April 25, 2011
(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. We've asked for these losers, gone but not forgotten, to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The fans who hated them the most. Here is Los Angeles Kings fan and Battle of California blogger Rudy Kelly on the Anaheim Ducks. Again, this is not written by us. But you're probably not reading the intro anyway.)
By Rudy Kelly, Battle of California
No team in the NHL needed to miss the playoffs more than the Anaheim Ducks.
"What?" you may be asking. "Miss the playoffs? Rudy, you're crazy!"
No, friend, I am not crazy; the Ducks would have benefited far more by missing the playoffs than they did by making it.
You see, the Ducks are an incredibly flawed team that will never go anywhere as currently constructed. The Ducks are probably the most top-heavy team in the league, blessed with two good scoring lines, a solid No. 1 defensive pairing, an All-Star goaltender... and absolutely nothing else. They are a team of stars and trash with nothing in between.
Their best forward that's not on the top two lines was Brandon McMillan(notes), a 21-year old 3rd round pick who had 21 points. Their best defenseman not on the 1st pairing was an 18-year old Cam Fowler(notes) who had 40 points... and was also minus-25. Their best non-Hiller goaltender was Ray Emery(notes). There were stars and trash with nothing in between.
That type of mix could work, potentially, but even the Ducks' stars are flawed. Ryan Getzlaf(notes), Corey Perry(notes) and Bobby Ryan(notes) are given responsibility that far outpaces most other No. 1 forwards despite never showing the maturity to handle it.
Ryan Getzlaf is expected to shut down other team's top centers despite never really showing an interest in back checking. Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan are supposed to score the lion's share of the team's goals... when they're not in the box for slashing.
Instead of showing displeasure at their young stars' mistakes, the Ducks instead reward them; Ryan Getzlaf was named Captain of the team, Corey Perry was given an "A," and Bobby Ryan was given a multi-million dollar deal last summer. What impetus do they have to change when the Ducks tell them that what they are doing is A-OK? Their goals are cheered and the goals against while they're on the ice are ignored.
The Ducks were not very good this season despite the plan going as well as Ducks GM Bob Murray could have hoped. The Ducks' top line was fantastic offensively, with Corey Perry leading the league in goals while Bobby Ryan was not far behind (he had 34). Lubomir Visnovsky(notes) found chemistry with Toni Lydman(notes) and led all defensemen in points. Jonas Hiller(notes) made the All Star Game and was in the Vezina conversation for most of the season. Despite all this, the Ducks were still outshot by the 3rd greatest margin in the league (ahead of only Minnesota and Edmonton) and had the 10th best goal differential in the Western Conference.
Hockey's not basketball, where one or two superstars can carry a below average team to glory. In hockey, everyone must contribute.
"But wait," you may be thinking, "Didn't they lose Hiller for most of the season and Getzlaf for a good part? They were pretty unlucky."
(Hey, stop interrupting me.)
It's true, the Ducks did lose Jonas Hiller after the All-Star Break. Is it bad luck that they lost Hiller for the last 30 games or the season, or good luck that Hiller was able to have a .924 save percentage while facing 31 shots a game when he did play?
No, friends, the Ducks were as good as they could be and it still wasn't all that good. Still, they managed to ride a hot March into the fourth seed and were expected by many to do some damage in the playoffs. Then they ran into the Nashville Predators, and it's poetic that it was the Predators that clipped the Ducks.
The Predators were the Bizarro Ducks: They are an unheralded team with no offensive stars, just wave after wave of tough players that can succeed in the tough areas where the Ducks, for all their talent, falter. It was extremely satisfying to watch the Ducks get more and more incredulous as this no-talent team beat them through sheer will and force of action.
The Ducks scored all the pretty goals but the Predators scored all the dirty ones. In a poetic ending, Corey Perry scored 8 points in 6 games; then he took a slashing penalty right after the Predators scored the series-clinching empty net goal.
So where do the Ducks go from here? They have some offensive talent in the system to replace Selanne and Koivu but there's no guarantee they will be nearly as good as those two Finnish icons were. Their young stars will have good seasons, they'll have great seasons, and they'll take stupid penalties. Their young defensemen will get better but their old defensemen, Visnovsky and Lydman, will get worse. The Ducks killed their star goalie and who knows when, or even if, he'll be back.
If they had missed the playoffs maybe they'd see the fatal flaw in the makeup and strive to change it, but now... I doubt it. They'll be stuck in a holding pattern unless something drastic changes as the memories of the Cup win fade and they assume their rightful place in the NHL as irrelevant.
Their fans like to think the Ducks are the "villains" of the NHL and that people in the league office are conspiring against them. They point to the suspensions of Bobby Ryan and Jarkko Ruutu(notes) as evidence of this conspiracy. This is nonsense, of course. It's classic paranoid delusional thinking wherein one blames imaginary hostile forces for personal failures.
There is no conspiracy against the Ducks because that would require someone to give them a second thought. Even worse, this delusion spares the Ducks the pressure they need to actually change their ways.
But no, Ducks fans would rather live in a happy fantasy world and invent boos to cover the silence that's actually there.
Los Angeles will always be important because c'mon, we're kind of a big deal, but Anaheim? Anaheim is only relevant when they're actively being annoying. They are of no more consequence than one of those terrible NHL Geico Caveman commercials -- when they're on they're irritating, but then they're gone and people forget they exist.
And right now, thankfully, they're gone.
Again, this was written by Battle of California blogger Rudy Kelly. We can't stress this enough.