Here’s the blog where I pretend to be able to run a hockey team. Seriously, after covering a team day in and day out, you gain a certain level of respect for how coaches and management are able to do their jobs. I know I certainly couldn’t.
That said, here’s how I think each Duck did in 07-08, plus their likely off-season fate. I could arrange these guys in alphabetical order, but instead I will arrange them in order of penalty minutes (in parentheses). Seems the appropriate thing to do with this team. This is long. Bookmark the page. Print it out, read it in bed. It might even put you to sleep. In lieu of letter grades I’ve included faces, just to break up the monotony …
Chris Pronger (128), signed through 2009-10: Pronger did nothing if not show up this year (except when he was suspended). He probably had the best postseason of anyone on the team, if it’s even possible to take a sample size of six games and declare one individual the best over that span. Pronger’s point production dropped off quite a bit over last year (59 points to 43) despite playing more games this year, but he picks up points when he’s got forwards waiting to knock his slapshots in off rebounds. And the Ducks’ forwards just weren’t as sharp this year. The captain was handed a lofty paycheck ($6.25 mil, second on the team only to Scotty Niedermayer) and earned it. Next year: He, Giguere and Niedermayer are probably the only Ducks who will not, under any circumstances, be traded.
Corey Perry (108), becomes a restricted free agent July 1: The kid made his first all-star game in January and fell one goal shy of 30 only because of a season-ending injury in March. His goal-scoring touch proved invaluable on a team starved for offense. There’s really only one knock on Perry’s season, and that was his penalty total, but you figure that will only go down as he gains experience. Next year: Brian Burke has made it clear he intends to sign Perry as soon as possible. Because of logistics, that might be July. There’s little reason to believe he won’t be back; Perry and Getzlaf are linemates as well as best buddies, and Getzlaf is signed through 2013.
Todd Bertuzzi (97), signed through 2008-09: Few guys on this list had disappointing seasons, but Bert was one of them. Signed at $4 million a year to “replace” Teemu Selanne, you had to expect more than 14 goals and 40 points from Bertuzzi, who is clearly on the downside of his career. He enjoyed his best success in January when he, Perry and Getzlaf got hot on the same line – before opposing defenses started clamping down on them. The Ducks will need him scoring goals in April and May to contend next year. Next year: Bertuzzi will be playing for a contract, maybe his last in the NHL, which should motivate him some. But how much more is there to dig down deep for? If he’s not on the trading block yet, he could be by mid-season.
Ryan Getzlaf (94), signed through 2013: He and Perry emerging as viable top-line scorers were the brightest spots on offense all year. Getzy did it on defense, too, leading the team in plus-minus (32). Carlyle and Burke have indicated they think they can get more out of Getzlaf than 24 goals and 58 assists, numbers that were stunted by Perry’s stint on IR. He’s 23, he’s still growing, and it was nice to see him have a breakout year when given the chance. Next year: It’ll be interesting to see how close Getzlaf is to his plateau. I’d tell you to keep an eye on him, but the dude is already quite popular. He doesn’t need any help.
Sean O’Donnell (84), signed through 2008-09: The 37-year-old started showing his age this year and was a popular target for trade rumors when the team had to make room for Niedermayer in December. He had a solid plus/minus rating (+9) and could play the tough guy whenever needed. Next year: You can only hope he’s got another good year as a defensive-minded defenseman left in the tank.
Travis Moen (81), signed through 2008-09: Moen isn’t being paid to be a threat on offense, but his contribution on that end of the ice was a huge key to the Stanley Cup playoff run in ’07. For whatever reason, his goal total dropped from 11 to 3 in ’08, and the lack of a third-line scoring threat really hurt the team in the long run. But like I said, Travis Moen is paid to be an aggressive forechecker, and if Burke doesn’t feel like he can spare any of these, Moen’s value did not take a hit. Next year: Moen is also playing for a contract. It would help if that could translate to a few more pucks in the net.
Chris Kunitz (80), signed through 2011-12: Kunitz’s scoring took a hit because he didn’t have a pair of speedy snipers (Selanne and Andy McDonald) by his side like he did in ’06-07. The little guy (he’s generously listed at 6′) still impressed and inspired with his size and strength, which probably bought him at least a couple of his 21 goals. Next year: The question is, does management try to find linemates that suit Kunitz’s fast-paced game, or stick him out there with big guys Perry and Getzlaf and hope for the best?
