After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2012, the Anaheim Ducks rebounded in a big way in 2012-13, winning the Pacific Division and finishing second in the Western Conference.
Though the season didn't end the way anyone in Anaheim wanted -- a seven-game loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- it had to be viewed as a successful one.
Now the Ducks have to show which team they really are: the one that missed the playoffs two seasons ago, or one able to build off last season's success. That's just one question facing the team heading into 2013-14.
Here are six others:
1. Who plays on the top line? -- Trading Bobby Ryan to the Ottawa Senators opened a significant hole on the team's top line.
Who slides into that spot? Kyle Palmieri saw time there in the postseason, and after a breakout 2012-13 season when he scored 10 goals in 42 games, he could get the first shot there this season. Jakob Silfverberg, acquired from Ottawa in the Ryan deal, could jump into that spot. He had 10 goals and 19 points in 48 games last season.
Another option could be free-agent signing Dustin Penner, creating the intriguing possibility of a reunion of arguably the team's best line in its run to the 2007 Stanley Cup: Penner with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
The Ducks could look to go physical by placing Matt Beleskey on the line, or add speed with Emerson Etem.
"It's going to be a hell of a dogfight in our training camp to see who comes out playing," Ducks general manager Bob Murray told NHL.com.
2. Will Teemu Selanne return? -- Selanne turned 43 last month, but he certainly doesn't act his age. He was fourth on the team with 12 goals last season, and tied for fifth with 24 points playing 46 of 48 games. So the skill and durability are still there. But is the will?
Having gone this far into the summer without an answer from Selanne is nothing new. The Ducks have an open door, allowing him to spend as much time as he needs to make a decision.
Clearly Selanne can't play forever, and the Ducks have a group of young forwards ready to earn top-six ice time. But if Selanne wants to play and is committed, the Ducks would welcome him.
"If he's sure he wants it bad, then we'll make it work," Murray said. "Whatever I have to do. I don't care when he tells me. We'll find a way. We've got lots of cap space [and] we have enough contract [room]."
|How the Ducks split time between Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth is one of the most compelling questions facing the team entering 2013-14. |
3. Who's in net? -- The Ducks signed goalie Viktor Fasth, 30, in September 2012 to add organizational depth, but he emerged as a surprise star in place of Jonas Hiller. Fasth won his first eight starts and keyed the team's strong start.
He finished 15-6-2 with a 2.18 goals-against average and four shutouts. Hiller took back the starting job with an 8-0-2 run from mid-February through mid-March, and finished 15-6-4 with a 2.36 GAA.
When the Stanley Cup Playoffs started, coach Bruce Boudreau used Hiller exclusively, and though the Ducks lost the series, Hiller had a respectable 2.46 GAA.
Hiller and Fasth appeared to create a strong partnership last season; if that stays true this season, the Ducks could be poised for another successful run.
"I love the way our goaltending was last year," Murray said. "They picked each other up. I think we have good goaltending and we have good young goaltending coming. I like where we are with goaltending."
4. Will the kids step up? -- Palmieri, the Ducks' second pick in 2009 (No. 26), is one of a few young forwards poised to move into major roles. He's split the past three seasons between the Ducks and their American Hockey League affiliate, but the 22-year-old looks ready to become a full-time NHL player.
Right behind him ready to make the jump are three forwards who saw significant ice time last season: Etem, 21, who had five points in seven playoff games; Peter Holland, 22, who had five points in 21 games; and Rickard Rakell, 20, who played four games at the start of the season before being returned to his junior team, the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.
Then there's the haul the Ducks got from Ottawa in the Ryan deal: Silfverberg, 22, who had a strong rookie season with the Senators; and Stefan Noesen, 20, a power forward with a nose for the net.
With a spot on the top line open and Selanne's return questionable, there will be opportunities for expanded roles for at least one of the young forwards. The question will be who takes it.
"We have good young players now," Murray said. "When you have that talent competing for spots as young players, I think that bodes well for the future of the franchise."
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 34 | PTS: 49
SOG: 99 | +/-: 14
5. Is Ryan Getzlaf back to himself? -- The Ducks captain admittedly had the worst season of his NHL career in 2011-12, finishing with 11 goals, 57 points and a minus-11 rating.
He rebounded last season with 49 points in 44 games, then had six points in seven playoff games, showing he was healthy and able to perform at a high level again.
Also, Murray said he sees him better adjusted to the duties that come with being captain, a role he was given at the start of the 2010-11 season.
"Being the captain, I think sometimes he overthinks it a little bit," Murray said. "Last year he didn't overthink at all. He's growing with being captain. He's very serious about it. Sometimes you can just play, and last year he just played."
6. Will there be a playoff hangover? -- After a strong regular season when the Ducks won their first division title since 2007 and finished second in the Western Conference, they blew a 3-2 series lead en route to a seven-game first-round loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
However, Murray was able to find some benefit in that.
"I looked at it as some of our younger players, while it would have been nice to have another round, got some really quality playoff time, and our younger players played very, very well for us," he said. "That’s a giant plus for us, that they got there and they got to experience playing a great team like the Detroit Red Wings."
The Ducks' season likely will turn on how those young players come back after that tough finish.