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Off-Season Game Plan: Anaheim Ducks

Scott Cullen
6/13/2011 10:12:34 AM
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While the Anaheim Ducks aren't the deepest of teams, they boast some of the very best high-end talent which allows them to remain competitive.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Ducks roster that may just need a little tweaking to be right back in the playoff mix next season.

The biggest issue facing GM Bob Murray this summer will be whether or not right-winger Teemu Selanne is going to return. An unrestricted free agent, 40-year-old Selanne is coming off a great season and his presence would go a long way towards making the Ducks contenders again next season.

If the Finnish Flash decides that he's had enough, though, that will leave a gaping hole that the Ducks need to fill if they are going to remain a playoff team in a Western Conference that had a four-point difference between home-ice advantage in the first round (as the Ducks had last season) or missing the playoffs altogether.

The other factor of major importance this summer is the health of goaltender Jonas Hiller, who was the backbone of the Ducks' defence until his season ended prematurely due to dizziness that was attributed to vertigo.

If Hiller's healthy, he makes the Ducks' defence look better and gives Anaheim one of the game's top puck-stoppers. If not, well, the Ducks made do with Dan Ellis and Ray Emery late last season, but neither one is in Hiller's class.

The Ducks have made the playoffs in five of the last six seasons and last year's 47 wins was only one behind their regular-season total in 2006-2007, the year that they won the Stanley Cup.

With the right breaks and some savvy additions to the roster this summer, the Ducks have a team that can do some damage in the short term, but there's also a good group of prospects on the way and young players already in the lineup that should help keep them among the contenders in the West for years to come.

GM/COACH
Bob Murray/Randy Carlyle

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Cap Hit
Corey Perry 85.50 $5.325M
Bobby Ryan 79.54 $5.1M
Ryan Getzlaf 79.44 $5.325M
Saku Koivu 71.23 $2.5M
Jason Blake 67.33 $4.0M
Brandon McMillan 63.60 $875K
Matt Beleskey 61.56 $738K
George Parros 56.83 $875K

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '10-'11 Cap Hit
Teemu Selanne 81.14 UFA $4.5M
Dan Sexton 61.69 RFA $750K
Brad Winchester 60.78 UFA $800K
Jarkko Ruutu 59.54 UFA $1.3M
Kyle Chipchura 56.99 RFA $650K
Todd Marchant 56.11 UFA $1.125M

Corey Perry was already a rare breed, an agitator who could score a point-per-game while getting under his opponents' skin, but he took his game to a whole new level last season, with a late-season rush leaving him with a league-leading 50 goals while he topped 100 penalty minutes for the fourth straight season.

Perry finished the year with 25 goals and 47 points in the last 27 games, vaulting into the Hart Trophy discussion, and while it might be unreasonable to think that will carry over a full season, Perry is 26-year-old and should just be hitting his prime years of production.

On the opposite wing of the Ducks' devastating number one line, Bobby Ryan continue to get better and play a bigger role year after year. There are nine players in the league that have scored at least 30 goals in each of the last three seasons and Ryan is one of them.

Putting it all together on this elite line is centre Ryan Getzlaf, a brilliant setup man who is one of three players -- Henrik Sedin and Martin St. Louis are the others -- to have recorded 50 assists in each of the last four seasons.

Getzlaf has missed 31 games with injuries over the last two years and, at times, his defensive focus slips, but he's a premier centre playing a pivotal role on what may be the league's best line.

At 36, Saku Koivu was asked to handle a heavier workload (due to Getzlaf's injuries) and he played 19:08 per game, his most since 2003-2004. Nevertheless, he remains a productive number two centre and a good fit with countryman Teemu Selanne on the Ducks' second line.

He won't play up to his cap hit, but Jason Blake's salary is less in the final year of his contract and he did finish with 14 points in the last 24 games, which is entirely serviceable in a complementary offensive role.

Brandon McMillan had a decent rookie year, earning regular playing time on the third line though, if he's going to remain at centre, he'll obviously have to improve on his 38.9% in the faceoff circle.

To be fair, it was also McMillan's first season as a pro, so the 21-year-old can entirely be expected to improve on what was already an impressive start to his career.

An industrious, feisty winger, Matt Beleskey split last season between the NHL and AHL, but his production in the American Hockey League (24 points in 27 games) was a good indication that he's capable of playing at the highest level and Beleskey has, on occasion, skated on the Ducks' top line.

