Even though they played better under new head coach Bruce Boudreau, the Anaheim Ducks finished the 2011-2012 season with 80 points, their fewest since the lockout.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Ducks team that needs to be much better next season and the decisions that they will face this summer as they try make a return to the postseason.
Anaheim has thrived in recent seasons in large part because of their top-end talent and while any team's success is going to lie more with their best players, the Ducks may have been straddling too fine a line, leaving little margin for error.
As it turned out, they had a bunch of players go through down seasons -- including (but not limited to) G Jonas Hiller, D Lubomir Visnovsky and C Ryan Getzlaf -- and there was no one capable of picking up the slack.
That being the case, the Ducks might have a chance to get back to the playoffs if the aforementioned trio perform closer to their previously established levels, but crossing one's fingers and hoping for bounceback seasons isn't the most pro-active approach. That means that Ducks GM Bob Murray will have some holes to fill this summer.
The issue that hangs over the Ducks is that they have a Hall of Famer, right winger Teemu Selanne, who may retire or could decide to come back for one more season. Going into last year, it was assumed to some degree that it would be Selanne's last year, but then he was Anaheim's leading scorer and it seemed premature to put the Finnish Flash out to pasture.
Selanne has the game, so it's just a matter of desire and if he does play, the Ducks can tweak their lineup in the hopes of building a playoff-calibre team for next season. That could mean a couple of veteran free agent signings along with a few prospects getting their chances to stick.
On the other hand, if Selanne has had enough, the Ducks may be more prepared to go with a youth movement. They can't go into a full rebuilding mode; one, because it's not necessary given the talent already on the roster and two, with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the end of next season, the Ducks don't need to give them any reason (like a team missing the playoffs for a couple years in a row) to look for a new home.
The Ducks may not have a championship-calibre team as soon as next season, but if their big guns are firing, the supporting cast improves and Hiller plays at a high level, then they could very easily return to the playoffs.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus and the biggest stars will be over 80. Evgeni Malkin finished at the top of the regular season ratings with a 93.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Bob Murray/Bruce Boudreau
It wasn't an MVP season for Corey Perry, like 2010-2011, but 37 goals ranked as the second-best total of his career and he remains as feisty as ever, picking up a career-high 127 penalty minutes. While Perry could be more disciplined, playing on the edge is a sweet complement to his soft hands and part of what makes him one of the best scoring wingers in the league.
Rumoured to be on trading block early last season, Bobby Ryan seemed more secure on the roster once Randy Carlyle was let go and the 25-year-old power forward had 18 goals and 36 points in his last 44 games. Ryan is the only player in the league to have at least 30 goals and a positive plus-minus in each of the last four seasons.
Coming off the worst season of his career, Ryan Getzlaf will (like Perry) be entering a contract year, so he'll surely be motivated to rebound. At his best, Getzlaf is a dominating presence down low in the offensive zone and has exceptional playmaking ability, but if he doesn't rebound from his 2011-2012 season, the Ducks are going nowhere fast.
Even if last year's 38 points represented his lowest point production in a season in which he played at least 25 games, Saku Koivu continues to play a sound two-way game for the Ducks. Even if 18 minutes per game could be too much for the 37-year-old going forward, he's good for a top-nine role and his return might help convince Selanne to play one more season.
Acquired from Edmonton, Andrew Cogliano has not been able to produce like he did in his rookie season, when he had 45 points for the Oilers in 2007-2008. Last year's 26 points represented a career low and, barring an uptick in scoring, it's starting to look like the 24-year-old is settling in as a bottom six forward.
Somewhat surprisingly, Devante Smith-Pelly made the Ducks as a 19-year-old and played 49 games, missing some time with a broken foot, suffered while on loan to Canada's World Junior team. Smith-Pelly might have developed more offensively with another year in junior hockey, but he's capable of filling a role as a checker now.
Matt Beleskey is a hard-working winger who occasionally finds himself getting a chance on a scoring line but, invariably, slides back to a depth role. With 18 goals in 167 career games, Beleskey needs to play responsibly in a checking role if he's going to establish himself as an NHL regular.
