It's that time of year again! Time to begin previewing the upcoming NHL season. The excitement of the offseason has subsided, and now we're just waiting for October, more or less, much like Polaris did before us. Thirty teams have big dreams, although some of those teams are probably dreaming of getting the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, although that's more front offices and fans. First up is the Anaheim Ducks, due to the iron fist of alphabetical order. Also, next up is the Arizona Coyotes, which is a fun change of pace from past seasons. Score one for the Coyotes.
The Ducks were top notch last season. They finished with the best record in the Western Conference, managing 116 points, and they finished tied for second in the league in goal differential at plus-57, which, given how the West is more difficult than the East, is particular impressive. Yes, some of the possession numbers did not reflect positively upon the Ducks, and that is very valid, but you can't complain too much. This team put up big numbers, and made it into the second round of the playoffs before the Kings took them down in seven en route to winning the Cup. No shame in that.
Anaheim was led, as always, by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who were both excellent. They also showed a bit more depth than in recent seasons, although they weren't satisfied solely in what they had. The Ducks made a big move in trading for Ryan Kesler to give themselves a second line center, and they didn't have to give up a lot to give him. Anaheim also added Dany Heatley, but he is very much a lottery ticket at this point of his career.
Teemu Selanne is retired, and while he will be missed, on the ice he wasn't having much of an impact anymore. Guys like Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly will be asked to do more, and they seem capable of it. Cam Fowler is still only 22, and Hampus Lindholm is promising too. Then, there is the situation in net. Jonas Hiller is gone. John Gibson is likely to be their new starter, and he is considered one of the best goaltending prospects out there. He has experience in the NHL too, including in the postseason. Gibson has the potential to be better than Hiller, which is huge.
I like this team. I really like them. They play in a tough conference, but I feel like the division may be a bit down, particularly with San Jose looking like they are headed in the wrong direction. It's a battle between Anaheim and their local rivals in Los Angeles. One of them will win the Pacific. One of them will finish in second. I think we are headed to another second round matchup between these two teams. If Gibson is up to the task, and the Ducks improve their possession a bit, the outcome could be different this year.