By Curtis Zupke | NHL.com
NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray isn't interested in bringing in more new faces, at least not to start the 2014-15 season. Murray acquired a half-dozen players in the offseason who will play significant roles, and they need to be integrated quickly.
That's why Murray declared on the first day of training camp that he's not inclined to, say, beef up his defense more even though Anaheim has about $9.3 million worth of space under the salary cap, according to CapGeek.com.
"I want to get to the 20-25 game mark, where we've played enough home and road games and we've had hopefully, healthy people, and I can evaluate where this hockey team is at," Murray said.
"Obviously we have good cap space left. Obviously we have some pretty good assets if I feel a need for a change in the hockey team. But let's get to that point. Let's see what we have. There's seven new bodies in that dressing room. There's some jobs up for grabs this year. We've got some great competition for certain jobs here. You can figure out who they are and I hope the players have got it figured out."
In addition to folding in high-profile acquisitions Ryan Kesler and Dany Heatley, the Ducks need to sort out their best bottom-six forwards and determine if their defense is sound enough to make it through the Western Conference again.
At the outset of camp there wasn't talk of defending their regular-season conference crown but of simply making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Though another 54-win, 116-point season might not be realistic, Anaheim is thinking long-term.
Here's a look at their immediate plan:
D. Heatley - R. Getzlaf - C. Perry
P. Maroon - R. Kesler - J. Silfverberg
E. Etem - R. Rakell - A. Cogliano
K. Palmieri - N. Thompson - D. Smith-Pelly
Extras: M. Beleskey, T. Jackman
C. Fowler - B. Lovejoy
F. Beauchemin - H. Lindholm
C. Stoner - S. Vatanen
Extras: B. Allen, M. Fistric
Extra: J. LaBarbera
Captain Ryan Getzlaf
finished second in Hart Trophy voting and second in scoring after his first 30-goal season. There are nights when Getzlaf can singlehandedly take over a game, and it's reasonable to think that the Ducks will one day boast two Hart winners on the same line with Getzlaf and Corey Perry
(2011), whose 43 goals were second to Alex Ovechkin.
Heatley will get a look with Getzlaf and Perry on the top line and he appears motivated to resurrect his career after the Minnesota Wild didn't re-sign him. The Ducks tried this last season with Dustin Penner and it ultimately didn't work, but Heatley has a far better track record.
Kesler is expected to give Anaheim as a good a 1-2 punch down the middle as any team in the NHL. He should improve their 22nd-ranked power play, 20th-ranked faceoff percentage and bring an agitating factor in the same vein as Perry while also adding size.
"A lot of the really good centermen are big, strong guys in the Western Conference – the [Anze] Kopitars, the [Joe] Thorntons, the [Martin] Hanzals," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "So you have two big centermen going against anybody."
Kesler was skating on a line with Patrick Maroon and Jakob Silfverberg early in camp, and the ever-tinkering Boudreau will certainly try other combinations here and on the bottom six. Andrew Cogliano was the energizing spark and one of the Ducks' most consistent two-way forwards last season.
Nate Thompson figures to play one of the center spots, with Rickard Rakell and William Karlsson competing for the other.
"Hopefully one of our young centermen steps forward," Murray said. "I'd like it to be more balanced. We've discussed that this year. From the minutes guys have played, I think we burned the bridges a bit last year. It's been discussed to get where we got to. I'd like to see it more even this year."
The future is now for Kyle Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelly and Emerson Etem; the latter two were given lower jersey numbers as a sign that they are established. Smith-Pelly signed a one-way, two-year contract this month.
"Playing in parts of three years, I've learned a lot," Smith-Pelly said. "I think last year, even before the playoffs, I was getting the hang of it. I feel like I'm an everyday player. I can feel I can have an impact."
The interchangeable Matt Beleskey fills out left wing, while Stefan Noesen, Louis Leblanc, Nicolas Kerdiles and veteran Tim Jackman are among the forwards competing for time.
ADDITIONS: F Ryan Kesler (trade, Canucks); F Dany Heatley (free agent, Wild); D Clayton Stoner (free agent, Wild); F Nate Thompson (trade, Lightning); G Jason LaBarbera (free agent, Oilers)
SUBTRACTIONS: F Teemu Selanne (retired); F Saku Koivu (retired); G Jonas Hiller (free agent, Flames), F Nick Bonino (trade, Canucks); D Luca Sbisa, D (trade, Canucks); F Mathieu Perreault, (free agent, Jets); D Stephane Robidas (free agent, Maple Leafs); F Daniel Winnik (free agent, Penguins)
PROMOTION CANDIDATES: F William Karlsson, F Nicolas Kerdiles, F Louis Leblanc, F Stefan Noesen, F Nick Ritchie, D Mat Clark, D Shea Theodore, G Igor Bobkov
was the lone new addition to the defense, which seems odd considering how badly the Ducks broke down in their loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round series.
But what was perceived to be a big question mark at the beginning of last season held up quite well. The Ducks were ninth in goals-against average and eighth in 5-on-5 goals against. Cam Fowler and Ben Lovejoy remain the top pairing, and veteran Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm, 20, round out the top four.
Lindholm did not play a lot against top forwards and it will be interesting if he can handle more responsibility. Stoner is coming off a strong postseason with Minnesota but is in the mold of Bryan Allen in that he brings size but not necessarily shutdown ability.
Sami Vatanen proved to be effective on the power play and Mark Fistric earned steady ice time before he was injured late last season. Anaheim had 26 comeback wins, the most in the NHL since 2005-06, and Murray said that was because of a suspect defense.
Without much change, did the Ducks' defensive unit learn from that Game 7?
"I don't know yet," Lovejoy said. "It was embarrassing. It was terrible and we had to sit through that game. We had to sit through three months. We had to sit through another two series of the Kings ultimately winning the third series and winning the Stanley Cup. That's our archrival, a team that we thought we were better than all year and when it came time, we weren't last year."
It was difficult to tell whether Frederik Andersen or John Gibson had the lead more than a week into camp, although Gibson fought inconsistency in his first two preseason games with seven goals allowed on 63 shots.
Goalie - ANA
GAA: 2.29 | SVP: .923
Both are second-year goalies who made Jonas Hiller expendable. Andersen, 24, went 20-5-0 with a 2.29 goals-against average and 3-0-0 against the Kings before he injured his knee in the playoffs. Gibson, 21, went 3-0-0 with a 1.33 GAA at the end of the season and won two playoff games.
Jason LaBarbera provides a veteran presence, but the Andersen-Gibson competition will likely spill over into the regular season.
"We go from having the deepest goaltending and everybody talking about [it], and now all of a sudden it's the two kids, who are very good players," Murray said. "I'm sure they're up to the task. I couldn't see [Gibson] playing in the minors this year. That made no sense to me. So we're going to run with the two kids. We'll see how it goes."