ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Anaheim Ducks were the NHL's highest-scoring team during the best regular season in franchise history last year, and general manager Bob Murray couldn't wait to make changes.
That's because the Ducks' impressive season still ended two playoff rounds shy of their ultimate goal.
The two-time defending Pacific Division champions think they got tougher and younger in the off-season, shifting the roster around stalwarts Corey Perry and captain Ryan Getzlaf to make them more competitive in the post-season. So much change to a winning team has potential pitfalls, but coach Bruce Boudreau and Getzlaf are both confident Anaheim can handle it.
"We got a few pieces we needed," said Getzlaf, the Hart Trophy runner-up last season. "We've also given some young guys an opportunity to step up and take a big role for us. Those guys have earned the chance to do that, and now we'll see where it takes us."
The Ducks set club records with 54 wins and 116 points last season while topping the Western Conference and falling one point short of the Presidents' Trophy. Anaheim then won its first playoff series since 2009 before dropping an agonizingly close series to the eventual Stanley Cup champions from just up the I-5 in Los Angeles.
It wasn't good enough for Murray, who saw the seven-game playoff loss to the Kings as proof that Anaheim isn't close to a title.
His biggest off-season move was a draft-day trade with Vancouver for veteran Ryan Kesler, one of the NHL's top two-way centres. The versatile American will lead the Ducks' second line, which lacked an elite playmaker last year.
"I'm excited about a fresh start," Kesler said. "I think it already rejuvenated me."
Although the Ducks also acquired centre Nate Thompson, defenceman Clayton Stoner and veteran scorer Dany Heatley, they did more subtraction than addition.
They return without Teemu Selanne, who finally showed his age a bit last season before following through on his annual flirtations with retirement. Anaheim also lost third-leading scorer Nick Bonino ??? traded to Vancouver for Kesler ??? along with fellow centres Saku Koivu and Mathieu Perreault.
The Ducks further committed to the future in net, allowing former All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller to walk as a free agent in favour of untested Frederik Andersen and John Gibson.
So while Anaheim still has the core of an elite team, all of these new parts will need time to coalesce. How quickly it happens could determine where they spend the spring.
Here are some things to watch when the Ducks open the regular season with a four-game East Coast road trip:
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: With Selanne, Koivu, Perreault and Bonino all gone, the Ducks need more than Kesler to step up. Kyle Palmieri has a chance to cement himself as a consistent goal-scorer, and Rickard Rakell could claim a regular NHL spot as the third-line centre. Jakob Silfverberg, Devante Smith-Pelly and Emerson Etem all could earn playing time up front, while youngster William Karlsson has been impressive in training camp.
GREEN NET: Hiller was a quietly steady puck-stopper on several truly dreadful Anaheim defensive teams, but Boudreau couldn't even wait until the off-season to be rid of him, benching the Swiss goalie in favour of Andersen and Gibson in the post-season. After Andersen got hurt, the 20-year-old Gibson made a stunning playoff debut and an equally intense collapse, getting pulled from the Ducks' elimination loss to Los Angeles. With Hiller in Calgary, the Ducks are betting their future on two goalies with 31 combined games of regular-season NHL experience.
KESLER'S SKILLS: While the Ducks will expect scoring out of Kesler, he is considered one of the NHL's top two-way centres, and Anaheim should benefit even more from his additional skills. Kesler's acumen on faceoffs fills a glaring need, and his defensive durability will free up Getzlaf, who accepted stringent defensive responsibilities last year. Getzlaf was the league's top 5-on-5 scorer last season, and he'll have even more time to roam with Kesler backing him.
NEW SWEATERS: The Ducks' off-season makeover included an overdue new look. Anaheim finally ditched its pedestrian home-and-away sweaters with "Ducks" spelled across the chest in a tough-to-read script. Now they've got two jerseys featuring the webbed "D'' logo as a crest, essentially turning last season's black third jersey into the home sweater and creating a new white road jersey with dark shoulders.
TEEMU FOREVER: The Ducks' most beloved player is settling into retirement, and the franchise will struggle to find someone who moves its fans as much as Selanne and his infectious personality and inspirational longevity. Although Selanne blasted Boudreau in his Finnish autobiography last month, any hard feelings are likely to dissipate by the time Anaheim raises Teemu's No.8 jersey to the Honda Center rafters in January.