Few heavyweights embrace the role quite like George Parros, who led the league with 27 fights last season and has dropped the gloves 93 times in the last four seasons. He's also an adequate fourth-liner, so long as he's not stretched beyond the six minutes per game that he ends up on the ice.

Speedy winger Dan Sexton started his NHL career with seven points in six games in 2009-2010, but only has 25 points in 82 games since, which isn't enough to earn him a role on a scoring line and he's not strong enough otherwise to be an effective grinder, leaving him as a bit of a 'tweener.

Sexton can provide depth up front for the Ducks, but he's not a featured performer.

Kyle Chipchura has had a hard time finding his niche in the NHL and while, given his skill set, he would figure to be a suitable fourth-line centre, the Ducks were finding other options as the season went along.

While the Ducks have a number of depth forwards that are unrestricted free agents, the one unrestricted free agent that really matters is Teemu Selanne who, at 40-years-old, scored 80 points in 73 games -- good enough for eighth in the league with 1.10 points per game.

It would seem difficult for Selanne to walk away when he's still playing at such a high level, but until he signs a new deal, the Ducks have to keep their fingers crossed, hoping that he comes back.

Among Ducks prospects, last year's first-rounder, Emerson Etem, could have a shot at making the team after a big year in the Western Hockey League, but if Selanne doesn't return, Anaheim may also need to look to the free agent market for a scoring winger to help the second line.

Further down the depth chart, re-signing Brad Winchester may be a relatively inexpensive way to keep size and physical play on the fourth line, but the Ducks may be in a position to turn over a few spots at the bottom of the depth chart by bringing in some relatively inexpensive free agents.

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Cap Hit
Lubomir Visnovsky 81.63 $5.6M
Cam Fowler 70.33 $1.4M
Toni Lydman 68.70 $3.0M
Francois Beauchemin 63.42 $3.8M
Andy Sutton 60.89 $2.125M
Luca Sbisa 60.72 $2.175M
Sheldon Brookbank 55.11 $750K

Free Agent Defenceman

Player Rating Class '10-'11 Cap Hit
Andreas Lilja 59.94 UFA $750K

At 34-years-old, Lubomir Visnovsky turned in a career-high 68 points, along with a career-best plus-18 rating. Perhaps the only reason he didn't qualify as a Norris Trophy nominee was his lack penalty killing time (0:26 per game) but, as puck-moving defencemen go, no one did it better than Visnovsky last season.

After he fell to 12th, surprisingly, on draft day, Cam Fowler turned in a fantastic rookie season, scoring 40 points and playing more than 22 minutes per game. It was the only time in the last 25 years that a defenceman stepped right into the lineup the year he was drafted and scored 40 points.

It wasn't all positive, however, as Fowler ended up with a minus-25 rating, worst in the Western Conference. Provided his defensive game improves as he matures, Fowler should be a building block for the Ducks defence.

At the other end of the plus-minus spectrum, veteran blueliner Toni Lydman was a career-best plus-32, the second best rating in the league and easily the best of his career, all while playing 22:10 per game, his most ice time per game since 2002-2003.

Bringing back Francois Beauchemin provided the Ducks with much-needed reliable experience in the top four and he's durable, having missed one game in the last three years.

Andy Sutton didn't have the kind of season he would have liked, suffering a thumb injury early and never getting into a good rhythm, playing under 15 minutes per game (down from his typical 18-21 minutes per game over the previous five seasons).

Sutton's lack of mobility can be exposed but, in the right situation, his size and nastiness can still be an asset.

Luca Sbisa was rewarded with a four-year contract extension, but it seems to be a case of projection with a 21-year-old who may develop into a shutdown defensive defenceman. However, he's not there yet, struggling last season in stretches when asked to take on too much responsibility.

A good fit as a seventh defenceman, Sheldon Brookbank has one goal in 197 career games, but brings toughness to the limited minutes he plays.

With seven defencemen under contract already, the Ducks only need to do some tweaking on the blueline, whether it's signing inexpensive veteran depth or perhaps cutting costs by shopping Sutton, but the group appears to be set.

Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating Cap Hit
Jonas Hiller 76.51 $4.5M
Dan Ellis 60.68 $1.5M

Free Agent Goaltender

Player Rating Class '10-'11 Cap Hit
Ray Emery 86.32 UFA $500K

Jonas Hiller had the fourth-best save percentage in the league, at .924, so when he was struck with vertigo late in the season it really sabotaged the Ducks' postseason hopes.

