Two teams that made significant moves before the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline, the Anaheim Ducks and Winnipeg Jets, will face off in a Western Conference First Round series. Each team appears, if the goaltending works out, to be a strong contender to win the conference, but one will be out of the tournament in two weeks.
Neither team was among the elite puck possession teams early in the season, but each figured out a way to improve, and a big part of that was personnel changes with the defense corps.
For the Jets, the big move came internally. Dustin Byfuglien was a middling possession player as a second- or third-line forward, but put back at his natural position on defense, he and the Jets flourished. Trade addition Tyler Myers does not have great possession numbers, but he has absorbed big minutes against tough competition to allow others an easier path to success.
For the Ducks, it was about addition and subtraction on the blue line. General manager Bob Murray added James Wisniewski and Simon Despres and subtracted Eric Brewer, Ben Lovejoy and Bryan Allen over the course of the season. The moves can also push Clayton Stoner to the No. 7 role when everyone is healthy.
Removing Lovejoy from the roster has allowed Cam Fowler to play with others, including Despres, and his possession numbers have improved. Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm are also exciting, young defensemen who are thriving without the older, slower veterans around.
The Jets have been a top-five team in shot attempt percentage (SAT%) since Jan. 1, according to www.war-on-ice.com, and the Ducks were in the top five after the trade deadline.
This series also will feature two of the top centers in the West. One, Ryan Getzlaf, will play with Corey Perry and one of any number of Anaheim forwards and be expected to be lethal. Getzlaf is having another outstanding season, dealing with the toughest assignments and thriving in them.
Winnipeg's top center does not share the same fame as Getzlaf, but a series like this could change that. Bryan Little is one of the most underrated centers in the League, and coach Paul Maurice may choose to have him go right at Getzlaf. All of Winnipeg's top forwards, Little, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Michael Frolik, have an SAT% of better than 53 percent. The Jets have also added Drew Stafford, Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak to bolster the depth alongside emerging players like Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry.
Each team could go to its second goaltender at some point in the series. MTS Centre is going to be an insanely great atmosphere. Teemu Selanne could be involved.
This series could be a lot of fun, and it will be interesting to see if either team can maintain its newfound excellence at keeping the puck.