September's finally here. And given how slowly teams are coming together, we decided to put off the previews until September this time. We go in alphabetical order because hey, why not? We'll be doing this until September ends. With that said here we go.
First off, the Anaheim Ducks
Team M.O.: The team still has the reputation as being one of the toughest and most offensively-skilled teams in the NHL. Time, however, has caught up to them and while the Ducks aren't necessarily candidates for being in rebuild mode, there's definitely some concerns about the corps of defensemen that they're going into the season with.
Last Season: The team finished 11th in the Western Conference and fourth in the Pacific Division. It was their first non-playoff season since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007.
Offense: Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry remain one of the best offensive tandems in the NHL to play the good ol' North American style of hockey. The second unit isn't shabby either, as Temmu Selanne and Saku Koivu give the team some scoring of the veteran-European variety. Yet while they have an interesting combination of offensive forwards to round them out, there seems to be some concerns with them as Jason Blake's becoming increasingly inconsistent, Joffery Lupul's on the shelf with an infection, and Bobby Ryan remains an RFA. In an ideal situation everyone would be signed and healthy while Blake would be the team's Number 7 forward; but he might end up coming in a bit higher than that if no one else is capable of taking the job in camp. Nevertheless, that's as good of a group of scoring forwards as you're going to find in the NHL.
The Ducks' group of checking forwards began to blossom last season and now boasts the makeup that every team would love to have on their "bottom-six". Todd Marchant is absolutely no slouch as a penalty killer while Dan Sexton showed the club (and the league) that his blazing speed could land him a checking role, if not more. Kyle Chipchura enjoyed something of a breakout season in Anaheim last season and looks set to center the team's fourth line. George Parros is now the veteran toughguy on the team while Aaron Voros and Troy Bodie will no doubt supply the club with a definitive amount of toughness. Matt Beleskey supplies plenty of energy and Ryan Carter rounds the group out with a useful set of tools everyone needs in a depth forwards.
In short, this is one of the best group of forwards you'll find on any "Top-Six/Bottom-Six" style of team.
Defense: Defensively speaking, however, this team looks like they could definitely use reinforcement.
As it stands right now, the only defenders who are proven to be "Top-four" defenders are Lubomir Visnovsky, Toni Lydman, and Andy Sutton (and in Sutton's case: he's a Number 4 defenseman at best.) Though Luca Sbisa and Cam Fowler figure to break into one of those units, Sbisa hasn't quite established himself as an NHLer while Fowler was drafted a mere 3 months ago and could stand to benefit from some additional development. The third unit would ideally feature tough-as-nails Sheldon Brookbank and the defensively sound Brett Festerling, being rounded out by whomever could win the job between Brendan Mikkelson and Danny Syvret (neither of which would be bad as Number 7 options.)
The team, essentially, needs a defenseman to replace Scott Neidermeyer (and the decision to trade James Wisniewski almost seems like a personal one.) Since that opportunity passed itself up when the Tomas Kaberle trade window closed, they could hope that the Edmonton Oilers would waive Sheldon Souray and expose him to re-entry waivers (picking him up for half the salary.) But a more likely option would be to sign a offensively-minded defender such as Marc-Andre Bergeron or Mathieu Schneider and have them around as a second or third pairing option depending on how well Festerling could handle a second-unit shutdown role with Sutton. Otherwise, they could make a trade (Kevin Bieska comes to mind and might benefit from a change of scenery), go with a rookie, or lean on Lydman for additional production and try to get an established defensive-minded defender (to be honest, I wouldn't be entirely thrilled with those last two options.)
Goaltending: Jonas Hiller has shown that he can be the man since the 2007-08 season. What's more is that backup Curtis McElhinney showed that he can be come more effective if given more ice time that the sporadic amounts of games he played in relief for Miikka Kiprusoff when he was a member of the Calgary Flames. If the team gives McElhinney 20-25 starts and has Hiller start for the rest of the 82 game schedule, then goaltending should not be a problem for the team this season.
Management: I can't say I've been enthused with Bob Murray's moves so far and while he's done well to keep the team reasonably fortified, he hasn't done enough to make them into contenders or better. Resolving the Bobby Ryan/defensive situations (respectively) will give me a higher opinion on how well he's doing as a GM. Coach Randy Carlyle is an excellent coach but could it be that his voice is lost in the locker room? He has the beginning of the season to figure that out.
Prediction: Fourth in the division and out of the playoffs.
Simply stated; the Ducks are in one of the toughest divisions in the league and need to have their problems figured out to even be considered a legitimate playoff contender and much less anything else. Given the emerging talent of the Los Angeles Kings, the award-winning leadership of the Phoenix Coyotes, and the likelihood that the San Jose Sharks will sign Antti Niemi tomorrow, it's going to be hard to best those teams without a properly fortified defense; no matter how good your group of forwards are.