24-year-old Nick Bonino has put up 67 points in 69 AHL games over the last two seasons, earning a long look with the Ducks last season. He's shown some promise and figures to have a regular spot next season, but his production will, naturally, correlate to how much ice time he earns (he played a modest 12:29 in 2011-2012).
Anaheim's forward lines could take on a dramatically different look next season if leading scorer Teemu Selanne decides to retire. He'll be 42 in the summer, but after 66 points last season, it's pretty clear that he's capable of being an offensive contributor. If Selanne goes, that might pave the way for the Ducks to go younger, but there are worse solutions for this team than welcoming back a sniper like Selanne for another go-round.
Where Anaheim really needs to upgrade is the supporting cast. At the very least, they need a legitimate scoring winger (if Selanne and Koivu return). Maybe it's prospect Kyle Palmieri, who had a strong season in the AHL, but the Ducks could also venture into the free agent market seeking a winger that can play on one of their top two lines.
If Alexander Semin is too risky or pricey for the Ducks' tastes -- or if Bruce Boudreau develops a nervous tic when the name is brought mentioned -- then maybe the Ducks would be inclined to try a short-term fix, like Ray Whitney or Steve Sullivan, who could at least offer complementary scoring. If the Ducks are really going to make a run next season, they could aggressively go for a second-line centre, moving Koivu into the No. 3 spot. Olli Jokinen may be the only viable upgrade in free agency, but the Ducks could get creative with prospects and picks to trade for an offensive pivot.
Additionally, while some prospects will deserve a look, the Ducks could go for a proven checker or two in their bottom six. A centre like Gregory Campbell or Zenon Konopka would provide experience and toughness for the fourth line.
Free Agent Defence
||'11-'12 Cap Hit
In 2010-2011, Lubomir Visnovsky led all defencemen with 68 points and then the 35-year-old fell off a cliff -- down to 27 points -- last season. Visnovsky's role was gradually reduced throughout the season (22:30 ATOI before the All-Star break, 18:59 after) and, with one year remaining on his contract, he could get moved this summer to a team seeking a power play quarterback.
While he did finish with a career-worst minus-14 rating, Francois Beauchemin played more than 25 minutes per game and matched up against the opposition's best on a nightly basis. His offensive game has declined but, at this point, he is focused on the defensive side of his match-ups.
22-year-old Luca Sbisa has been making steady progress in his game and played nearly 19 minutes per game after the All-Star break last season. He led the Ducks with 186 hits and is developing more of an offensive game as he matures too.
Cam Fowler's been thrust into the workload of a top-pair NHL defenceman very quickly, playing 22-23 minutes per game -- often against high-calibre competition -- in his first two seasons, but he's also minus-53 over those two years, so he has room for continued growth, but he's only 20-years-old, so that's entirely understandable. At some point, his play without the puck will need to evolve if he's going to become a number one defenceman.
Veteran blueliner Toni Lydman is still a safe and steady type, but not nearly the workhorse that he was in 2010-2011 when he played nearly 23 minutes per game and was a career-best plus-32. In a defensive role, though, Lydman remains an asset.
There is the possibility that the Ducks could add undersized, but very skilled, Finnish blueliner Sami Vatanen. There's an element of unknown, since he's been playing in Finland, but Vatanen has been very productive, scoring 73 points with a plus-41 rating in 101 games over the last two seasons.
Certainly the blueline would need to be bolstered if Visnovsky is sent elsewhere, but even if he's not, bringing in a reliable defenceman would help the cause. Brad Stuart, Barret Jackman or Scott Hannan are among the free agent blueliners that would add stability to the Ducks' defence going into next season.
The unfortunate part for the Ducks is that they would have a top-four defenceman ready to add to their lineup in Justin Schultz, the 2008 second-round pick who has scored 91 points in 78 games over the last two seasons at the University of Wisconsin. However, Schultz appears poised to become an unrestricted free agent, rather than sign with the Ducks, which is a loss of a premier prospect that few teams can absorb.
Free Agent Goaltender
||'11-'12 Cap Hit
Jonas Hiller struggled for the first three months of the season. Perhaps it wasn't altogether surprising, since a bout with vertigo had prematurely ended his 2010-2011 season, but by the time Hiller recaptured his form in the Anaheim net, the season was fast getting away from the Ducks. Of greater importance moving ahead, though, Hiller was very good from January until April, so there is reason to be optimistic that he'll be an aboe-average starter from the get-go next season.
