anaheim Ducks: Dare you to do that again

By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

For much of the post-lockout 2013 season, the Anaheim Ducks played in the Chicago Blackhawks' shadow. With the Hawks garnering attention and headlines for a record-setting start to their season, the Ducks quietly kept pace for much of the regular season, finishing with the second-most points in the Western Conference. They were top 10 in the league in goals scored and goals allowed and unveiled a mostly unknown goaltending star in the making in Viktor Fasth. The Ducks' quietly superlative season came to an abrupt end, though, as they could not put away the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs, blowing a 3-2 series lead and dropping Game 7 at home to the seventh seed. (Although, let's be honest, no one considered Mike Babcock's team a true seventh seed.) Four of the seven games went to overtime. The season also was notable for the work done by GM Bob Murray, who managed the not-insignificant feat of locking up cornerstone offensive pieces Ryan Getzlaf and former league MVP Corey Perry to long-term deals. The Ducks will welcome back Hall of Fame-bound Teemu Selanne for one more season in the hopes of proving last year's success was no fluke and to prove that they are better than they showed in the opening round of the playoffs.

"All summer we heard how we failed in the playoffs losing in the first round. We want our group to come back here a little [ticked off]," head coach Bruce Boudreau told ESPN.com.

Let's start with the return of Selanne for one last go-round. One of the game's all-time greats, Selanne was nonetheless limited in his effectiveness in the playoffs. (He had one goal in seven games against the Wings.) So it will be interesting to see how head coach Boudreau employs the 43-year-old.

Although Murray was able to lock up Getzlaf and Perry, he used the offseason to make a move that had been oft-rumored in the past couple of years, trading winger Bobby Ryan to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a first-round draft pick, former first-round pick Stefan Noesen -- who will likely start the season in the American Hockey League -- and the prize piece, Jakob Silfverberg, whom Boudreau is looking at to start the season playing with Selanne. The Ducks also repatriated Dustin Penner, who has endured an up-and-down career since winning a Stanley Cup in Anaheim as a youngster in 2007. Penner, who also won a Cup with Los Angeles in 2012, will get a look playing with old linemates Getzlaf and Perry -- at least to start.

The Ducks' blue-line depth took a hit in the offseason as both Sheldon Souray and Francois Beauchemin, who enjoyed a renaissance season with the Ducks last year, were injured. Beauchemin returned to the ice ahead of schedule, although Souray's long-term absence (he isn't likely to return until late in the calendar year or early in 2014) will be keenly felt. Free-agent defenseman Mark Fistric will be asked to help fill that void in the short term.

There is lots of firepower in the Ducks lineup, and Boudreau was able to unleash it as they finished fourth on the power play and were eighth overall in goals per game. If Selanne's production slips, it should be more than made up for by the continued evolution of youngsters such as Silfverberg, the cornerstone of the Ryan deal, Nick Bonino and speedy Emerson Etem. Kyle Palmieri had 10 goals last season, and if he can keep up that 20-goal pace over a full season, the Ducks will ice three balanced scoring units that will keep opponents guessing. Cam Fowler continues to blossom as an up-and-coming NHL defender, and he was among those invited to the U.S. Olympic orientation camp in Washington in August, although his chances of making the team are on the slim side. Beauchemin has enjoyed a renaissance since returning to Anaheim after a less-than-happy side trip to Toronto. He was a role model for the young Ducks defensemen last season, playing in the playoffs in spite of a torn ACL that required postseason surgery.

"Now he's back playing which is pretty remarkable," Boudreau said. "If it doesn't send a message then the people we have aren't the right people."

The coach is looking at using Luca Sbisa, who came in the Chris Pronger deal back in 2009 with Beauchemin, as his top defensive pair.

"If he does what he's capable of then he'll be a real bonus," Boudreau said.

Sbisa suffered a sprained ankle in the team's first preseason game and his status for opening night Oct. 2 is unknown.

Sami Vatanen, a strong player at the AHL level, also will get a chance to start with the big club. The Ducks were one of the few NHL teams that boasted a true 1 and 1A goaltending tandem with Fasth and incumbent Jonas Hiller splitting the duties almost completely down the middle. Although Hiller was the playoff starter given his NHL experience, Fasth turned in better numbers during the regular season, including a 2.18 GAA and .921 save percentage. It would not be a surprise at all if Fasth ends up the starter this season. Beyond those two, keep an eye on John Gibson, one of the top goaltending prospects in the game. Gibson helped steal a bronze medal for the U.S. at the World Championships and was also an invitee to the U.S. Olympic orientation camp. He will very shortly be making his presence known at the NHL level, if not to start the season in coming weeks and months.

How much will the loss of Ryan, a mainstay of the Ducks offense the past four full seasons when he scored 131 goals, be felt? The loss of two top-four defensemen to start the season in Beauchemin and Souray is also a problem, although Souray was a healthy scratch in the postseason. Still, there are questions about the Ducks' defensive depth and whether it can put up the same kinds of numbers it did in the lockout-shortened season. The coaching staff spent considerable time in the offseason working on penalty-kill schemes Boudreau hopes will get the team off to a better start.

"We were god-awful on the penalty kill the first 10 games," he said.

Can Fasth replicate his stellar play of 2013 when he made the jump from the Swedish elite league, or is there a drop-off in his play facing a full NHL slate of games for the first time? There's also the Selanne factor, especially if his production isn't enough to justify his playing on the top two lines. The fact of the matter is you don't often see 43-year-olds in checking roles. Will it be a problem if he becomes essentially a power-play specialist?

The Ducks should still be in the hunt for a division title regardless of the shifting from three divisions to two in the West.

Burnside: With a full training camp under his belt, look for Bruce Boudreau, who inherited the Ducks midway through the 2011-12 season, to get the team off to a quick start and stay atop what should be a very competitive Pacific Division.

Custance: Fourth in the Pacific Division.

LeBrun: Fourth in the Pacific Division.

Melrose: First in the Pacific Division.

Strang: Fourth in the Pacific Division.

Scott Burnside

ESPN Senior Writer


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