It's going to be another year of blockbusters and huge flops in the NHL. Which teams blew out their budgets for big name stars and gigantic special effects to score Michael Bay-levels of box office gold? Which teams are bloated action retreads and terrible sequels? Find out in Puck Daddy's 2011-12 NHL Season Previews, running throughout the month.
On March 9, the Anaheim Ducks were in ninth place in the Western Conference, tied with the Wild and one point up on the Predators. Their starting goalie Jonas Hiller hadn't played since Feb. 13 due to a bizarre case of vertigo.
Things were looking a tad bleak. Then Corey Perry decided he wanted to win the Hart Trophy.
The Ducks winger scored 19 of his 50 goals from March 9 through April 9, leading Anaheim all the way to the No. 4 seed. They lost to Nashville in the conference quarterfinals in six games in a series that featured catfish and controversy and Carrie Underwood.
With Hiller back and Perry coming off an MVP season, can the Ducks challenge for the conference crown?
The biggest move of the summer for Anaheim was a swap of defensemen with the Edmonton Oilers: Andy "So You're An Expert?" Sutton was dealt to the Oil in exchange for Kurtis Foster. Sutton never meshed with the Ducks' system; Foster didn't click in Edmonton, but he's a puck-moving D-man with power-play skills.
The Oilers and Ducks connected again later in the summer as RFA Andrew Cogliano was traded for a second-round pick from Anaheim, who signed the young center to a 3-year deal. (To complete the Edmonton/Anaheim hat trick, the Ducks signed goalie Jeff Deslauriers as well.)
The Ducks chose not to re-sign some veteran spare parts from last season, including Masterton nominee goalie Ray Emery (UFA), defenseman Andreas Lilja (Flyers) and winger Jarkko Ruutu (UFA). They saw Josh Green sign with the Oilers and Kyle Chipchura ink a deal with the Coyotes. Todd Marchant retired after 17 seasons of dependable play in the NHL.
At forward, Perry (50 goals, 98 points), Ryan Getzlaf (76 points in 67 games) and Bobby Ryan (34 goals) comprise arguably the most lethal line combo in the NHL; Perry and Getzlaf also rack up the points on the man advantage, scoring 58 power-play points between them.
Last season, the second line was primarily Saku Koivu (45 points), Jason Blake (32 points) and the ageless wonder that is Teemu Selanne (31 goals, 80 points), who in action movie terms would be Jackie Chan — still doing his own stunts and teaching the youngin's a thing or two about a thing or two. While also dabbling in comedy.
Is Selanne coming back? As of this writing, it's still uncertain. If he does, he gives the Ducks an ace trigger man on the second line and the power play. If he doesn't … well, Dan Sexton or Andrew Gordon or Kyle Palmieri just don't have the same sex appeal on right wing.
Cogliano is seen as having the offensive potential to be a No. 2 pivot, but he's slotted for the third line, where he'll attempt to not be eaten alive in the faceoff circle like he was in Edmonton. Palmieri, Nick Bonino, Matt Beleskey, Mark Bell (a worthy gamble) and Brandon McMillian (who averaged 14:04 TOI in 60 games last season) are options at forward; George Parros will bring his Ivy League intellect, fists of pounding and mustached of power to the fourth line.
On defense, the Lubomir Visnovsky party was something to behold last season, as he posted a career-best 68 points in 81 games and led the team with 24:17 TOI. Credit Toni Lydman (plus-32) for being the stay-at-home guy in the pairing. Cam Fowler was one of the best rookie stories in the League, going from a precipitous plummet in the draft to a 40-point campaign that ended up with him fifth on the team in average ice time (22:07). The reacquisition of Francois Beauchemin paid off as well. Adding a veteran like Foster seems like a better fit for Randy Carlyle than Sutton was. Luca Sbisa, who could move up the lineup and see special teams time, and Sheldon Brookbank are also in the mix.
In goal, Jonas Hiller claims he's symptom-free and ready to roll, having posted a 2.56 GAA and a .924 save percentage in 46 starts last season. If he's healthy, he's a goalie that can steal a game and then disappearing into the night with his murdered-out mask. Dan Ellis is money as his backup.
In honor of the Ducks' top line, it's "Lethal Weapon 3". Perry as the hot-head. Getzlaf as the strong stoic one. Ryan as the yapper from Jersey.
Carlyle was given a new 3-year contract, and deservedly so. Last season, he led the team through injury adversity (and a defense that looked rather underwhelming in the preseason) to earn home ice in the first round. The Ducks have made the playoffs in five of the six years he's been head coach.
GM Bob Murray has built a roster that has $10 million in cap space (pre-Selanne) and the core locked up for the next two seasons at reasonable prices. Getting Bobby Ryan in at $5.1 million could look genius. Depth is still an issue for the team, but Murray's had more hits than flops as a director.
Kyle Palmieri had a Perry-like 15 goals in 14 games to close out the AHL season. The Ducks need a right-handed forward and a bit more scoring pop. Provided he makes the team out of camp, and doesn't have another midseason swoon offensively, he could be a factor as a 20-year-old USA Hockey product.
"It was then I realized, Mr. Bond, that robbing Fort Knox was entirely too risky. So I shifted Operation Grand Slam to Dan Ellis's money bin, which has half the security and twice the gold ..." - Goldfinger
Cogliano was either a player who never fulfilled his potential or a player whose hype overshadowed his actual skills set in Edmonton. As a center, he lost 647 of his 1,108 faceoffs — a 41.6-percent clip. The Ducks see something in him, though.
A Hart Trophy and a chance to hang with the Blue Man Group? Quite the year for Corey Perry. BTW, can anyone prove without a shadow of a doubt that neither of these men are Mark Messier?
Obviously, any reoccurrence of Hiller's ailment would dramatically alter the plot for the Ducks. The Ducks endured without him last season, but it's hard to imagine Perry getting on a tear of that magnitude to carry them again.
Hovering around the No. 8 seed and making the playoff cut. The conference is again going to be tighter than Scorsese tracking shot, but Carlyle's teams are usually in the hunt. It's a top-heavy group for sure, but you could do worse than rely on that group of six skaters to carry the load. Provided, of course, a certain Finnish gentleman joins the cast.