The 2007 Stanley Cup champions found it difficult to repeat in 2008, getting unceremoniously dumped in the first round of the playoffs.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at what promises to be an intriguing summer in Anaheim.
Though the Ducks might not like it, the big story around the team is still in regards to the future of general manager Brian Burke. Burke has one year remaining on his contract and -- you might have heard this one already -- his name keeps popping up in rumours connecting him to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
When the Leafs' GM vacancy was brought up to Burke following John Ferguson Jr.'s dismissal, Burke said he was very happy working in Anaheim but described the Leafs' job this way: "If you're Catholic, this is the Vatican." That's the kind of quote that sends speculative reporters on a feeding frenzy and that has continued from season's end until now.
But, if all the hullaballoo is for nothing, and Burke is running the Ducks next season, then he's going to have a full docket for the summer.
First of all, the Ducks need to know one way or the other whether or not Scott Niedermayer will be coming back in 2008-2009. Niedermayer's decision to return midway through the season didn't result in his best performance and the Ducks' first-round playoff loss ensures that Burke will run a tighter ship this time around.
Last season's other part-timer, Teemu Selanne, is again an unrestricted free agent. Selanne played well enough down the stretch to think that he could come back to play a full season, if that's what he wants to do.
Even if the Ducks coax one more season out of those two stars, a top-flight scoring forward could be in the plans because Anaheim couldn't score enough for most of the season, but the problem was exacerbated when Corey Perry suffered a late-season injury.
There is no need for the Ducks to go making drastic moves, however. "I believe in the core group of this team," Burke told the Orange County Register. "I believe we have to make some changes, but this is not a team that needs to be rebuilt. This is still a team that's in a Stanley Cup window, in contention for a championship."
There aren't that many teams that can say they are truly championship contenders and, if all goes right this summer, the Ducks will be in that group, no matter who is calling the shots.
Brian Burke/Randy Carlyle
Top Prospects: Logan MacMillan, Eric Tangradi, Matt Beleskey
Ryan Getzlaf has rare skills for any player, let alone one who goes 6-foot-4, 211 pounds. When he's motivated, Getzlaf is already among the most dangerous players in the game and should only get better as he matures.
Getzlaf's sidekick, Corey Perry, is headed for restricted free agency, but the Ducks know just how much they need the team's leading goal-scorer signed to a long-term deal. Perry added an edge to his game in his third pro season and he's becoming a bigger and stronger power forward who drives the net as well as anyone.
Chris Kunitz is a solid complementary player who has gone from waiver-wire fodder to a consistent plus-player with back-to-back seasons scoring more than 20 goals.
At the other end of the overachiever-underachiever spectrum, Todd Bertuzzi was once the game's foremost power forward and now seems to be a shell of his former self. He had brief moments when he looked to be regaining his form, but the 33-year-old couldn't put it together consistently enough to justify his salary.
Prospect Bobby Ryan ripped it up in the AHL (49 points in 48 regular season games, 20 points in 16 playoff games), but wasn't quite ready for a primetime role in The Show, scoring ten points in 23 games. With that year of seasoning under his belt, though, Ryan could be a Rookie of the Year contender next season.
A mid-season injury hampered Samuel Pahlsson, but the 30-year-old is one of the best checking centres in the league and, prior to last season, hadn't missed a game in three seasons.
Todd Marchant is coming off a season in which he finished with a career-low 16 points and, if not for his contract, he could be hard-pressed to beat out cheaper roster options.
One of the players who could push Marchant aside is Ryan Carter, the 24-year-old who filled in admirably for Pahlsson and should be due for a more substantial role next year.
Rob Niedermayer has put up back-to-back 16-point seasons, which is fine when it leads to a Stanley Cup, as it did in 2007 (when Niedermayer was an integral part), but for the kind of ice time he gets, more production would be nice.
Travis Moen's production dropped dramatically from the previous season, particularly when considering his strong 2007 playoff, but he's a reasonably-effective role player.
Though Brad May spends most of his time fighting Dallas winger Krys Barch, he's essentially an added bit of muscle to complement George Parros, who is a true heavyweight.
