Scouting the Sharks.

The Sharks and Ducks meet Sunday for the third time this season, under circumstances very different from any this season or last.

Anaheim has gone 4-1 in its last five games to pull season-high four games over .500. San Jose (21-15-5) has lost two straight, four of six, and just got a tongue-lashing from GM Doug Wilson.

More interesting than how each team is playing is how each team got to this point. Since the teams last met on Nov. 9, rookie forward Logan Couture has 13 goals and eight assists in 29 games to become the Sharks’ leading goal-scorer. They have six forwards (and one defenseman, Dan Boyle) entering play Saturday with at least 27 points – something no other NHL team can claim.

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It’s official: Fowler will remain in Anaheim.

Cam Fowler was not playing hockey when he knew he had arrived, so to speak, as a full-fledged NHL defenseman.

“The last few days they told me to start moving some of my stuff into Scotty (Niedermayer)’s house and get my car out here,” he said. “That was kind of a good tip that at least they were going to keep me around for a little while.’

It became official Tuesday when Ducks general manager Bob Murray announced that he intends to keep the 18-year-old defenseman in the NHL this season. Fowler, who has played six games and is set to play his seventh on Wednesday, could have played up to nine games before Murray had to keep him or return him to his junior squad, the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.
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Ducks name Getzlaf captain.

That 25-year-old center Ryan Getzlaf officially became the eighth captain in Ducks history Sunday wasn’t out of the blue. He was one of two alternate captains last season, along with Saku Koivu, and both were seen as logical successors when captain Scott Niedermayer retired in June.

The more interesting wrinkle was how Getzlaf earned the “C” that was stitched onto his jersey prior to Sunday’s preseason tilt with the Los Angeles Kings.

“The players made that decision,” head coach Randy Carlyle said.
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Selanne returning to Ducks.

Another dispatch from the road, where word travels fast that 40-year-old right wing Teemu Selanne is returning to the Ducks for another season. Selanne, who is still in his native Finland, agreed to a 1-year, $3.25 million contract.

Selanne spoke to the media via conference call earlier today (transcript can be found here), as did general manager Bob Murray (comments here).

Selanne gets a slight raise on last year’s contract, but it’s still below market rate for a player who scored 27 goals in a mere 54 games last season. He doesn’t immediately make the Ducks a playoff contender — how well a rebuilt, Scott Niedermayer-less defense can perform is the critical question now — but Selanne does ensure that the league’s fifth-best power play won’t take a huge step backward next season.

Sutton steps in.

Another quick, slightly late dispatch from the vacation trail: Free agent defenseman Andy Sutton has been added on a two-year, $4.25 million contract.

Sutton immediately addresses the Ducks’ need for a veteran top-four defenseman, although he isn’t the point producer many anticipated – namely, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Tomas Kaberle. Sutton is another shot-blocker, to the tune of 204 last season — second-most in the NHL. While averaging 20:24 of ice time, the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder was also eighth among all defenseman with 197 hits. Sutton chipped in with five goals and eight assists in a regular season split between the Islanders and Senators.

Said Anaheim GM Bob Murray (via the team’s official website): “We inquired about him at the deadline last year. I just couldn’t make
things work in time to get him. … I talked to Pat Morris (his agent) very early about Andy. We waited a
little while and talked again. I had to see where the whole (James) Wisniewski
thing went and we had to let that play out a little bit. I think Andy is
very excited about playing with our group and we’re very excited to
have him. We were all patient and let things unfold.”

While regarded as one of the top defensive-minded defensemen still on the market, there are concerns about Sutton’s giveaways (he had 64 in 72 games last season) and durability. The 35-year-old missed eight games last season with a groin injury, and has broken the 70-game plateau only twice in his career.

The Ducks’ other main blue-line acquisition, Toni Lydman, is also a giveaway liability — he had 49 in 67 games last season. But he’s also a good shot-blocker who piles up hits. If nothing else the Ducks will enter the season with two proven defensemen (Sutton and Lydman) who are tough to play against in the defensive zone. Brett Festerling and Sheldon Brookbank are close to being mentioned in that group, as well.

The question now is, who will move the puck and take the shot from the blue line? If they don’t make a play for Kaberle, the Ducks may turn to rookies Luca Sbisa, Cam Fowler or even Danny Syvret to help replace the offensive contributions of retired captain Scott Niedermayer. Aside from workhorse Lubomir Visnovsky, who averaged 5:09 power-play time per game last season, no current Ducks defenseman averaged more than 0:55 per game on the power play last season (that was Lydman).

There is also the question of how quickly the defense will come together as a unit. That was among the Ducks’ main issues early last season, when they were trying to integrate three new defensemen (Nick Boynton, Sbisa and Steve Eminger). This year, only Brookbank will come into training camp having had a full NHL season under head coach Randy Carlyle’s system; Sutton, Lydman, Fowler and Syvret will have had no in-game experience at all.

This has not dampened Sutton’s optimism.

“It’s a great fit,” he said. “It’s
a team that can go all the way, which was important to me. It’s a
mature team, a veteran team and the sky is the limit with this club.”

Koivu discusses new contract, Selanne.

