The 2010-2011 Anaheim Ducks’ season had more twists and turns than one could hope for on an excursion to a Six Flags Amusement Park. Some really great highs, and some really tough lows. It took until game # 81 of the 82 game season for the Ducks to finally clinch a playoff spot, and then they were dispatched in six games by the Nashville Predators. Nashville won it’s first postseason series in franchise history.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”. So, how did the Ducks finish ? Did they finish by going 30-18-2 in their last 50 regular season games, or did they finish by fizzling out in the playoffs ? Perception is reality. The perception should be that the Ducks were indeed on a roll in the second half of the season. Goaltender Jonas Hiller was well on his way to establishing himself amongst the elite netminders in the NHL, when he was stricken with vertigo shortly after the All-Star break, and never recovered. Ray Emery filled in admirably while Hiller was on the mend, but then he too suffered an injury, to his surgically repaired hip, in a late season 6-2 win over the San Jose Sharks, and was never quite the same. He went into the playoffs listed as “healthy”, but watching him play every night, he really seemed to have difficulty at times when moving post to post and never really looked comfortable. Emery however, is a finalist for the Masterton trophy. The Bill Masterton Memorial trophy is awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of “perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.”
The Ducks will spend the offseason in a state of cautious optimism that either Hiller or Emery, or both, will be 100% when the 2011-2012 season opens.
Anaheim can be proud of itself for overcoming adversity to turn the season around in mid-December and make a most unlikely run to the postseason. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan are now routinely mentioned in any discussions involving the best lines in hockey. 40 year-old ageless wonder Teemu Selanne proved he still has plenty of gas left in the tank, as he popped in 31 goals while skating on the Ducks’ second line with Jason Blake on left wing, and fellow Finn Saku Koivu in the middle. The only question is, will Teemu be back for another year ? This is feeling a little like the 2007-08 offseason when the Finnish flash pondered retirement for more than half the season before returning to the team in game # 56. The Ducks will open next season with a game against the Buffalo Sabres in Selanne’s hometown of Helsinki, Finland on October 7th.
As for the longer term future of the franchise, Matt Beleskey, Brandon McMillan, and Dan Sexton all show great promise. 19 year old Defenseman Cam Fowler showed steady improvement as the season moved on, and may be well on his way to becoming the Scott Niedermayer-type blueliner the Ducks had envisioned when they drafted him twelfth overall in the 2010 draft. Fellow blueliner Luca Sbisa remains a little enigmatic, but also has a lot of upside. As for the veteran defensemen, Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman paired together to form the top defensive tandem. So strong was Lubo’s season, that he was being mentioned as a valid candidate to win the Norris trophy at age 34. Depth defensemen Andreas Lilja and Andy Sutton contributed at times, but are not part of any long term plans.
2011-2012 was a great effort by the entire franchise. The players for fighting through the adversity and continuing to play strong when many had written them off after 30 games. Corey Perry’s game reached a new level this season, as he became much more than an agitator, and showed off incredible offensive skills, which led to him ending the season as the NHL’s only 50 goal scorer, and also a strong candidate for league MVP. Having already captured the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals in the season with an even 50, Perry will have to wait for the June 22nd NHL Awards show in Las Vegas to find out if he has captured the Hart trophy as well.
Coach Randy Carlyle always believed in his team. Seeing the potential, he kept on motivating them to keep pushing forward during those dark times. Much under the radar was the work of Assistant coach Dave Farrish, who took a corps of unfamiliar defensemen and over the course of the season, molded them into an effective unit.
Last but not least, is GM Bob Murray. Murray stuck with his team and although clearly frustrated at times, did not succumb to the temptation to trade away any of the team’s core players.
The core of players is in place. The oldest members of the top line of Ryan-Perry-Getzlaf are Perry and Getzlaf, at 25 years of age (Ryan is 24). The future indeed looks bright, and the Ducks can at least look forward to being in the playoff hunt every year for the foreseeable future.
If Jonas Hiller and/or Ray Emery can open next season fully healthy, look for the Ducks to possibly make a run for not only the division crown, but quite possibly best record in the Western Conference.
As for now, the Ducks will reflect upon the recently completed bittersweet season that was 2010-11, knowing full well what could have been, and also looking forward to that bright future which will start with the 2011-12 season.
20% Off Your Order at Shop.NHL.com! – Ends Today!