This is probably the first time in their 10-year history the Anaheim Mighty Ducks head into a season truly believing they can win the Stanley Cup.
That feeling is nothing new for the Dallas Stars.
Upsetting top-seeded Dallas in six games highlighted seventh-seeded Anaheim’s incredible run to last season’s Stanley Cup finals. Though they lost out on the championship to New Jersey, the Ducks had by far the best season in their history and Giguere was named playoff MVP.
That postseason run for what had been a mostly inexperienced roster, along with the return of Giguere and some big-name free agent signings, has Anaheim feeling very optimistic.
“Nothing about last year was lucky. It was hard work and preparation and having a good game plan,” said Giguere, who had a 1.62 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in 21 playoff games. “We know how to win now. In the past we knew how to lose, but we didn’t know how to win.
“We know what it takes to win, and it should serve us every game we play.”
Having Fedorov in the mix should help. The All-Star center won three Stanley Cups in 13 seasons for Detroit, which he led with 83 points last season.
Giguere, upon signing a four-year deal shortly before training camp, talked about the enormity of that signing, and not only because Fedorov helps make up for the loss of leading scorer Paul Kariya.
“It was huge, it just shows you the ownership is in this to win. They don’t want to be a bad team anymore,” Giguere said. “It shows other players around the league are respecting the Ducks now. I’m not sure Fedorov would have signed here in the past.”
Prospal also should help fill the void left by Kariya, the former captain who went to Colorado. The ex-Tampa Bay center had a career-high 79 points last season and his 57 assists were tied for fourth-most in the NHL.
While it seems Anaheim has done a good job replacing Kariya, Dallas may have more trouble making up for the departure of Derian Hatcher.
The Stars captain for nine seasons was allowed to go via free agency to archrival Detroit. The imposing, 6-foot-5 Hatcher is considered one of the league’s best defensemen and averaged nearly 26 minutes per game last season.
Another change on defense for Dallas will be Teppo Numminen, who spent all 15 of his seasons with the Winnipeg-Phoenix franchise, taking over for Darryl Sydor. As part of a three-way trade this offseason, the Stars got Numminen while Sydor went to Columbus.
“There’s a sense of relief that we were kept together and we have a shot,” winger Scott Young said. “We weren’t dismantled in order to prepare for next year. So it’s something that we want to take advantage of.”
Dallas did not make major free agent acquisitions as it did last season, when it built one of the league’s highest payrolls at $66 million. Adding Bill Guerin and Young among others seemed to pay off as the Stars finished with the best record in the West, but dropping the first two games at home to Anaheim led to their disappointing departure from the postseason.
“Last year, it was one of those situations you hoped everything would fit together and you hoped you had a chance to win,” coach Dave Tippett said. “Now we expect to win. Our goals are very simple, to be at the top.”
The Stars have a strong chance to win their seventh division title in eight years with Marty Turco leading the way. Before his memorable battle with Giguere in the conference semifinals, Turco set a modern-day NHL record with a 1.72 GAA in his first season as the full-time starter.
While the Stars may be without winger Brenden Morrow, who hurt his left leg in the final preseason game, the Ducks will be missing defenseman Keith Carney for three-to-four weeks due to a broken foot.
2002-03 STANDINGS: Mighty Ducks - 95 points, 2nd place, 14 PB, Pacific Division. Stars - 109 points, 1st place, Pacific Division.
2002-03 SPECIAL TEAMS: Mighty Ducks - Power play: 16.1 percent (56 for 348), 16th in NHL. Penalty killing: 87.4 percent (291 for 333), 2nd. Stars - Power play: 19.0 percent (62 for 327), 5th. Penalty killing: 85.5 percent (296 for 346), 5th.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Stars, 3-1-1.
LAST MEETING: May 5; Mighty Ducks, 4-3. At Anaheim, Calif., Sandis Ozolinsh scored with 1:06 left in regulation as the Ducks wrapped up a 4-2 series win over the Stars in the West semifinals.
2002-03 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Mighty Ducks - 18-17-2-4 on the road; Stars - 28-5-6-2 at home.