On Wednesday night, the day before Saku Koivu was set to become an unrestricted free agent, Ducks general manager Bob Murray thought that Koivu was a goner.

The 35-year-old center admitted today that he had other offers from other teams, but “the package and everything that Anaheim had to offer was by far the best option for me and my family on the hockey side, and off the ice.

“It wasn’t financially the best offer, but for us it was the best fit,” Koivu said.

Time will tell just how critical his decision was. It could be huge.

Continue reading “Koivu discusses new contract, Selanne.” »

No hardware, but plenty of glory for Ducks.

The NHL Awards came to the Palms in Las Vegas for the first time last year, and there were a few kinks to work out. This applied to the press area too, where reporters had to abandon our laptops in the media workroom to do interviews in another room (so spoiled are we collectively that a trip to Vegas is no longer enough…). It was a clunky process that was rectified today.

The downside of having two interview podiums at the front of the media workroom meant that the all the televisions carrying the actual Awards ceremony were muted whenever a player was giving an interview. So we didn’t actually hear half the show (though I was told that Jay Mohr did a mean Christopher Walken interview).

Thank God no one was being interviewed when the hands-down, best laugh-out-loud video segment of the show (that I could hear) was on TV:

Continue reading “No hardware, but plenty of glory for Ducks.” »

Scott Niedermayer calls it a career. Updates.

An emotional Scott Niedermayer has announced his retirement, bringing an end to a historic 18-year career that brought Anaheim its first Stanley Cup.

Niedermayer, who turns 37 in August, nearly retired after leading the Ducks to their first Stanley Cup in 2007. But then-general manager Brian Burke allowed the defenseman to wait until midway through the next season to rejoin the team. With Niedermayer back, Anaheim turned its season around, going 32-12-4 and easily clinching a playoff berth.

He contemplated retirement again after the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons before returning each time. This time, Niedermayer was “100 percent committed to this decision.”

A lock to make the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, Niedermayer is the only player in hockey history to have won a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal, World
Championship, World Cup, Memorial Cup and World Junior titles. His impact on the Ducks is unmistakable: When Niedermayer signed as a free agent in August 2005, the franchise had just three playoff appearances (and four series victories) to show for its first 11 seasons. In his five seasons in Anaheim, Niedermayer led the Ducks to four playoff appearances, seven series wins, as well as their first Cup.

His 10 goals and 38 assists in 2009-10 were both tops among Ducks defenseman, but represented Niedermayer’s lowest goal total in a full season since 1999-2000 and his lowest assists total over a full season since 2002-03.

Niedermayer was named team captain in October 2006, relinquishing the “C” (to Chris Pronger) only during his partial 2007-08 season. The captaincy is likely to fall to one of last season’s alternate captains, Ryan Getzlaf or Saku Koivu. Koivu is due to become a free agent July 1, while Getzlaf is under contract through 2013.

Replacing Niedermayer on the ice is not as straightforward a task.

Considered one of the best skaters in NHL history, Niedermayer is in an elite class of defensemen, none of whom can be found on the open market. However, the Ducks would have the salary-cap and payroll space to trade for a top-tier defensemen with Niedermayer’s $6.8 million salary off the books.

Lubomir Visnovsky proved a capable power-play quarterback after he was acquired from Edmonton late last season. Otherwise, the team’s strongest puck mover last season was James Wisniewski, a restricted free agent. Luca Sbisa is also a strong skater with offensive instincts, but the 20-year-old has yet to play a full NHL season. The Ducks own two picks (12th and 29th) in the first round of the entry draft, which begins Friday.

How the Ducks draft, and who they target in free agency or the trade market, may not be the most significant ramification of Niedermayer’s retirement.

Teemu Selanne turns 40 on July 3, two days after he will become an unrestricted free agent, and may now be persuaded to retire as well. Selanne also contemplated retirement in 2007 and 2008, and only returned to the team in 2007 after Niedermayer returned. Selanne is expected to decide this week on whether or not to play an 18th NHL season.

Niedermayer decision close.

Scott Niedermayer, speaking today on “NHL Live!” (a show simulcast on Sirius/XM and on the NHL Network), said he is close to making a decision about his playing future.

“It’s got to come pretty soon,” the Ducks’ captain said. “The draft and July 1 are coming closer and the team needs to move ahead with their plans.”

Niedermayer has contemplated retirement before coming back to play each of the last two seasons. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

He did not indicate if the recent decision of 40-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom to return to the Detroit Red Wings would influence his own.

“With what I’ve been through, I think I understand both sides very well,” Niedermayer said.

Apparently, Montreal throws a better hockey parade than Anaheim.

I’ve never been to a bad parade in Anaheim, and certainly Scott Niedermayer didn’t intend to call out the Ducks’ Stanley Cup procession when interviewed by the Canadian Press today.

Still, especially with the Ducks out of the playoffs this year, this one has to sting a little:

Niedermayer, the Canadian men’s hockey captain whose Anaheim Ducks
failed to make the NHL playoffs, has been taking part in the festivities
over the past week.

“That’s the best parade I’ve ever been a part of,” said the multiple
Stanley Cup winner who took part in rallies following cup wins in
Anaheim and New Jersey.