Columbus and the New York Islanders were the only teams to score fewer than Anaheim's 205 goals last season, a problem that basically came out of left field for the then-defending Stanley Cup champion Ducks.
Explaining the lack of goal-scoring isn't always a black and white issue. It's not as simple as pointing to a couple of first- or second-line players and pinning the blame on them.
With the Anaheim Ducks, you wonder how much a short offseason – made even shorter by opening the season in London – impacted a slow start. That, along with the protracted decisions by Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne whether to retire or return, not only left holes in the lineup but also served as distractions on and off the ice.
And then there's the whole Cup hangover phenomenon, a consequence of emerging as the champion and struggling to match the same energy and passion just months after hoisting the hardware.
There was all that time spent in the penalty box as Anaheim didn't play a disciplined game and maybe the team's hard-hitting style was just too much to maintain considering the Ducks were wearing a big target every night last season.
General manager Brian Burke didn't have a lot of wiggle room in terms of the salary cap, but he tried to improve the team's offensive fortunes during the offseason by signing veteran center Brendan Morrison. The two have a history as Morrison centered the league's most feared line that included Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund when Burke was GM in Vancouver a couple years ago. But that was a couple years ago, and Morrison, 32, may not have the same kind of prolific scorers in their prime in Anaheim as he had while with the Canucks.
Burke isn't quite done, either. He'd certainly like to get Selanne back in the fold, and the Finnish Flash isn't expected to sign anywhere else, but there's the matter of Anaheim being about $2 million over the salary-cap ceiling of $56.7 million.
And the scheduled Sept. 8 sentencing of Ducks co-owner Henry Samueli for his admission of guilt in lying to Securities and Exchange Commission investigators in a stock-options scandal shouldn't be as much of a distraction as the Scott Niedermayer/Selanne soap opera of a year ago.
Ultimately, the Ducks will rely on their strength – an All-Star defense led by Chris Pronger and Niedermayer along with dependable goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere to remain among the league's serious contenders for the Stanley Cup.
Last year: 47-27-8, 102 points, second place Pacific Division, fourth place Western Conference. As defending Stanley Cup champion, Anaheim qualified for the postseason for the third straight year. The Ducks lost the first two games at home against Dallas and eventually dropped the first-round series in six games to the Stars.
Three keys to the season: First and foremost, it's staying out of the penalty box. Anaheim logged 1,481 penalty minutes last season to lead the league. It's one thing if you have a terrific penalty kill – the Ducks were middle-of-the-road, ranking 12th at 83.1 percent – but even then it interrupts the flow of a game and takes too many players out of rhythm.
Second, the Ducks need second-line scoring. Assuming Brendan Morrison fills the second-line center role (and isn't hampered by a lingering knee injury), and assuming Selanne eventually signs, that sounds like two-thirds of a decent second line. Maybe a Bobby Ryan, Ryan Carter or a role player can fill the left-wing spot. Any way you slice it, the second unit is going to have to be a threat or Anaheim will struggle to score again and be labeled a one-line team.
Third, the defense has to shore itself and get back to the dominating ways of two years ago. Mathieu Schneider is probably on his way out due to salary-cap issues, but there's plenty left with Niedermayer, Pronger and Francois Beauchemin leading the way.
On the hot seat: Corey Perry signed a five-year deal and now we're going to find out how he handles the pressure of living up to a big deal while playing on the first line of a team that is really going to be counting on its top offensive players. Perry is 23 years old and coming off a season in which he scored 29 goals and 54 points in 70 games. He's gifted and on the way up, but if he scores fewer than 35 goals or can't find a way to stay healthy, it's going to be a huge problem for Anaheim.
Poised to blossom: RW Bobby Ryan has size (6-1, 215), but the question is his speed and ability to produce at the NHL level. Everyone remembers that Pittsburgh selected Sidney Crosby first overall in 2005, but it was Ryan who went next to the Ducks, who have drawn criticism for the pick at times since. This is Ryan's chance to open eyes, as he'll be looking to fit on a scoring line and make a contribution to a team in need of scoring.
Analysis and prediction: Anaheim plays in a tough division with big, physical rivals and battles a challenging travel schedule. This puts a toll on the style of play Carlyle and Burke favor. It's a grind, and it could leave the team a bit susceptible to injury and fatigue. Phoenix is gaining ground while Dallas and San Jose may have strengthened themselves in the offseason. Third place is as good as it gets in the Pacific, and it might be a battle to finish among the top eight in the conference.
- Brendan Morrison