Another excruciatingly long summer is over. Actual hockey games are on the horizon. Because this is the 265th most widely read hockey blog on the internets, MYFO felt a deep obligation to our dozens of readers to prepare this series of previews telling you about every single team in the NHL. By “prepare” we mean, we found other people to write many of them for us. We were looking for people who (unlike us) might have an actual clue about these teams, but were also eager/willing enough to work for free. Within those constraints, we think we did an admirable job. Your Anaheim Ducks preview is brought to you by Earl Sleek from Battle of California.
Hellllooooo, melties! I was invited by a scary man with a scary gun to preview the Anaheim Ducks, apparently so that you can all go to bed on time this season. I’ve decided to allow my good friend Johnnie Walker along for the writing of this post, mostly because he’s a faster typist.
Here’s six things you might want to know about the Anaheim Ducks this season. If it turns out later that you didn’t want to know any of these, please consult your own personal Johnnie Walker, and he should help clear out those memory cells in your brain.
1. Unlike last summer, everybody knows whether they are retired or not.
Last summer, if you recall, cup champions Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne had to take a long break to think about whether or not they wanted to hang up the ol’ skates. GM Brian Burke wisely told them to take their sweet time (the alternative was a forced retirement), brought in Mathieu Schneider and Todd Bertuzzi to help offset their loss, and waited. Niedermayer didn’t return until December, and Selanne waited until February, but both came back recharged and dangerous as ever.
This year, Niedermayer has already committed to training camp (there’s no ridiculous England trip this year, right?), and Selanne has been skating in preparation for something. Teemu hasn’t signed a contract or even made an announcement yet, though, because the Ducks currently sit over the salary cap.
2. Pursuant to Point One, Schneider is on his way out, and Selanne might still have to sign cheap.
With Niedermayer and Pronger both committed for a total of $13 million, adding Schneider’s $5.75 million just becomes excessive. There simply isn’t enough ice time for all three of them to make their money’s worth, and that’s not really a knock on any of them. Poor Schneider. He comes to Anaheim to replace Niedermayer and plays admirably – over the course of the regular season Schneider was on the ice for 84 goals for and 32 goals against – only to find out he’s been cap-suckered.
(Now some might argue that this story also applies to Todd Bertuzzi, but that’s completely different, because unlike Schneider, Bertuzzi sucks.)
And while moving Schneider might get the Ducks under the salary cap, it might not even be enough. Veteran center Todd Marchant may become a cap casualty as well. If both those players were moved, there would be enough cap room to fit in Selanne on a team-friendly one-year deal. Realistically, I’m not sure whether the Ducks are a team that should be spending to the cap maximum, but hey, it’s not my money Burke’s spending.
Speaking of which…
3. Anaheim’s owner might be going to prison.
Henry Samueli – the guy who finally dropped the “Mighty” from the Ducks – has been suspended indefinitely by the league for some legal mess about backdating Broadcom stock (or something – I’m horrible at financial law). Samueli was almost in the clear, apparently, with a $12 million plea bargain, but the judge rejected it and we’ll find out in the next year or so whether that means jail time. For the foreseeable future, though, wife Susan Samueli will act as owner.
This isn’t really my area of expertise, so I won’t say too much about it, but I did make a cartoon to help explain the situation to kids.
4. Anaheim’s general manager might be going to Toronto.
Just going off rumors from last summer, Brian Burke’s contract expires at the end of this season, and there hasn’t been any indication that he’s going to stay. I like Brian Burke plenty – he’s a blowhard lawyer and provides plenty of sideshow entertainment – but I’m fine if he decides to leave.
For one, Burke has gotten a bit of good fortune in his Anaheim tenure. During the lockout, he had the signing rights to Rob Niedermayer just as Scott Niedermayer hit the UFA market. Then he managed to sign a washed-up Selanne for a million dollar pity deal, only to find out that the Finnish Flash was reborn. The following summer, Chris Pronger forced his way out of Edmonton, and Burke had the assets and cap space to accept him.
Besides, if you’re a fan of European talent, Burke isn’t. Burke essentially has played three Europeans in his Anaheim tenure – Selanne, Pahlsson, and a back-up goalie (Bryzgalov then Hiller). He’s our version of Don Cherry.
5. The Ducks will be harder to score on than _______________ (I hate filling in these jokes).
Having Niedermayer and Pronger patrolling the blueline for most of the game makes for quite a stingy defense. Consider: before Niedermayer returned, the Ducks were languishing at .500, and were surrendering goals at a rate of 2.82 GA/game (excludes shootouts). In the 48 games after Niedermayer returned, the Ducks forged a record of 32-12-4, and only surrendered 1.83 GA/game. Pro-rated to an 82-game schedule, those results would have won the Ducks a President’s Trophy (116 points) and a Jennings Trophy for fewest goals-against (150 non-shootout GA).
Now certainly there are no guarantees (especially after dumping Schneider’s on-ice contribution), but the Ducks essentially have the same core from their 2007 cup championship. The #1 goalie, 5 of 6 defensemen, their shutdown line, and most of their top scorers are still on board (with Brendan Morrison attempting to reprise the role of Andy McDonald). Of course, it’s a tough, tough Pacific Division – the Sharks and Stars figure to be just as strong as ever, and the Phoenix Coyotes are creeping into contention. Should be an awesome year.
6. This roster will self-destruct in nine months or so.
Regardless of how well or how badly this final year of Burke’s tenure goes, it ends with a bang next summer. That’s when the majority of the team’s contracts expire, so that a new GM (probably Dave Nonis, who is a consultant or something for Anaheim) can put his own fingerprints on the team.
Here’s who’s committed to the 2009-10 season:
Forwards – Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Chris Kunitz, Bobby Ryan, and Ryan Carter
Goal—J.S. Giguere, Jonas Hiller
There’s plenty of money to spend, several roster spots to fill, and it is one thing I do appreciate about Burke. He hasn’t left his successor with years of painful Burke-aftertaste. Next summer promises to be quite interesting and quite exciting for the start of a new Ducks era.
So there you have it, a little taste of the drama and silliness that comes from being a Ducks fan. It’s a team that’s certainly got a lot of promise, but it’s a tough enough western conference that this season could go in a lot of directions. Fortunately, my good buddy Johnny Walker and I have a pretty good coping strategy; you might want to give it a try sometime.