The Anaheim Ducks had a remarkable turnaround last season, finishing first in the Pacific Division and second in the Western Conference after finishing 13th in the West in 2011-12. They were nearly unstoppable all season, getting off to a great start that kept going and going until it stretched the meaning of the word “start.”
Everything was clicking for the Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf bounced back after an off season, Francois Beauchemin amassed points to go with his solid defensive play, rookie Viktor Fasth came out of seemingly nowhere and won his first 8 starts, and the Ducks’ powerplay zipped along at 21.5%.
The Ducks may have lost in seven games to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs, but things seemed to be coming together for the Ducks. And yet, the outlook does not actually look that bright for the Ducks heading into next season.
The first thing to ask is just how good were the Ducks last season. Judging by their record, the Ducks were one of the best teams in the league. They were one of only three teams to reach 30 wins and had the second best goal differential in the Western Conference. But there were a couple warning signs that their season wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
In terms of puck possession, the Ducks were one of the worst teams in the league. Fenwick Close, which measures shots on net and missed shots for and against when the score is within two goals, has been shown to be the most reliable indicator of future success of the statistics we currently have available in the NHL. It’s not perfect, but those with a high Fenwick Close rating trend towards success and those that don’t trend towards failure.
While the Ducks are nowhere near as woeful as the Toronto Maple Leafs in this statistic, they’re still below average, finishing 21st in the NHL last season. When the score was close, the Ducks tended to get out-shot by their opponents, which generally results in a losing record.
So why did the Ducks not only make the playoffs but win their division, then? Despite losing the puck possession battle, the shots they took tended to go in a lot and the shots their opponents took tended to get stopped a lot. The Ducks had the 7th highest save percentage in the NHL at even-strength and were 9th in shooting percentage. Combining those two gives us their PDO number, which is frequently referred to as a measurement of a player or team’s luck, though that’s not entirely accurate. In general, however, a PDO number over 1000 indicates that a team has been more fortunate.
The Ducks’ PDO last season was 1016, good for fifth in the league. That’s not an unreasonably high number, particularly considering the quality of their two goaltenders, but when combined with their low Fenwick Close, it paints a troubling picture. Rob Vollman put together what he called “luck-neutral” standings in his Hockey Abstract that had Anaheim all the way down at 22nd in the NHL. His projections for the 2013-14 season dropped them further down to 24th, well out of the playoff picture.
The Ducks depended on excellent shooting and goaltending, along with a good powerplay, in order to overcome being consistently out-shot last season. Can they count on that continuing?
The loss of Bobby Ryan will have a major impact, as he was one of their best shooters, with a career shooting percentage of 14.1%. He has yet to score fewer than 30 goals in a full season, though he was on pace for fewer in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. He was third on the Ducks in points and they’ll be hard-pressed to replace his scoring, leaving the Ducks overly-dependent on Getzlaf and Perry.
While the Ducks got a good return for Ryan, Jakob Silfverberg isn’t going to score like Ryan, even with his excellent shot. He’ll likely be better defensively, however. In the long-term, the Ducks may get the better of this deal, but in the short-term, it makes them worse.
The only major addition to the Ducks was Dustin Penner, who is now a couple years removed from his best goalscoring years with Anaheim and Edmonton. Will he replace Ryan’s scoring? It seems doubtful.
Then there’s the loss of Sheldon Souray to start the season, as he had wrist surgery and will be out until at least December. Souray led the Ducks’ defence in goalscoring with 7 goals and also led al Ducks’ defencemen in shots. His slapshot from the point is a major weapon on the powerplay as well. His loss certainly won’t help the Ducks, who are a little thin on defence already.
The only addition on defence was Mark Fistric, a lumbering defensive defenceman who won’t provide offence to offset Souray’s loss.
There are other questions surrounding the Ducks, with the biggest being whether Teemu Selanne will return for another kick at the can. Losing Selanne would be tough for a team that will need secondary scoring, but even if he does return, you have to start wondering how much the 43-year-old has left.
Then there’s the goaltending situation with Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth. Fasth gave every indication last season that he’s ready to take on a larger role and even, perhaps, take over the number one job from Hiller. With that said, Fasth only played a part of one shortened season, so it’s difficult to assess him. Will the goaltending situation become a distraction for the Ducks?
You also have to wonder if the Ducks are finished with their off-season transactions. They could still use help down the middle, as Getzlaf is obviously the number one centre and Saku Koivu slots in nicely on the third line, but there is still uncertainty on the second line. While a younger player could step in, the Ducks could also look elsewhere for a more experienced option, such as, say, Mikael Grabovski.
Adding a strong puck possession centre like Grabovski would have a major impact for the Ducks, potentially pushing them into the playoffs again.
Of course, there are a number of reasons why the Ducks could make the playoffs again without outside assistance. They’ll need contributions from their youth, such as the aforementioned Silfverberg, Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem, Sami Vatanen, Peter Holland, and Nick Bonino. If a few of those players have breakout seasons, it could certainly offset their other issues.
The biggest reason why the Ducks could cruise into the playoffs again is in net. If their goaltending tandem doesn’t become a distraction, it could be their strongest asset, making up for their lack of defensive depth. If Fasth’s rookie season wasn’t a one-off, the Ducks will have one of the best goaltending tandems in the league, capable of making up for getting out-shot.
The other big reason is, of course, Getzlaf and Perry. The two of them are capable of carrying an offence by themselves and may have to, particularly if Selanne doesn’t return and the Ducks’ youth doesn’t step up. If the goaltending holds up and the Ducks’ top-heavy offence doesn’t collapse in on itself, then they should be able to book a return trip to the playoffs, but there are far too many question marks for me to be confident in them.