The Anaheim Ducks have changed their name. They’ve also made a big change on their blue line.
Anaheim finished sixth in the Western Conference last season, but beat Calgary in seven games and swept Colorado in four to reach the conference finals against Edmonton. The Ducks, who have dropped “Mighty” from their name, were eliminated in five games by the Oilers.
“The bar has been raised,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “Our expectations probably coincide with the growth we displayed last year, but it’s going to be a lot tougher to duplicate. We’re not going to sneak into any buildings.”
Those expectations became even higher with the acquisition of Pronger, who requested a trade from Edmonton within weeks of playing in the Stanley Cup finals. Having watched Pronger help eliminate them, the Ducks jumped at the opportunity, sending three draft picks and two players to the Oilers for the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder.
Along with captain Scott Niedermayer, the Ducks now boast two former winners of the Norris Trophy, given to the top defenseman in the league.
Niedermayer won the award in 2004 and was a finalist again last season, his first in Anaheim after 12 in New Jersey. Pronger captured the Norris Trophy along with the Hart Trophy as league MVP in the 1999-2000 season.
The players should prove to be a versatile pairing, as Niedermayer is one of the NHL’s fastest skaters, and Pronger a player who can physically dominate a game at times.
“They will play separately for periods of time and then you’ll see them play together, not just on the power play,” Carlyle said. “The last minute of the period, the start of the game, the penalty kill. They’ll play in all situations.”
Offensively, the Ducks are hoping Teemu Selanne can duplicate his success from last season, when he posted team highs of 40 goals and 90 points. The veteran forward bounced back nicely after managing just 16 goals and 32 points in 2003-04 for Colorado.
Center Andy McDonald recorded career highs of 31 goals and 51 assists, and he and second-year forward Chris Kunitz will join Selanne on Anaheim’s top line. The Ducks did have to part with forward Joffrey Lupul, who ranked third on the team with 28 goals, in the Pronger trade.
“We’re very excited. We have worked extremely hard in training camp and this team is ready,” the 36-year-old Selanne said. “We want to start off where we left off last year. There’s more depth here.”
After leading the Pacific Division in early January, the Kings finished last season next-to-last in the division and 10th in the West, missing the playoffs for the third straight season. Since then, Los Angeles has brought in Marc Crawford as coach and Dean Lombardi as general manager.
“We’re looking for improvement, there’s no doubt about that,” said Crawford, who coached Vancouver for the past seven seasons. “We want to make it back to when it’s fun to play. When cities like Los Angeles go crazy when the team goes into the playoffs.”
Lombardi traded Pavol Demitra on draft day to Minnesota for 21-year-old Patrick O’Sullivan, who had 47 goals in the AHL last season. He also signed Rob Blake, who played for the Kings from 1989-2001 and won the Norris Trophy in 1998, along with veteran forwards Alyn McCauley and Scott Thornton.
Lombardi traded for goalie Dan Cloutier, who missed all but 13 games last season with Vancouver due to a knee injury.
Cloutier will likely be the No. 1 goalie ahead of Mathieu Garon, who started 61 games last season.
“We have a great group,” said defenseman Mattias Norstrom, the team captain. “We seem to be a real tight group so far.”
Los Angeles will look to improve an offense that ranked ninth in the Western Conference with 243 goals. Michael Cammalleri led the team with a career-high 26 goals, while Alexander Frolov had 18 before Jan. 12, then just three the rest of the way.
Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky topped the Kings with 50 assists and 67 points. His 17 goals were a career high.
“We’re going to have to win a lot of games people don’t expect us to win,” Crawford said. “There’s going to be no secret as to how we are going to have to win. We’re going to have to play hard and we’re going to have to pay attention to details that allow you to win hockey games.”
Anaheim went 5-1-2 against the Kings last season, taking the last four meetings. McDonald had two goals and 13 assists in those eight games.