With the free agent frenzy winding down and training camps still weeks away from opening, we thought we'd embark upon an ambitious project - a team-by-team preview of all 30 NHL squads. If you'd be interested in writing the preview for a team, email us (address at the bottom), follow this format, and we'd be happy to post your preview. And away we go...
Key additions: Scott Niedermayer, D (FA - NJD); Teemu Selanne, RW (FA - COL); Brian Burke, GM; Randy Carlyle, Head Coach; Jason Marshall, D (FA - SJ); Todd Fedoruk, LW (T - PHI); Ryan Getzlaf, C (D - 2003, 1/19)
Key losses: Martin Skoula, D (FA - DAL); Vaclav Prospal, LW/C (T - TB); Martin Gerber, G (T - CAR); Steve Rucchin, C (T - NYR); Mike LeClerc, LW (T - PHX)
Key players unsigned: none
Forwards: The Ducks were oh so close, their odds of landing a franchise savior seemingly having jumped from just over 4% to 50%. But Gary Bettman opened the wrong envelope, said the wrong team's name, and the rest is history. Anaheim, in new GM Brian Burke's first draft with the team, ended up selecting American-born winger Bobby Ryan with the #2 pick overall. Add Ryan to a stable of talented young wingers that includes rising star Joffrey Lupul, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf and there is hope that the Ducks can improve on an offense that was third-worst in the League, scoring only 2.24 goals per game in 2003-04. Petr Sykora is coming off a disappointing 2003-04, and don't look now but Sergei Fedorov will be 36 by Christmas, Rucchin 34 by the opening of training camp. Top assist man Prospal is gone. The Ducks will have a handful of exciting forwards to watch in the future, but that future is not now.
Defensemen: The Ducks added one of the best (if not the best) all-around defensemen in hockey when they inked the elder Niedermayer. Their 8th ranked powerplay should improve, their 12th ranked penalty kill will as well. Scott Niedermayer was the gem of this free agent class and the Ducks paid handsomely to land him. With Niedermayer, Sandis Ozolinsh, Keith Carney (also 36 this season) and Ruslan Salei, Anaheim has an above average top-4 defensemen. The backend of the D-corps is iffy, but whose isn't?
Goaltenders: J.S. Giguere's goals against average has risen from 2.13 to 2.30 to 2.62 over the past three seasons while his save percentage has dipped from .920 to a still-impressive .914 over the same span. The addition of Niedermayer and new coach Randy Carlyle's defense-first approach will help Giguere return to his form as a top goaltender. Ilya Bryzgalov is a capable and cheap backup - the perfect #2 (perhaps even #1A) backstop in today's NHL.
Bottom line: The signing of Niedermayer was big for the Ducks, but with that much money invested in one player, it is difficult to fill out a roster with NHL-caliber talent. Then again, they made the Cup Finals with a $10 million per year Paul Kariya on the roster not too long ago. The 2005-06 Ducks will need their young forwards to step up and for Giguere to regain his Vezina-finalist form in order to make the playoffs.
Update (8/16): Winger Stanislav Chistov will apparently stay in Russia this year (as may Bryzgalov, as Captain Dave points out). Chistov has been somewhat disasppointing since his rookie season, but still would have been counted on to produce offensively for the Ducks this year.
Update (8/22): Anaheim has signed free agent and nine-time All-Star Teemu Selanne. Since 1997-98, Selanne's season goal totals have been 52, 47, 33, 33, 29, 28, 16. Yikes. The 35-year-old should rebound somewhat in Anaheim, but don't expect big numbers. At only $1 million, this was a good signing by the Ducks and will help, but Teemu is definitely looking more like the Finished Flash these days.
Update (8/23): To free up some room under the cap (potentially for incentives in Selanne's contract), the Ducks shipped center Rucchin to the Rangers and winger LeClerc to Phoenix. The moves leave the Ducks a bit thinner up front than they were yesterday, but Burke probably isn't done tinkering quite yet.