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Ducks Questions and Answers for 2008-09

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks

By John Ahlers

Ducks TV Play-by-Play Announcer

The 2008-09 version of the Anaheim Ducks enters the season with a few less major issues hanging over their heads than their most recent incarnation. But this season’s crew does not approach the new campaign without questions.

For instance, unlike last year, the lingering doubts over the status of their top offensive weapon and leading defenseman, regarding their desire to participate, has been laid to rest. But whether or not the club’s “Top Finnish-er” is under contract by Opening Night still remains a mystery. So, as is the case in any new season, we present to you, the top inquires surrounding the Anaheim Ducks as they go into the 2008-09 season.

Anaheim has informed the 20-year veteran to sit tight as camp opened, saying a deal could be imminent. However, the weight of his contract, with one year remaining at a salary cap hit of over $5.6 million, could make that deal as dicey as it is imminent. All signs point to the defenseman landing with a different club by early October, but stranger things have happened. The salary cap era NHL and its Collective Bargaining Agreement between the clubs and
players can be a Rubik’s Cube when it comes to formulas regarding player movement and cap hits against a team’s ultimate number (i.e. their total salary vs. the cap). There are a limited number of teams that have the ability to take on a contract the size of Schneider’s, especially if the Ducks don’t take a contract (player) in return.

With all of that said, the preference for General Manager Brian Burke is to make a deal before the season opens, and Burke has proven in the past to be a master at accomplishing his goals.
What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago Teemu Selanne could be seen overlooking his one-time teammates at Anaheim Ice as they labored in the first days of camp, smiling because he was NOT by their sides. This year though, the tune is much different. With his 26-game, late-season cameo and his half-dozen playoff contests behind him from last spring, Selanne finds himself energized to the point of reporting to camp on a pro tryout with no insurance, as a testament to his commitment to the ENTIRE 2008-09 season. His 12 goals and 23 points in his eleventh-hour return also put to rest any doubts that the surefire Hall of Famer could possibly be past his prime.
But can the Ducks work out their salary cap issues to fit “The Flash” into their monetary world? The ongoing Schneider situation is clearly the linchpin. If Burke is able to swing a deal for the veteran blueliner and, as expected, clear some space under the league’s $56.7 million dollar cap, than one can assume that the familiar No. 8 and his offensive prowess will follow. However, in these strapping financial times where everyone in the league is aware of everyone else’s situation with cap, it can be a pretty big if.

Anaheim’s only true splash into the free agent market of 2008 produced center Brendan Morrison. The longtime Vancouver Canucks pivot is coming off an uncharacteristic injury-plagued year. The one-time ironman saw his league-high 542 games played streak end in Anaheim last December due to a wrist ailment. After missing nearly half the year with that, the former Hobey Baker Award winner at Michigan suffered a knee injury that ended his season. The subsequent knee surgery was his second in less than 12 months as he also had a hernia procedure in June of 2007.

His healthy return appears to be the key to the Ducks re-establishing a consistent second line scoring presence. The lack of second line punch a season ago was the glaring difference between the ’07-’08 Ducks and the ’06-’07 version that captured the Stanley Cup. Anaheim became a much easier defensive match-up for opponents without a two-fronted attack.

Head Coach Randy Carlyle is aware of his importance and the task at hand when referring to Morrison’s return from the knee injury. “It’s a challenge. He’s coming back from an injury that doesn’t always fall into place,” he said. With that in mind, the organization is allowing the 11-year veteran to take it slow, keeping him out of contact drills and scrimmages early in camp.

If Morrison can return to form, he will provide the speed to match with Selanne and the ability to distribute the puck that can help bring back the Ducks offensive production.

There is no doubting the talent that young Bobby Ryan possesses. The 21-year-old, former first round pick is currently penciled in for the left wing spot on the Ducks second line. Presuming Anaheim can get Selanne in the fold, that would put Ryan on a line with the club’s all-time leading scorer and newly acquired free agent center Brendan Morrison.

In limited duty last season, and not all as a top six forward, Ryan produced five goals and 10 points in 23 games. Those numbers extend out to roughly eighteen goals and thirty-six points over an eighty-two game season and the Ducks probably would be content if they could get that type of production from Ryan in just his second professional season. And so far it appears that he is on the right track. Following a summer where he spent extensive time with Ducks Strength and Conditioning Coach Sean Skahan, Ryan has impressed the head coach early on in camp. “He’s in the best shape he’s ever been in,” said Randy Carlyle. “His body makeup has thinned out and he’s not having trouble with the pace of scrimmages.”

While there is little questioning that Ryan will get there, the full season will not likely be an audition for the Cherry Hill, New Jersey native. If the progression for Ryan is slower, look for the Ducks to explore other options.

Anaheim’s version of the SUV or Cross-Over returns for another season of “Where do want me tonight?” The versatile Marchant has proven his worth over the years as a penalty killer, fourth line center, second line winger, third line center in lieu of an injured Sammy Pahlsson and just about anywhere else Randy Carlyle has needed a warm body. With the emergence of Ryan Carter in the middle, it could appear Marchant is ticketed for the fourth line as either a winger or the
center spot. But consider the aforementioned Bobby Ryan and his needed development into a top six forward and one can easily see Todd being tapped as a possible replacement were Ryan to struggle, even if only for the short term.

Look no further than last spring’s six-game exit against the Stars in the postseason. Marchant was one of Anaheim’s best players in the series. His grit and competitive drive continues to make him a valuable piece in the Ducks puzzle, even if he appears to be a piece that doesn’t always have a fit. 