Kent Huskins (59), signed through 2009: The 29-year-old defenseman came out of nowhere to notch a plus-23 rating, best among the Ducks’ heralded blueliners. He wasn’t flashy, but didn’t make a ton of mistakes and provided another pleasant surprise. Next year: Huskins becomes an unrestricted free agent at year’s end and there’s no reason to believe he won’t keep up his production. Expect a contract extension somewhere along the line.
Francois Beauchemin (59), signed through 2009: I really wish I could tell you what happened here, other than that Huskins replaced him as the most reliable defensive-minded defenseman at some point this season. Beauch’s plus-minus fell (+7 to -9) as did his goal-scoring (7 to 2) from ’07. When Carlyle paired him with O’Donnell in the Dallas series, that unit allowed all three goals the Stars scored in Game 4. Pretty much summed things up right there. Next year: Can Beauchemin return to his 2007 form? Whether he is traded mid-year or resigned at season’s end may depend on it.
Brian Sutherby (57), becomes an RFA July 1. In one sense, Sutherby is the poster boy for the Ducks’ offseason focus. Here’s a guy who came in to provide energy and consistency as a fourth-line center, is relatively cheap (coming off a season at $650,000) and started getting important penalty-kill mintues toward the end of the year. The coaches love his work ethic, but you have to be scared off by the fact that he didn’t score a single goal after joining the Ducks via trade in December. I mean, you do, don’t you? Next year: Burke has to do something about his team’s inability to score. That makes Sutherby either the easiest guy not to re-sign, or Burke writes off his struggles as bad luck and takes a shot on a guy he can trust to check the crap out of opponents and not much else. Keep an eye on this.
Rob Niedermayer (54), signed through 2009: He still showed his usefulness as a checking-line right winger, but that’s about it. The younger Niedermayer never was able to come back from a concussion late in Game 4 against Dallas, and super-sub Todd Marchant did Niedermayer’s job just as well in Games 5 and 6. Next year: At age 33, he is still an important piece of the Ducks’ puzzle, but for how much longer? His $2 million contract somehow looks a lot more tradable if his older brother decides to retire in the off-season.
Brad May (53), signed through 2008-09: You look at the Ducks’ fourth line of May, Parros and Sutherby, and it’s scary to think that May showed the best scoring touch (3 goals) of any of them. (Hey, he was a first-round draft pick … in 1990). The 36-year-old May was a great clubhouse presence and still packed a mean punch. Next year: Is a safe bet to be his last in the league.
Mathieu Schneider (50), signed through 2009: The expectations (all 5.5 million of them) were high for Schneider, and for the most part (39 points in 65 games, plus-22) he lived up to them. Pairing him and Huskins worked out great, and the team definitely played better once Schneider returned from a lengthy October injury. Still hard to forget about his missed check on Stephane Robidas that led to the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against Dallas, though … Next year: Age (he’ll be 39 in June) is a concern, but the dude’s in great shape and will fit in fine with Huskins on defense for one more year.
Todd Marchant (48), signed through 2009: He was the definition of “utility player.” There really was no forward position Marchant didn’t fill in for, and for that you could overlook the fact that he didn’t score much (9 goals, 16 points in 75 games). Another good clubhouse guy. Next year: Marchant will be 35, and in the name of Offense you can only hope the Ducks don’t count on him as a top-6 forward.
Ryan Carter (36), signed through 2011: The feel-good story of 2008, this 24-year-old undrafted rookie played himself into a three-year contract (signed Tuesday) by taking every assignment handed to him and running with it. After filling in on the checking line during Sammy Pahlsson’s stint on IR, Carter’s four goals in five games before a near-season ending injury earned him time in the playoffs as the second-line center. Dude won 60 percent of his face-offs, too. Next year: He’ll have a chance at the second-line center job, but the speed and energy he brings will allow him to play the 3rd or 4th line whenever needed.
Samuel Pahlsson (34), signed through 2009: He led the NHL in short-handed TOI per game, a testament to his reputation as the team’s best defensive forward. The downside: Pahlsson missed the entire month of January with an abdominal injury that hampered him in the playoffs a year ago, straight through into the off-season and well into October. Next year: Pahlsson’s contract is up at the end of the 08-09 season, and with Carter in the wings he might have to avoid the “injury-prone” label to get it renewed.