Among goaltenders that have played at least 100 games in the last three seasons, the 29-year-old Swiss netminder ranks third in the league with a .921 save percentage so his health is of vital importance.

Needing a more proven alternative with Hiller out, the Ducks traded for Dan Ellis and signed Ray Emery. Ellis played much better with Anaheim than he did in Tampa Bay to start the season, but his struggles last year may have solidified his status as a strong backup rather than viable starter.

Emery, making a comeback from hip surgery, played very well in 10 games late in the season before coming back to earth in the first round of the playoffs. Even so, if Emery is healthy, he should have suitors on the free agent market.

Top Prospects

Player Pos. Team/League Stats
Emerson Etem RW Medicine Hat (WHL) 45-35-80,+41, 65 GP
Peter Holland C Guelph (OHL) 37-51-88,+6, 67 GP
Kyle Palmieri RW Syracuse (AHL) 29-22-51,-2, 62 GP
Sami Vatanen D JyP HT Jyvaskyla (SML) 11-20-31,+30, 52 GP
Justin Schultz D Wisconsin (WCHA) 18-29-47,+16, 41 GP
Devante Smith-Pelly LW Mississauga (OHL) 36-30-66,+49, 67 GP
Nicolas Deschamps LW Syracuse (AHL) 15-31-46,-4, 80 GP
Nick Bonino C Syracuse (AHL) 12-33-45,+10, 50 GP
Patrick Maroon LW Syracuse (AHL) 26-30-56,+5, 66 GP
Igor Bobkov G London (OHL) 4.12 GAA, .874 SV%, 21 GP

After the Ducks drafted him 29th overall last summer, Emerson Etem went to work in the Western Hockey League, scoring 45 goals and going plus-41 in 65 games. With good speed and a scorer's shot, Etem may be able to challenge for a spot in Anaheim as soon as next season.

A first-round pick in 2009, Peter Holland had a tremendous season in the OHL then added six points in three AHL games after a late-season call-up to Syracuse. Perhaps he'll need some time in the AHL, but Holland offers promising size and skill down the middle.

Kyle Palmieri struggled as a freshman at Notre Dame in 2009-2010, but apparently the pro game was more to his liking, as he scored 29 goals in 62 AHL games, also getting into ten games with the Ducks.

Finnish defenceman Sami Vatanen is small, but his skating and puck skills allow him to control the game and, provided he can handle the physical nature of the North American game, he's an intriguing prospect that could become an impact player.

Considering how dominant he was at Wisconsin last year as a sophomore, Justin Schultz seems like he's probably ready for pro hockey, yet is slated to return to school for his junior season. No rush, but the 20-year-old is a nice asset to have waiting in the wings.

Devante Smith-Pelly turned in a strong season for Mississauga, continuing to develop his offensive game, particularly in the playoffs as the Majors went to the OHL Final and hosted the Memorial Cup.

Nicolas Deschamps had a solid first pro campaign, continuing his steady progression in recent years. He could use another year in the AHL, at least, but the 21-year-old is a versatile talent.

Nick Bonino did play 26 games for Anaheim last season, but didn't register a point, playing under 10 minutes per game, but he did put up 45 points in 50 AHL games, so there is some upside that just wasn't realized in his time as a rookie.

Acquired from the Flyers, after reported attitude issues, power forward Patrick Maroon showed that he can still put the puck in the net. The 23-year-old isn't a great skater, but has good hands for a big man and his offensive potential made him a worthwhile risk.

While he didn't have a very good season in the OHL, Igor Bobkov played well for Russia at the World Juniors and will get a fresh start next season, having been traded to Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League.

Check out a potential roster for next season, on www.capgeek.com, with Teemu returning and a few more additions here: http://bit.ly/m17uwK

DRAFT
22nd - Mark Scheifele, Scott Mayfield, Tomas Jurco.

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Ducks have approximately $49.8M committed to the 2011-12 salary cap for 17 players.

Needs: Two top six forwards, depth forwards.

What I said the Ducks needed last year: Two top six forwards, one top four defenceman, two more defencemen.

They added: Toni Lydman, Cam Fowler, Andy Sutton, Luca Sbisa, Andreas Lilja, Paul Mara.

TRADE MARKET Jason Blake, Matt Beleskey, Andy Sutton.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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