NHL Season Preview: Anaheim Ducks

Welcome to the NHL FanHouse 2008-09 season preview. While other sites are previewing "30 teams in 30 days," we decided to take advantage of the extra time off before the start of the season to bring you all 30 previews over the next three weeks. We're counting down in reverse order of finish from last season in each conference every weekday from now until October 3. Look for an Eastern Conference preview every morning and a Western Conference preview every afternoon. Click here to read them all.

Who's In: Brendan Morrison, C (FA-VAN); Steve Montador, D (FA-FLA); Ken Klee (Trade-ATL)

Who's Out: Mathieu Schneider (Trade-ATL); Todd Bertuzzi, W (Bought out-CGY); Doug Weight, C (FA-NYI)

What's Changed: Nobody is semi-retired! Last year's drama surrounding the prolonged incecisions of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne have been put to rest, but not without salary cap repercussions. Last week, defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who the Ducks signed last summer to replace Niedermayer's minutes, was traded in a salary-dump move to the Atlanta Thrashers for Ken Klee and some bodies. Since then, loyal Finn Teemu Selanne inked a two-year contract, meaning the Ducks will still need to shed some more salary before opening day.

What's lost in some of this salary cap shuffle, though, is how the resulting roster resembles the 2007 cup-winning team. Substitute Brendan Morrison and Bobby Ryan in for Andy McDonald and Dustin Penner. Substitute Steve Montador in for Joe Dipenta, and backup goalie Jonas Hiller for Ilya Bryzgalov. Those are basically the differences; the rest of the team is intact, at least for the short-term future. With more than half the roster's contracts set to expire next summer, can the Ducks capture the fire from two years ago, or is it a team that has passed its peak?

In terms of forward lineups, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, both playing in the first year of new five-year contracts, will anchor the top line, leaving Brendan Morrison to play with Teemu Selanne on the second line. Depending on Coach Carlyle's mood, the left winger on each line will be either Chris Kunitz, Bobby Ryan, or possibly Ryan Carter. The shutdown line of Samuel Pahlsson centering Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen figures to stay intact, and the fourth line will have some mixture of Todd Marchant, Brian Sutherby, Brad May, and fan favorite George Parros, the Moustache.

What last year's Ducks failed to do was generate much offense from its second line, but hopefully the return of Teemu Selanne plus the acquisition of Brendan Morrison can improve on that. Selanne is an offensive wizard, of course, especially on the power play. The only reason why he's fourth in power play goals scored since the lockout is because he took 2/3 of last season off.

As for the blueline, it promises to feature alternating pairnings of Scott Niedermayer with Francois Beauchemin and Chris Pronger with Sean O'Donnell. Third-pairing minutes go to Kent Huskins and either Steve Montador or Ken Klee. Now as I said, there's still a roster move coming, but so long as Niedermayer and Pronger are around to anchor the defense, I remain unworried.

Over the past two seasons, the Ducks have played 191 meaningful games -- 164 regular season plus 27 in the postseason. In 65 of those games, only one of Niedermayer and Pronger were dressed, and the Ducks managed a 33-25-7 record (.562), 2.57 GF, 2.60 GA. In the 126 games where both Niedermayer and Pronger dressed, however, the Ducks were 80-30-16 (.698), 2.82 GF, 2.21 GA. The ability to alternate superstars on the blueline for all the important minutes of a game is a rare luxury, but it gives the Ducks a huge advantage -- everyone's results look better with a former Norris trophy winner behind them.

This roster will self-destruct next summer, though, as the list of potential free agents is impressive: Scott Niedermayer, Brendan Morrison, Francois Beauchemin, Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, Travis Moen, Sean O'Donnell, Kent Huskins, Todd Marchant, Ken Klee, Brad May, Steve Montador, Brian Sutherby, and George Parros. With GM Brian Burke mentioned as a possible Toronto GM candidate, this season could represent the end of an era for the Ducks, and next year's team could take on a whole new identity. With superstar retirements last summer, a salary cap crisis this summer, and a team makeover coming next summer, it's never a boring offseason for a Ducks fan. Oh yeah, plus owner Henry Samueli might be going to jail.

Who's on the hook: The obvious answer here is both Niedermayer and Selanne, as so much of the salary cap issues the Ducks have faced recently can be attributed to their reluctance to play last year and eagerness to play this year. Ducks fans (myself as much as anyone) have been very forgiving to the superstars, and with the results they've managed, it's been easy to justify. Still, if there's a significant fall-off in either one's play this year, their heroic returns could turn into huge flops, especially with Selanne now signed an additional year.

Another Duck who stands to answer some questions is Bobby Ryan. While it's clearly been the organization's plan to shelter the kid -- a plan I fully endorse, by the way -- it's now getting time that Ducks fans get to see what Ryan can deliver. Remember, Ryan was picked one spot behind Sidney Crosby, and currently he's trailing Crosby by 284 NHL career points. Ryan may even end up a victim this year of more salary cap math, though; he may spend more time in the AHL than he deserves because the Ducks may not be able to afford his bonuses.

Where they'll finish: If I knew that I wouldn't be investing so much of my money in liquor. Still, I'm pretty excited about this year's possibly-last hurrah of the Brian Burke era. Are the Ducks as dominant as they were two years ago, when they opened the season by taking points in the first sixteen games? Probably not, but there isn't much that separates this team from the 2007-08 version. As is my recurring theme with these Pacific Division previews, the competition will be tough, but I think the Ducks will challenge for the division title. As Puck Daddy points out, the Ducks went 32-12-4 after Scott Niedermayer's return and 20-5-1 after Teemu Selanne's return.

Blogs to Watch:OC Register's Ducks Blog, Battle of California, Girl With A Puck, On The Pond, Adam Brady, Chris Pronger's Blog

Gratuitous YouTube Embed: Getzlaf and Perry have spent their entire Ducks careers as linemates, so what happens when the two decide to square off and fight in practice? Why Getzlaf dumps Perry into the player's bench, of course.

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