Coach Randy Carlyle paid for a 7-13-4 stumble from the gate with his job, getting fired on Nov. 30, 2011, in favor of recently canned Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau. (Carlyle would later be hired by his old pal Brian Burke in Toronto.) Boudreau led the Ducks to a 27-23-8 record that included an 8-1-0 streak in January that teased contention. But Anaheim finished at 34-36-12, placing last in the Pacific.
It was a particularly brutal reversal of fortunes for the team's Big Three. Corey Perry, reigning MVP, went from 50 goals to 37 and 98 points to 60. Ryan Getzlaf had a career low in goals (11) and the lowest point total (57) since his rookie season. Bobby Ryan, who took part in a failed conversion to center, dropped from 71 points to 57.
The good news: goalie Jonas Hiller returned after his strange bout with vertigo-like symptoms to play 73 games. The bad news: The Ducks went from a plus-4 goal differential in the previous season to a minus-27 in 2011-12.
Having resurrected his career in Dallas, Sheldon Souray was inked to a 3-year, $11-million deal to help resuscitate a power play that went from second in the NHL to a 16.6-percent rate (21st overall). Bryan Allen (3 years, $10.5 million) arrived from the Carolina Hurricanes as one of the League's most underrated defensive defensemen.
Anaheim also added some grit up front in Brad Staubitz and Daniel Winnik.
The subtractions were noteworthy, if not devastating. Lubomir Visnovsky was the most significant name, as the dynamic offensive defenseman was shipped to the New York Islanders in a deal he's still fighting to overturn. (OK, "overturn" being a poor choice of words, perhaps.)
Fan favorite George Parros took his 'stache to the Florida Panthers for a 2-year deal. Sheldon Brookbank's plodding physicality signed with Chicago. Jason Blake was an unsigned unrestricted free agent after three seasons in Anaheim. Niklas Hagman skated off to the KHL. NCAA free agent defenseman Justin Schultz, after leading the Ducks on for a bit, took his talents to Edmonton.
There's some question whether Boudreau will keep the trinity together, given his penchant for moving players around the lineup, but we're talking about three players that are one season removed from combining for 103 goals. All three are in their prime.
But Perry and Getzlaf are also in a contract year. Which leads to the general uncertainty about the RPG Line: Given their pending UFA status, and Bobby Ryan battling trade rumors from the locker room to the golf course, is this their last ride?
If they are broken up, it'll be for offensive depth; the good news for Boudreau is that he has a 42-year-old chap named Teemu Selanne back to patrol his second line, coming off another age-defying 26-goal, 66-point season in 82 games. Linemate Saku Koivu is also back, looking to turn around a downward points trend (52 in 2008-09; 38 last season). Kyle Palmieri lit up the AHL -- does he get a shot as their second-line running mate?
The bottom six may require Boudreau to pick names out of a hat. Does Nick Bonino center the third line, or does that fall to Winnik? What kind of ice time has Devante Smith-Pelly earned? Same goes for Andrew Cogliano, whose 13 goals provided some spark down the lineup? Does Peter Holland get over the bubble, or does he star in the AHL next season; ditto Brandon McMillan? And can a team starved for consistent offense keep Emerson Etem's 60-goal WHL talent off its roster?
On defense … Cam Fowler's statistical regression from an outstanding rookie season was stunning, until you get inside the advanced stats (as The Hockey Writers did) to reveal a player who "improved his ability to drive play and possess the puck, while playing against better opponents, and maintaining position in the zone where he can put his offensive gifts to the test."
He has his partner Francois Beauchemin (25:33 TOI, leading the Ducks) back and a coach in Boudreau who took another young defenseman with great offense and suspect defense to Norris contention in Washington.
Like Fowler, the Ducks need plus-rating play and more offense out of Luca Sbisa. Then there's matter of his defensive partner — Allen, a stay at home type, or Souray, who might want the puck as much as his partner?
Toni Lydman finishes out the top six, and is one of the Ducks' best on the PK.
In goal … Hiller played 73 games after last season's health scare, winning 29 and posting a 2.57 GAA with a .910 save percentage. He also had both the greatest goalie mask in the history of Movember and what was purported to be the first 3-D mask in NHL history.
Hiller should have a better defense in front of him, and hopefully will have backup Jeff Deslauriers cutting a bit into his workload.
Could it be anything but the "Mighty Ducks" cartoon theme, filled with "roads of glory" and hard-rockin' toyline-startin' shredding?
(Alas, one of his best attributes is a team that starts quickly … does that still apply in a lockout?)
Bob Murray recently avoided prosecution for stool tossing, but can't dodge the stool being ladled on him by frustrated Ducks fans that see him as the root of the team's problems — to the point where there are petitions asking for his firing. He's an executive facing a mountain of key decisions for the future of this franchise, at a time when public support for his work has dried up. That's not a healthy combination for the franchise.As Boudreau said: "We count on him." His offensive flop last season affected everything from Perry's goal totals to the team's power play effectiveness. He needs to be better, and also needs to lead better.
"Ducks. They're not octopi, stupid. Paid for by Friends of the Winged Wheel."
The fact is that the nucleus of this team should be its most stable commodity, but last year's swoon and some uncertain future of Ryan, Perry and Getzlaf makes the core more of a question mark than it's ever been. There's a lot to like about this team, from the coach to the goaltending to the Teemu lovefest that will continue for another year. But they only go as far as their big three take them — and will all three still be Ducks at the end of the campaign?
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