Checking centre Brian Sutherby scored 30 points with the Capitals in 2005-2006, but his game has declined to scoring just two points in 50 games last season. However, Sutherby has the size and toughness that makes him a Ducks-style player.
With the quartet of May, Moen, Parros and Sutherby, the Ducks have four forwards ready to scrap at a moment's notice. Perhaps that's too many, but it fits with the team's m.o.
While the Ducks would probably be happy to have Teemu Selanne return -- he still scored 12 goals in 26 games after signing late -- another quality scorer needs to be part of the plan for next season.
How much the Ducks have available to spend in free agency will depend on how far they can get under the cap (whether by trades or Scott Niedermayer's retirement), but they would figure to have interest in one marquee attraction like Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg or Markus Naslund, but a veteran like Brian Rolston or possibly Brendan Morrison might warrant a look.
If the Ducks have a full complement (read: Selanne and Niedermayer) coming back, perhaps a quality scoring centre can be secured through trade. Guys like Olli Jokinen, Marc Savard or Jeff Carter could be of some interest to fill the number two centre role.
Free Agent Defencemen
Top Prospects: Brian Salcido, Mark Mitera, Brendan Mikkelson
With the whole group healthy, and in shape, the Ducks have an embarrassment of riches along the blueline, for one more season anyway.
Of course, the focal point is Scott Niedermayer, who has been given a deadline for deciding if he would like to return for the final season of his contract. Niedermayer's failed attempt at retirement last season would have been fine if the Ducks had gone on to playoff success, but a first-round elimination makes for a more by-the-book summer.
Niedermayer's virtual replacement last season, Mathieu Schneider was outstanding, only one of four defencemen in the league (Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall were the others) to score more than 35 points and have a rating better than plus-20. If Niedermayer returns next season, there isn't as much need for Schneider, so he may be most affected by Niedermayer's decision in the coming weeks.
Chris Pronger's 43 points represented his lowest total in a decade (not including his five-game 2002-2003 season), but he's still every bit a number one defenceman, logging more than 26 minutes per game and playing in all situations. Of course, he's now on the NHL's watch list after yet another suspension, but it's Pronger's ability to dabble on the edge that keeps opponents wary of him.
With all the big names on the Ducks' defence, it's a tad surprising that Kent Huskins posted the unit's best plus-minus (plus-23). A strong defensive defenceman, Huskins improved dramatically in his second season.
The workhorse of the unit, aside from Pronger, is Francois Beauchemin, who has become quite valuable because of his ability to play in any situation. It may be fair to wonder, after a minus-9 season, if Beauchemin might be more successful if not pushed to handle so many minutes. Given the depth of the unit, it seems unnecessary.
High-risk Marc-Andre Bergeron can be a tremendous asset on the power play (his eight power play goals -- in 46 games -- tied for the Islanders' team lead), but he can also be a nightmare in his own end so that limits the amount of trust the he builds up with any coaching staff.
Venerable veteran Sean O'Donnell is a simple, no-nonsense defenceman who may be slow and not the league's most graceful with the puck, but he's tough and a fine penalty killer.
The Ducks also have some quality blueline prospects on the way, so they could very well have one or two new faces to round out the group next season.
Free Agent Goaltender
Top Prospect: J-P Levasseur
Jean-Sebastien Giguere is one of the top goaltenders on the planet and he responded to his new contract by posting a career-low 2.12 goals against average along with a career-low save percentage. He's not quite durable enough to handle the 70-plus games workload of some other top goaltenders, but for 60 games or so Giguere has few peers.
Swiss puckstopper Jonas Hiller made an easy transition to the NHL, putting up excellent numbers and performing at a very high level in the second half (1.87 goals against average, .940 save percentage since the All-Star break).
Provided Hiller doesn't get lured away with a big offer sheet, or a big European contract, the Ducks have one of the game's top tandems in net.
12th - Kyle Beach, Tyler Myers, Josh Bailey
The Ducks have approximately $49-million committed to salaries for next season.
Needs: One top six forward
What I said the Ducks needed last year: First line centre, one top pair defenceman
Who did they add? Todd Bertuzzi, Mathieu Schneider
Mathieu Schneider, Sean O'Donnell, Todd Marchant, Bobby Ryan
Scott Cullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org