The Anaheim Ducks were expected to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference in 2011-12, but a second consecutive slow start was not followed by a furious rally like it was in 2010-11. Coach Randy Carlyle was fired and replaced by Bruce Boudreau, and there was a second-half surge but the deficit was too great to overcome.
General manager Bob Murray shored up the defense during the offseason, but any improvements up front are likely to come a few young, internal candidates. The Ducks will welcome back Teemu Selanne for another season, and the entire sport will be better off because of it.
Murray added Daniel Winnik up front and veterans Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen on defense. Anaheim's depth at forward will depend on some young players stepping forward and earning roles. The Ducks have been a top-heavy team in recent years, but they've also had success. How much the younger guys can help will determine if Anaheim can return to Stanley Cup contention before Selanne and Saku Koivu retire at some point in the inevitable future.
NOTES: The big name missing here is Emerson Etem, who would become a favorite for a top-six forward spot if Ryan is traded. Etem might force his way into the opening-night lineup anyway -- he scored 68 goals in 72 WHL games last season. Bruce Boudreau didn't hesitate to put Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin together (or to separate them) during their apex in Washington, so expect him to shuffle back and forth with his "Big Three" in Anaheim if Ryan stays.
There is some uncertainty with other forward spots as well, but the opportunity for guys like Holland, Bonino and Palmieri to lock down permanent spots is there. Holland or Bonino could push Koivu into more of a third-line role if they prove they're ready.
The defense corps looks pretty settled. Fowler had some growing pains last season, but he could become a bona fide No. 1 guy in his third NHL season. Pairing Souray's booming shot with Allen's responsible instincts could be an instant fit. Fasth will battle Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers for the backup spot behind Hiller.
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