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30 in 30

Ducks counting on Hiller, Selanne to return to playoffs

Tuesday, 08.14.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

The Pacific Division was arguably the most competitive in the entire NHL last season from top to bottom, but that's of little consolation to the Anaheim Ducks.

The top three teams -- Phoenix, San Jose and Los Angeles -- were separated by two points, with the Kings going on to best the Coyotes in the Western Conference Finals and then win the franchise's first Stanley Cup. Dallas finished fourth, out of the playoff mix, but stayed in the race until the final week of the regular season.

The Ducks? They endured a terrible first half of the season, replaced Randy Carlyle as coach with Bruce Boudreau, then went on a furious run to cut a 20-point deficit in the postseason race all the way down to four before fading late and finishing with a 34-36-12 record, last in the Pacific and 15 points shy of a playoff berth.

Boudreau, top line are biggest questions for Ducks

Tuesday, 08.14.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

It probably goes without saying that coming off a season in which they finished 13th in the Western Conference and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs by 15 points, there are no shortage of questions facing the Anaheim Ducks.

Since claiming the franchise's first championship in 2007, the Ducks have only won a single playoff round. They've made the postseason three times and failed to get there twice, but their overall performance last season was particularly vexing.

Anaheim endured a hideous first half, getting veteran coach Randy Carlyle fired along the way. On Jan. 6, the Ducks sat 14th in the West with a 10-22-6 record, a full 20 points out of eighth. Then, suddenly, the teachings of new bench boss Bruce Boudreau seemed to click, and the team went on a second-half surge. On the strength of a 17-3-4 run fueled largely by the goaltending of Jonas Hiller, the Ducks got as close as within four points of a playoff berth in late February, but could never narrow it further.

With the Pacific Division and the conference in general as competitive as ever, here are six questions facing the Ducks heading into the 2012-13 season:

Hiller holds key for Anaheim's bounce-back potential

Tuesday, 08.14.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

In order for the Anaheim Ducks to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a one-year absence, there are several key players who will need to have big seasons.

The production of the top line dropped off in 2011-12 and the trio of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan will be in search of bounce-back seasons.

Defenseman Cam Fowler, beginning his third NHL season and still just 20 years old, suffered something of a sophomore slump and needs to take the next step in his development.

However, the Ducks' fortunes ultimately hinge on the man between the pipes, Jonas Hiller. The 30-year-old Swiss goaltender rebounded from a season marred by health concerns to play the most games in the NHL at his position, but had an up-and-down campaign much like his team and posted a career-low .910 save percentage.

"With whatever I went through at the end of last year, I'm definitely happy how it went this year for me personally," Hiller said in a player profile posted last month on the Ducks' official Web site. "I showed that I am able to play at the highest level in this League and I think I can play better. I'm already excited for next year."

Forwards are fluid; defense looks set in Anaheim

Tuesday, 08.14.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

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.

Etem, Palmieri top list of Ducks' best prospects

Tuesday, 08.14.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

Bruce Boudreau joined the Anaheim Ducks abruptly last season, accepting their coaching job only days after he was fired by the Washington Capitals.

Boudreau arrived well aware of the skill possessed by Ducks standouts like Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry, Cam Fowler and Jonas Hiller. Over the course of the season, he learned more about what's ahead as prospects like Devante Smith-Pelly (seven goals, 13 points in 49 games) began to establish themselves at the NHL level.

Over the course of the 2012-13 season and the years to follow, Anaheim is set to unveil many more young players who will figure prominently in the franchise's future. Kyle Palmieri already has had a couple tours of NHL duty, Peter Holland cracked the lineup briefly last season and Emerson Etem is knocking on the door of his debut.

"There's some quality skill here, and I told the guys that," Boudreau said in the Orange County Register in early July, following an intra-squad scrimmage at development camp. "I've been in Washington for four years and I think there's every bit as good of skill here, if not better skilled players that we had in Washington. And they perennially had one of the best teams in the NHL.

Flyers regroup after offseason plans fall through

Monday, 08.13.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

In his six years as general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, Paul Holmgren had gotten used to getting the players he wanted.

