Only a few more days until October and we all know what that means…
Matt’s mind: “It’s going to get mighty cold in the UK.”
OK so that may be true, but what else does it mean?
Matt’s mind: “IT’S THE START OF A BRAND SPANKING NEW HOCKEY SEASON!”
You’re darn right it is. That means my TV screen will consist of hockey, hockey, Jeremy Kyle, hockey, hockey and more hockey. Don’t judge me.
For the past 4 or 5 seasons the Anaheim Ducks have been right near the top for favourites to win the cup and for the past 4 seasons the team has bombed out game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs after having two attempts to put each series to bed before being knocked out. Yep, you read right, this has happened in four consecutive seasons…FOUR!
Things have got so bad that we’ve even taken over the Sharks as a team that constantly chokes come playoff time. As expected this has led to many changes to the Anaheim line up over the summer.
Gone is head coach Bruce Boudreau. There has been speculation on Boudreau’s job security for the past couple of seasons and he is a coach well known for having major success during the regular season (winning 4 Southeast Division titles with the Washington Capitals and 4 Pacific Division Titles with the Ducks) but for whatever reason can’t emulate this success in the playoffs.
Ducks General Manager Bob Murray repeatedly backed Boudreau, insisting that the players must take accountability. However when you get booted out of the players losing game 7 after having home ice advantage in all of those series, something has to change. Unfortunately, Boudreau was the one that fell on.
In all honesty I didn’t know how to feel when I first heard the news. Whilst Murray was right to blame the players, I was at times baffled with some decisions Boudreau would make during those playoff failures. He is a coach who doesn’t adapt his game plan. It’s either play the Boudreau way, the way we have won all season, and eventually we will win these games. That makes sense in a way, but during the playoffs you NEED to adjust. You adjust your game plan to find a way to win. You don’t, then you won’t be winning the cup. Fact.
Boudreau was quickly hired by the Minnesota Wild once he left Anaheim. Boudreau has a past of having a very deep roster, coaching very good teams so it’ll be interesting to see how he does with the Wild, a team that seems to be in the midst of a rebuild each and every season.
I sat there at my computer with some very mixed feelings. I was sad to see Bruce go but also a little excited to see who his replacement would be. Who was the man to take this Ducks team to the promise land? Who had the duty of finally making this team live up to its expectations and bring a second cup to Anaheim’s short history?
After many interviews with coaches with a past in the league and ones that would be a young risk, the news was finally announced. The new coach of Anaheim…
*palm meet forehead*
It certainly was a decision out of left field. Randy Carlyle has a history with the Ducks organisation. One that brought the teams only Stanley Cup to the city. Yes that’s right, in 2007 Randy Carlyle was the man behind the bench who led the Ducks to the cup. But what followed was a rocky and declining relationship.
Carlyle is a hard-nosed coach, one who expects the very best from his players each and every night which may be a quality that brought him back to the team. However, that no BS taking attitude has also made him clash with players in the past. Towards the end of his tender in Anaheim it looked as though the players had stopped playing for him. The on ice product looked as though they were going through games waiting for a change in head coach.
A few of the players back then now make up the core of the Anaheim Ducks. Captain Ryan Getzlaf and alternate captain Corey Perry. GM Murray stated during the announcement of Carlyle’s return that he had all the support from the players to bring Carlyle back. Hopefully Getzlaf, 31, and Perry, also 31, are at the point of their careers where they realise they don’t have a whole lot of years left in their prime and their time to win is now.
Now let’s stick with those players.
Getzlaf and Perry have undoubtedly rocketed this franchise into the heavy weights. Not since the partnership of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne have the Ducks had two elite forwards that seem to know where the other is on the ice in every single situation. ‘The Twins,’ a term Getzlaf and Perry are frequently referred to, have been the focal point of Anaheim’s offence for many seasons and considering their quality and the skill of the players around them over the years, it’s anyone’s guess as to how they only have one cup ring in their NHL careers.
However, like any player in any sport, when you’re not winning the blame is going to come to the teams best players.
Getzlaf has often been criticised by the Ducks die hard fans as lacking heart at times. Taking shifts going unnoticed which you would think would be hard for a man of his size. Perry can be a streaky player, scoring goals for fun during some stretches but going on a run struggling to make an impact during others. The skill and physical qualities these two have makes it that much more frustrating for fans when they go through these kinds of troubles.
Just behind ‘the twins’ as a face of the franchise is Ryan Kesler. Big, nasty and mean, Kesler is the perfect fit for the physical style of hockey the Ducks play and provides a killer 1-2 center combo with Getzlaf. A prominent leader, fans have at times shared their desire for Kesler to replace Getzlaf as captain and is probably one of the few players who has played to their expected skill during the playoff failings.
As incredible as the trio of stars can be, it is this core of the team that has me worried.
With Kesler being 32, it’s an ageing core. An ageing core that are contracted for many more years eating a considerate amount of the Ducks cap space. The supporting cast in Anaheim is good, but at this time I don’t see anyone to take the place of either of these three, once they get to that point in their career where they see their skill diminishing.
