In less than one month, the NHL preseason begins. Plus, this time around, we actually know when the season will begin, because we get a brief respite from off the ice strife, and we will get a full year with a Winter Classic and all that good stuff. With pretty much every notable player now signed as well, it makes sense to start dishing out the team previews for the 2013-2014 NHL season. To add an extra layer of intrigue, thanks to the league's divisional shakeup, teams now find themselves fighting with different opponents for positioning and playoff spots. We will start this off, thanks to the alphabet, with the Anaheim Ducks.
Of course, in a grand bit of kismet, we are beginning with a team that we know has a significant piece they may or may not have. Will Teemu Selanne finally retire? Or is he destined to outlive us all? If he returns, he will definitely still help the Ducks on offense. If he doesn't, that is one less weapon for an offense they said goodbye to one of their best players this offseason.
Anaheim had a nice regular season last year, but they felt like one of the teams that benefited from the shortened regular season. A hot start cooled off into a solid, if unspectacular, run of play, but it was enough to earn the Ducks the two seed in the West, where they then proceeded to lose in seven games in the first round to the Detroit Red Wings. Well, at least the Ducks know that they won't have to play Detroit again this postseason, unless it is in the Stanley Cup Final.
Last year's team was led, as always, by Ryan Getzlaf, who rebounded after struggling the season prior, and Corey Perry. However, the third part of Anaheim's key offensive triumvirate is gone. Bobby Ryan was traded to Ottawa for a few pieces, the most notable of which was Jakob Silfverberg, who joins a youth movement in Anaheim. Guys like Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly will likely be relied upon more. Ryan was a really good player, and no one player is going to step up and replace him. It will have to be a group effort. Dustin Penner is also back but, aside from a wry wit and pancake jokes, he brings little to the table at this point.
There are questions on defense as well. Francois Beauchemin was quite impressive last year, but he is likely to regress toward the mean. Sheldon Souray also had a resurgence, but he will be out 4-6 months after wrist surgery. Can Cam Fowler finally take the steps required to lead this defense? At least the Ducks have strength in net. Last year, Jonas Hiller, long a workhorse in net, was joined by Viktor Fasth, and the two combined to be a dynamic duo. Anaheim also has a promising young netminder in John Gibson. If they are in position to make a move, maybe they can deal a goalie.
Thanks to the NHL's stupid decision to unbalance the conferences, the Ducks only have to compete for 13 other teams for a playoff spot. However, 12 of those teams have at least a small chance of making the playoffs. They won't be as good as last season, at least record wise. They won't win their division, and they likely won't have home-ice advantage in the first round, even if they make the playoffs. I am concerned about their defense, and they will miss Ryan. I like Anaheim's youth for the future, but this isn't the future. I think the Ducks will be in a fight to the finish to make the playoffs. They'd better hope that Selanne decides to come back... and that he still has something to contribute.