This summer, however, nothing went according to plan. He made big offers for free-agent forward Zach Parise and free-agent defenseman Ryan Suter, both of whom signed with the Minnesota Wild. And his brashest move -- signing Nashville defenseman Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet -- didn't work out when the Predators matched the offer.

He also watched as Columbus Blue Jackets All-Star power forward Rick Nash landed with the division-rival New York Rangers, and he lost two of his own free agents -- top-line forward Jaromir Jagr left for the Dallas Stars, and puck-moving defenseman Matt Carle signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That comes on the heels of the team's disappointing five-game series loss to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Bryzgalov, last season's rookies top Flyers' questions

Monday, 08.13.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The Philadelphia Flyers entered last season with what was believed to be a franchise goaltender and a questionable offense. They ended the season as one of the highest-scoring teams in the League backed by a goaltender who appeared at times to be -- in his words -- "lost in the woods."

Ilya Bryzgalov had an up-and-down first season with the Flyers, and his performance in Year Two of the nine-year contract he signed with the Flyers last summer is just one question facing the team in its quest to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1975.

1. Can Bryz bounce back? -- Bryzgalov signed a long-term deal after two excellent seasons in Phoenix, but failed to meet expectations last season. However, the belief around the organization is that Bryzgalov will be more comfortable with a year's experience in Philadelphia under his belt.

Scott Hartnell said he saw Bryzgalov struggle in his first season the way he did in his first season with the Flyers. Arriving from a non-traditional market with a long-term contract, Hartnell said he felt far better in his second season with the Flyers, and the same should happen for Bryzgalov.

Flyers look for better season from Bryzgalov

Monday, 08.13.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Ilya Bryzgalov's first season in Philadelphia could best be described as interesting.

The mercurial goalie had extreme highs and lows, on and off the ice, and it ended with the Flyers losing in the second round of the playoffs.

Ilya Bryzgalov
Goalie - PHI
RECORD: 33-16-7
GAA: 2.48 | SVP: 0.909
"Did he play as good as I expected? I would say no," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said of Bryzgalov's first season in Philadelphia.

As Bryzgalov enters his second year with the team, however, the belief is he'll be more comfortable and return to being the player who was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2010.

Bryzgalov was 10th in the League last season with 33 wins, but had a 2.48 goals-against average that was 21st and a .909 save percentage that ranked 33rd. Those numbers went farther in the wrong direction in the playoffs.

Flyers talented up front but scrambling on D

Monday, 08.13.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

For all of the plaudits earned from dismantling their rivals in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers are likely still smarting from a second-round defeat just days later.

Claude Giroux became a superstar and Scott Hartnell one of the top power forwards in the League, but the New Jersey Devils ended the Flyers' potential Stanley Cup run, and the offseason in Philadelphia brought more questions than answers.

Jaromir Jagr and Matt Carle are gone after signing elsewhere as free agents. James van Riemsdyk was traded for Luke Schenn to help bolster the depth on defense -- but the deal has also left the forwards a little thin if there are injuries. There are already injuries to deal with on the back end.

Ruslan Fedotenko was added -- like Max Talbot the year before, he brings with him a strong postseason pedigree. Bruno Gervais was signed and could earn a spot on the team's third defense pairing.

Then there is Ilya Bryzgalov. He was brought in as the final piece on a potentially great team last season, but now he's going to be counted on to help keep an elite team from slipping backwards. He makes the Flyers' destiny a wide range of possibilities, both good and bad.

Flyers won't hurry their next batch of prospects

Monday, 08.13.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

No team last season got a bigger contribution from its rookies than the Philadelphia Flyers. Matt Read led all first-year NHL players in goals, Sean Couturier provided lock-down play in the middle and Brayden Schenn developed into a solid top-six forward.

With that much youth, the Flyers don't have to be in a hurry with their next prospect group. While some will have the chance to earn playing time during the season, there won't be any kind of a rush, which will allow the players' full skill sets to develop at the proper speed.

Here's a look at the Flyers' top 10 prospects:

1. Scott Laughton, C -- The Flyers chose Laughton with the 20th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft after a season that saw him total 21 goals and 53 points in 64 games with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. He also had seven points in seven games to help Canada win the bronze medal at the 2012 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

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