Mon Sep 01 10:34am EDT
NHL previews are often superfluous collections of popular opinions that, in the end, usually have no relation to how life actually works out. Which makes using stereotypical high school yearbook superlatives and awards the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2008-09 NHL season previews, presented throughout September.
Last Semester (See Also, Ducks Eulogy): Fourth in the Western Conference (47-27-8, 102 points); lost to the Dallas Stars in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs (4-2). The indecision and absence of defenseman Scott Niedermayer and winger Teemu Selanne caused the defending champion Anaheim Ducks to struggle out of the gate and whine incessantly about how grueling their super-special trip to London was; because, you know, teams in California never travel. The Ducks rebounded with a strong second half before Dallas drank their milkshake in the quarterfinals.
Homecoming King (Top Player): Ryan Getzlaf, forward. From 2006-07 to last season, Getzlaf's average time on ice per game jumped by 4 minutes, 35 seconds; and he responded with an 82-point campaign that included a 15-game scoring streak. Unless there's an inexplicable waning, his progression as an offensive talent has him on pace for an appearance in the Top 10 scoring leaders. Best of all: Should some unfortunate legal entanglement threaten to derail his season ... let's just say Getzlaf has some friends in the department.
Most Likely To Succeed (Potential Breakout): Corey Perry, forward. His goal output jumped by 12 last season despite missing 12 games due to injury. He's got a big new contract to live up to, so that goal total could look as good as Perry does in a ripped up baby doll T-shirt at a bar (Ladies ...).
Exchange Students (Key New Additions): Brendan Morrison attempts to become what Doug Weight failed to become, which is Andy McDonald. Morrison turned down more money and years elsewhere to sign with the Ducks and get a chance to be the Oates to Selanne's Hull. Whether or not he can reverse his multi-year statistic decline could determine whether the Ducks' offense extends beyond one line.
Signing defenseman Steve Montador was a quiet coup, as he'll add depth to a defense that suddenly needs some. The team also traded for Joakim Lindstrom, no doubt impressed by his jersey's inexplicable cameo appearance in the NHL Awards show.
Overall, it was a fairly quiet summer as far as additions to the team. Especially when the Ducks' minor league affiliate failed to add Brett Favre to the active roster. Oink.
Best Expulsion: (Addition by Subtraction): Who knew a Brian Burke player like Todd Bertuzzi would have been such a letdown for the Ducks? Anaheim can now focus on getting back to the Stanley Cup finals while other teams in their conference concern themselves with a pending $38 million lawsuit. Keep your criminal investigations in the boardroom, not the locker room; that's how the Ducks roll.
Class Clowns (Pests and Pugilists): This team needs Samuel Pahlsson to stay healthy, because he's a defensive pest who inspires poetry. George Parros saw his PIM increase to 183 last season, but won only eight of his 23 NHL brawls last season according to HockeyFights.com. The addition of defenseman Steve Montador could cut into his dance card. Let's hope not: Win or lose, a George Parros fight is damn entertaining.
School Bully: Brian Burke has Kevin Lowe's lunch money, and he's not giving it back. Seriously, how can you not respect a guy who can instigate a fight, goad his target into ceding him the moral high ground and inspire his fans to raise money for charity in anticipation of the first Ducks/Oilers game this season?
Teacher of the Year: Randy Carlyle may not be an elite coach, but he's shown a poise during some adversity (and circumstances beyond his control) that gives us undeniable confidence that if this ship sinks, it's the players' fault.
The Custodians (Goalies): Is it possible Jean-Sebastian Giguere has gone from one of the most overrated goalies in hockey to one of the most underrated? He gave up fewer goals (117) on more shots (1,508) than he did in the previous season, finished with a 2.12 GAA and yet earned almost no respect during the Vezina voting. His numbers are trending upward, and there's no reason to believe they won't continue to in this system. His backup is Jonas Hiller. Switzerland, represent.
The Hall Monitors (Defensemen): As of this writing, Mathieu Schneider is still a Duck but we'll go ahead and assume that won't last. Pronger and Niedermayer are as good a Top 2 as you'll find in hockey, and Francois Beauchemin is very solid. Montador is a good pickup, and then ... well, the rest of the defense lacks the dominating depth the team had in years past. But when you're starting with Pronger and Niedermayer, you can overcome such deficiencies, especially late in the game. They have two closers; that's a lot of coffee.
Most Likely To Earn Detention: Perhaps the only thing that saved Chris Pronger from a massive suspension for last season's "Stompy-Gate" was Ryan Kesler's pathetic instigation of the incident. The "C" on his chest -- which we all know is Scott Niedermayer's anyway -- might as well stand for "confinement," because he's impulsively violent and hair-trigger enough
to be the Republican nominee for President of the United States for us to pencil in another suspension at some point this season. Remember: He truly is "a player whose high level of performance helps you forget how big a dillweed he can be."
Most Likely To Earn a Wedgie in the Hallway (Potential Flop): Bobby Ryan, winger. The threshold for Bobby Ryan is rather low: Bertuzzi, whom he's essentially replacing, put up 12 goals and 40 points. Ryan had 10 points in 23 games last season. He'll get his shot this season; but even playing on one of the top lines, 40 points would be a blessing, at least in his first full campaign. He's not exactly the first 2005 lottery pick not to live up to his potential.
AV Club (Media): TV play-by-play dude John Ahlers is a snarky guy who once hosted televised poker. Color man Brian Hayward isn't perfect, but let's not hate on a broadcaster who once told Sean Avery that he was in his "third year of eighth grade" when Hayward was playing in the NHL. "Duck Calls with Josh Brewster" is a great asset to the Ducks' fan community, and goes beyond covering the local team. For coverage of Anaheim on the Web, it's hard to go wrong with Sleek over on Battle of California. Also check out OC Sports Geeks and Girl With a Puck. Adam Brady's blog for the Ducks' official site is propaganda, but "Bowling for Columbine" was entertaining, too.
Toughest Class (Biggest Issue Facing the Team): Secondary scoring is like Advanced Calculus for the Ducks. Perry and Getzlaf are money, but they need the Selanne (assuming he's back, of course) from two years ago and the Morrison from three seasons ago to contribute significantly. With Niedermayer and Selanne in early, and Morrison in the fold, the potential is there for the Ducks to solve one of their biggest problems from last season: The power play, which went from deadly in their Stanley Cup season to 0.01 percent better than Atlanta's last season.
2007-08 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: B
Prom Theme: "Discipline" by Nine Inch Nails. Last season's 1,481 penalty minutes were a tad unbecoming for a defending champion. Hell, it might even be less than the 1977 Charlestown Chiefs had. Tough to get the offensive flow rolling with four players on the ice playing defense.
Expected Graduation: As much as the Western Conference has improved, this is still a playoff team, although one I don't expect to earn home-ice advantage or last more than a round. The salary cap will likely restrict what Burke can do at the deadline to make this squad championship-caliber again. Luckily, the Leafs should have plenty of cap room by the time he takes them over in 2009.