Dan Ellis missed much of the season due to injury, as did Jeff Deslauriers, but with Deslauriers under contract for next season, at a very reasonable rate, he might have the inside track on the backup job. Deslauriers has played 62 NHL games and has a career save percentage of .901, which isn't great but he's a reasonable option for the backup job.
||33-25-58, +10, 51 GP
||Medicine Hat (WHL)
||61-46-107, +29, 65 GP
||23-37-60, +8, 71 GP
||JyP HT Jyvaskyla (SML)
||14-28-42, +11, 49 GP
||28-34-62, +9, 60 GP
||21-10-0, 2.75 GAA, .928 SV%, 32 GP
||17-34-51, +20, 38 GP
||Vasteras IK (Swe. 1)
||12-33-45, +25, 46 GP
||5-5-10, -3, 48 GP
||24-17-4, 2.45 GAA, .925 SV%, 50 GP
Kyle Palmieri has scored 62 goals in 113 AHL games over the last two seasons (as well as five goals and eight points in 28 games with the Ducks), so the 21-year-old could be ready for a job with the big club next season.
A tremendous skater and shooter, Emerson Etem can use some seasoning to round out his game, but he has the chance to become a significant scoring winger when he reaches the NHL. Should Selanne return, the Ducks could afford to be more patient with Palmieri and Etem.
The 15th pick in the 2009 draft, Peter Holland had a strong rookie season in the AHL and could very well find his way to Anaheim at some point next season. Holland has size and skill, but with the Ducks bringing Saku Koivu back for another year, that may allow Holland further time to develop so that he is ready to be a scorer at the next level when he arrives.
Sami Vatanen is small and certainly couldn't be paired with Visnovsky, but he could be the heir apparent to Visnovsky's role as mobile power play quarterback who can rip it from the point.
A skilled forward taken with the last pick of the first round last summer, Rickard Rakell is making nice progress in the OHL and will need another couple years to mature, but he has a chance to make it as a scoring winger when he makes it to the NHL.
American-born goaltender John Gibson has excellent size and made a seamless transition to the OHL, putting up top-notch numbers right through the playoffs. He's 18-years-old, so it will be a while before he warrants consideration in Anaheim, but it's fair to hope that he could become a starting goaltender five years down the road.
Chris Wagner broke through for 51 points in 39 games as a sophomore at Colgate and the fifth-round pick from 2010 earned a contract from the Ducks for his efforts. With several prospects in line for a promotion to Anaheim next season, there should be a good opportunity for Wagner to step in and play in the AHL next season.
A second-round pick last summer, William Karlsson is a talented centre who is going to need time to develop before he's ready for a look in North America. He'll make the jump to the Swedish Elite League for the next couple years and a couple of years at that level will go a long way towards determining his NHL readiness.
A potential bargain plucked in the firth-round last year, Max Friberg isn't putting up big numbers in the Swedish Elite League, which isn't unusual for a young prospect, but he performed well in the World Juniors, showing that he has some offensive ability to go along with a strong skating and forechecking game.
Iiro Tarkki turns 27 this summer, so he's rather mature for a prospect, but he played well in 50 AHL games last season, so he could conceivably challenge for a spot with the Ducks in 2012-2013.
The Ducks also have a couple defencemen that add depth to the prospect pool. Kyle Cumiskey is a smooth skater who has had trouble staying healthy and Mat Clark is a physical, mind-the-store type that has developed nicely in his first couple of pro seasons.
6th - Matthew Dumba, Alex Galchenyuk, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Murray.
According to www.capgeek.com, the Ducks have approximately $40.5M committed to the 2012-2013 salary cap for 13 players. Check out my potential 2012-2013 Ducks roster on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Three top six forwards, two defencemen.
What I said the Ducks needed last year: Two top six forwards, depth forwards.
They added: Andrew Cogliano, Devante Smith-Pelly, Maxime Macenauer, Andrew Gordon, Dan Ellis.
TRADE MARKET Ryan Getzlaf, Lubomir Visnovsky, Toni Lydman.
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.