Anaheim has 12 NHL contract forwards in their camp, seven defensemen under NHL contracts and two goaltenders with NHL contracts in camp. That adds up to 21, two under the maximum allowed on an active NHL roster. So we’ll assume (and Mom said never to do that) there are two roster spots open, right? Well, let’s do the math.

The 12 forwards include Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Chris Kunitz, Brendan Morrison, Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, Travis Moen, Ryan Carter, Todd Marchant, Brad May, George Parros and Brian Sutherby. That does not include Bobby Ryan, who is on a two- way contract, allowing him to be sent to AHL without clearing waivers and one Teemu Selanne, who is on a pro tryout.

Ryan appears to be in a situation where the only way he doesn’t start the year in Anaheim is if he plays himself OFF the roster in camp. As for Selanne, assuming the Schneider situation works itself out (apologizes to Mother), he’ll need a contract, and if he gets one I like his chances to make the club.

So let’s turn to the blueline. Six of the seven NHL contract d-men are currently in camp, with one exception. The six include Scott Niedermayer (hooray), Francois Beauchemin, Chris Pronger, Sean O’Donnell, Steve Montador and Kent Huskins. The seventh and rather conspicuous by his absence is of course Mathieu Schneider. Again, and I know it’s getting redundant but, assuming Schneider is traded, that would leave one spot on the blueline.

So the morale to the story, Mom is always right!

If it is a spot on defense that is filled, it’s probably a three or four horse race. Brian Salcido is coming off a solid season in the AHL where he produced 53 points with Portland. He’s a local favorite from nearby Hermosa Beach, who played at Colorado College for four years and will likely have competition from former second round pick Brendan Mikkelson. A very good skater, Mikkelson registered 16 points with the Pirates a year ago and at 21 years old may still need a bit more seasoning at the AHL level. Bigger, older and more physical is Brennan Evans, a 6-3, 220-pound, 26-year-old who racked up 211 penalty minutes with Worchester of the AHL last year. Finally, 23-year-old old Brent Festerling could have a shot following his first season as a pro with Portland of the AHL.

While it probably will take a trade or injury to open up a spot for a forward, there are candidates. One time 21-goal scorer with St. Louis, Eric Boguniecki has been signed after a season in Germany. Also back from overseas is gritty Josh Green. Following a solid year in Austria, the veteran of seven NHL clubs is back for another try. That leaves the more familiar Drew Miller, Andrew Ebbett or, newly acquired from Columbus, Joakim Lindstrom as possibilities.

As for the goaltenders it will definitely take an injury to unseat J.S. Giguere and Jonas Hiller as the opening night duo.  Were that to be the case though, it would be between David Lenevue, who has NHL experience with Phoenix, and young J.P. Lavassuer, the 21-year-old who impressed in limited duty with Portland a year ago.

While it has been a while since the Ducks took the ice in game action, there are still lingering injuries, if not only in this writer’s mind.

Anaheim was beset by lack of health throughout the ’07-’08 campaign and no one better symbolizes that than checking center extraordinaire Samuel Pahlsson. The abdominal injury Pahlsson played through during the ’07 Stanley Cup run and sports hernia surgery that followed kept the Selke Trophy candidate from reaching 100% all of last year. Sammy did miss a third of the season as a result and broke up Randy Carlyle’s vaunted match-up line in the process. He comes to camp at full strength for the first time in nearly 18 months. That is good news for the Ducks and bad news for #1 centermen throughout the NHL.

Also looking to bounce back is Corey Perry. On pace for a 35-goal season or more last year, Perry was sidelined by a freak injury, suffering a lacerated tendon in his leg as he was cut by an opponent’s skate with six weeks to go in the season. While he did return for the final three games of the playoffs, he was clearly not 100% despite providing two goals in those games.

Finally, Rob Niedermayer comes back from yet another concussion. While the latest occurred late last season it is no less alarming. In fact, given Niedermayer’s unfortunate history for the head injuries throughout his career it is that much more important that he be symptom free. While this particular injury cost him only the final four games of the playoffs, it is his second such malady in his five years with the Ducks and it took a bit of the off-season to clear up. If Randy Carlyle’s match-up line is to return to its Stanley Cup form of two years ago, it needs a healthy No. 44.

The Ducks moved their American Hockey League affiliation closer to home over the summer, taking the farm from Portland, Maine to Des Moines, Iowa. While this was hardly a blip on the hockey radar screen to most, it kicked off a very important year for the depth of the organization.
In June, Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Bob Murray laid down the gauntlet, “We’re trying to upgrade the depth of our skilled wingers throughout the organization,” he said. And it doesn’t end at the skilled wingers. General Manager Brian Burke has deftly orchestrated a roster of contracts that will roll over at season’s end. Of the 25 players under contract with the Ducks this season who appeared in NHL games a season ago, over half of them expire at the end of this year. That means that it is imperative that under the guidance of Gord Dineen, the Iowa Chops produce some players that become ready to make the next step to the NHL level.

Opportunities may not be there at this moment, as evidenced by the tight roster with the big club for now, but next off-season the Ducks could be taking a hard look at their prospects while making decisions on whether to re-sign players, dip into the free agent market or graduate prospects to play in Anaheim. The possibility for the Ducks veteran roster to be infiltrated with promising youth is less than a year away and don’t think that the shorter flight time from Des Moines won’t play into the management’s decision to take some sneak peeks throughout the regular season.

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