Doug Weight (20), becomes a UFA on July 1: Perhaps the biggest individual disappointment in Anaheim this year was Doug Weight’s failure to become the second-line center they needed when he was brought in from St. Louis for Andy McDonald in December. From the get-go he and Burke insisted the fact that Weight was slow, and linemates Teemu Selanne and Chris Kunitz were not, wouldn’t be a problem. It was. The 37-year-old was scratched from a playoff game for the first time in his long career, and under the circumstances his classiness was impressive. But his play was not. Next year: He can probably fit in somewhere in the NHL in a 2nd– or 3rd -line center capacity, just not in Anaheim.
Scott Niedermayer (16), signed through 2009/Teemu Selanne (8), UFA on July 1: The No. 1 question I’ve been asked the last couple weeks is, “are Scotty and Teemu coming back?” The honest answer is I don’t know, but I have more reasons to believe both will retire than come back. It’s not unprecedented for an athlete to reduce his playing time with age, but who plays half a season at age 34 then comes back for a full 82 games at 35? I don’t see it happening, but I asked both at the outset of the playoffs. Scotty (the 35-year-old) wouldn’t say; Teemu, the unsigned 37-year-old, said it’s a possibility. Go figure. The potential bad news: This team was decidely mediocre and well out of the playoffs in 07-08 without them; with them, they were the best team in the NHL. The good news if Scotty doesn’t come back: his team-high $6.75 million salary comes off the books for next year. Either way, he and Teemu have pledged to make a decision soon. Niedermayer, for what it’s worth, was selected to the All-Star Game after playing just 19 games for the Ducks. Next year: We’ll see.
Joe DiPenta (16), UFA on July 1: A solid defensive-minded defenseman, he played just 23 games and was a healthy scratch in all the rest. When he played, he was plus-3, scored 1 goal (on 5 shots) and contributed four assists. Next year: The Ducks can probably find someone at the minor-league level to fill those shoes.
Bobby Ryan (6), signed through 2010: He showed flashes of scoring touch during his rookie season, which frustrated the heck out of fans who wanted him plugged in right away as a top-6 forward. But his third-period penalty in Game 2 against the Stars set up the game-winning goal in that game; Ryan was subsequently benched and sent to the minors. It’s still too soon to declare the 21-year-old Ryan, forever to be known as the player drafted after Sidney Crosby, either a bust or a success based on five goals and five assists in 23 games this year. Next year: Ryan didn’t play himself out of a role, but he didn’t play himself into one, either. Whether he plays a scoring-line role or a checking-line role could depend entirely on the success or failure of the team’s more established forwards.
Drew Miller (6), becomes an RFA on July 1: Although he finished the season in the minors, I’m including Ryan Miller’s younger brother in the conversation because he was probably the third-most promising rookie forward (behind Bobby Ryan and Ryan Carter) to come through Anaheim this year. He notched 36 games in 31 games at Portland (AHL) and five points in 26 games in a mostly fourth-line injury-replacement role with the Ducks. His days were numbered once Teemu Selanne came back. Next year: Unless Burke thinks Miller is special, the decision to bring him back or not depends on Selanne’s decision. If he’s gone, he probably wouldn’t mind playing with his bro in Buffalo.
Marc-Andre Bergeron (4), signed through 2009: He was the Ducks’ only trade-deadline acquisition who stayed at the NHL level, but only played meaningful minutes when Chris Pronger was suspended. The only player on the team with a faux-hawk. Next year: He’d be a better seventh defenseman than DiPenta, but is too expensive ($1.653 million) to ride the bench. With the top six defensemen already signed, Bergeron could be traded in the off-season, especially if Scott Niedermayer comes back.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere (4), signed through 2011: Posted the lowest GAA (2.12) and highest save percentage (.922) of his career. Plenty of the credit is due to his defense, but it also helps that Jiggy is in his prime. Too bad he couldn’t bail the team out in the playoffs. Next year: Return of the Jedi.
Jonas Hiller (0): The only reason the 26-year-old rookie is Jiggy’s backup is because he DIDN’T TAKE A PENALTY ALL YEAR. No, seriously, though … it took Hiller a few games to adapt to the NHL game from the Swiss League, but once he did there was no dropoff – I mean, NONE – from Giguere. The proof is in the 2.06 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, both better than Jiggy, in 23 games (18 starts). I thought it was cool when he was serenaded with chants of “Hil-ler! Hil-ler!” in a shootout win April 6 against Phoenix, but he told me “they do that all the time” in Switzerland. Next year: Burke said that re-signing Hiller is a priority; he won’t be cheap, but the Ducks should lock him up to ensure a sick 1-2 combo in net.