Speaking of that supporting cast, it has taken a major hit over the off-season. Now let me get this off my chest…
WHY HAVEN’T LINDHOLM OR RAKELL BEEN SIGNED TO NEW CONTRACTS YET?!?!
OK I’m back. Seriously, with training camp already running and the first preseason game in two days time it absolutely baffles me as to why these two young swede’s are yet to be resigned. They’re restricted free agents, meaning they won’t be able to play until they have new contracts. Lindholm, 22, is already showing he can be a top 2 defenceman for the Ducks and is arguably the best D-man on the team.
Rickard Rakell, 23, is showing improvement in each of the seasons he’s been with the big club, breaking 20 goals last season and displaying that he can also be depended on in the defencesive zone, which is a must have skill playing at center.
Bob Murray had all season long and the whole of the offseason to tie these two to long-term contracts, so I have no idea why they remain unsigned. The fact that we are now entering preseason time, I’m even more worried. As a Ducks fan I liked to believe it was just a matter of time before they put pen to paper, but it appears that there is an even bigger issue at hand. The Ducks are a cap conscious team, meaning that they don’t have the resources to spend close to the cap limit like the bigger hockey market teams.
But here’s what really bugs me. If it is a money issue then why have the Ducks thrown out money to signing 3rd and 4th liners if they are still yet to sign two players who could be potential centre pieces of the franchise? Jarod Boll, Mason Raymond, Antione Vermette, Nate Guenin and Jeff Schultz were all players signed by the Ducks in the off-season. I didn’t mind the Vermette and Raymond additions as the first brings leadership and cup winning experience whilst the later brings speed to a Ducks team that needs it, but to sign the others who would more likely make the Ducks minor team in San Diego seems to me like a poor addition to taking up more cap space.
The offseason saw players like David Perron, Jamie McGuinn, Chris Stewart, Shawn Horcoff and Brandon Pirri all leave the Ducks to find new homes. Many of those left in the first couple of days of free agency, making me believe that Murray had already told them that he would not be offering them deals. The players he has brought in to replace these players are a huge downgrade to the ones that left.
The returning supporting cast is impressive. Mr do-it-all Jakob Silfverberg returns after hitting the 20 goal mark last season and being great in the defensive zone too, playing a big role in penalty killing. Speedster Cogliano adds that element to a Ducks team that looked sluggish many times last season. Ryan Garbutt surprised many with his contribution to the team with his speed, grit and nose for the net, when Murray acquired him at the trade deadline. Speed was something Bob Murray said he was going to address over the summer, but with the players he has brought in he has failed to do that.
So with making Rakell and Lindholm his priorities and those priorities still not signed, Murray has had a very poor off-season so far. If he signs the two young Swede’s for anything less than 3 year deals then I believe that Murray should be under the spotlight if the team fails to compete during this coming season.
Gone is goalie Frederick Andersen. Excuse me whilst I wipe a tear away.
With the expectation of John Gibson becoming the best goalie in the NHL, the 23-year-old is more than capable of being the teams starting goalie and the Ducks signed a very good backup in Jonathan Bernier, so all is good for Anaheim as far as goalies go.
The Ducks are very thin on the left wing, with Cogliano the only veteran presence, so I expect young talent Nick Ritchie to be a permanent fit with the main roster after looking impressive in the few games he played with the team last season.
The Ducks are known of having a great team of scouts, with many young guys in the system with huge potential to become decent NHLers. It’ll be great to see prospects such as Nick Kerdiles, Stefan Noeson, Deven Sideroff and Nick Sorensen have a chance at making the main roster. Perhaps going young is the way to go for Anaheim.
Putting the Lindholm situation aside and suspecting that Bob gets the pen out of his butt and gets him signed up, Anaheim boast a very impressive group on defence. Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Simon Depres, Josh Manson, Shea Theodore and Sami Vatanen are all very talented players and are all under the age of 25. These players are supported by veterans Kevin Bieksa and Clayton Stoner, two players who could find themselves healthy scratches many times throughout the season.
It’s expected Bob Murray trades one of his talented young defenceman for a top 2 left winger to feel that dire need for one. With impressive 22-year-old D-man Brandon Montour waiting in the wings, it makes that trade seem more likely. Cam Fowler’s name is often in the rumour mill and I’d hate to see him leave. In my personal opinion I’d rather see Manson or Depres get moved over Fowler, but they might not bring in the return the Ducks need that Murray could find in Fowler.
The Lindholm and Rakell situation is making me increasingly frustrated. To have either of these potential franchise players not signed is a huge worry.
Being optimistic, I believe that Murray gets these deals done. If so, my prediction for the upcoming season is split two ways. Looking at the roster on paper, I think that its a significant decline from this time last year. It’ll be the first season in a while that the Ducks won’t be competing for that top spot in the conference.
In reality, I believe the Ducks will be competing for the 2nd and 3rd places in the Pacific Division. A race that could go down to the very final weeks of the season.