Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hockey's back - What now for the Mighty Ducks?

Yesterday, NHL fans finally got the news they've been waiting 301 days for...the lockout is over. Now comes the fun part - a draft lottery, the draft itself, contract buyouts, free agency and camps and a new NHL season!

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim still have to hire a coach, but GM Brian Burke is already working on his plans for putting the team together. Currently, the Mighty Ducks have nine players under contract at a total of $20.47 million. The cap is expected to be $39 million, which means they have just over $18.5 million to sign approximately 16 players. The players they have under contract are: Sergei Fedorov, J.S. Giguere, Petr Sykora, Steve Rucchin, Keith Carney, Vitali Vishnevski, Joffrey Lupul, Andy McDonald and Garrett Burnett.

Most of those 16 open roster spots will be filled by the Mighty Ducks restricted free agents (RFA's). Those players are: Stanislav Chistov, Rob Niedermayer, Samuel Pahlsson, Ruslan Salei, Mikael Holmqvist, Martin Skoula, Lance Ward and Petr Schastlivy. The Mighty Ducks also have two players that will be unrestricted free agents (UFA's) in Sandis Ozolinsh and Jason Krog.

Of those players, I would expect to see Niedermayer, Pahlsson, Salei, Ozolinsh and Skoula brought back. That gives the Mighty Ducks 14 players. Not mentioned earlier, but already under contract, are rookies that I would expect to see make the team such as Ilya Bryzgalov, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Then there's Mike Leclerc, who I can't find on any list of players that the Mighty Ducks have, but who is only 29 and therefore ineligible for UFA status. That brings the total to 18 players, leaving seven open roster spots.

Breaking it down by position, here's how the Mighty Ducks roster looks:
Forwards (11)
Steve Rucchin
Petr Sykora
Sergei Fedorov
Andy McDonald
Rob Niedermayer
Joffrey Lupul
Garrett Burnett
Ryan Getzlaf
Mike Leclerc
Corey Perry
Samuel Pahlsson

Defenseman (5)
Sandis Ozolinsh
Keith Carney
Ruslan Salei
Martin Skoula
Vitali Vishnevski

Goalies (2)
J.S. Giguere
Ilya Bryzgalov

Obviously, the Mighty Ducks have no need for another goalie, so we know that the remaining spots will be filled by at least one defefenseman and one forward.

Two players that will be UFA's are Markus Naslund and Scott Niedermayer. Burke is familiar with Naslund from his days in Vancouver and Niedermayer is the brother of Rob and the two have stated a desire to play together in the past. They would fill the starting roster out nicely and leave the Mighty Ducks with potential lines of:

Line #1 - Naslund-Fedorov-Sykora
Line #2 - R. Niedermayer-Rucchin-Lupul
Line #3 - Leclerc-Pahlsson-McDonald
Line #4 - Burnett-Getzlaf-Perry

(Players in bold are not currently under contract with the Mighty Ducks. Players in bold & italics are UFA's)

Certainly this leaves the Mighty Ducks with a great top line, a solid second line (especially defensively), a third line that would be hard working if nothing else and a fourth line that would be very young, but also tough and exciting at times.

On defense:
Pairing #1 - S. Niedermayer & Carney
Pairing #2 - Ozolinsh & Salei
Pairing #3 - Vishnevski & Skoula

(Players in bold are not currently under contract with the Mighty Ducks. Players in bold & italics are UFA's)

This is fantastic, and would be among the best defensive groupings in the league. Each line would have someone that is capable of contributing offensively (S. Niedermayer, Ozolinsh and Skoula), as well as having solid stay-at-home defenseman (Carney, Salei & Vishnevski). Plus, all six are good in their own end.

Clearly this is all speculation on my part, and I have no inside information. Only Brian Burke knows what he will try to do when free agency begins, and if the Mighty Ducks were to win the #1 pick in the draft you'd have to work Sidney Crosby into the lineup as well. However, this should give you an idea of where the Mighty Ducks stand going forward.

The worst time in the history of the NHL is now behind us, and we're coming up on what should be one of the most exciting summers in NHL history. Get ready fans, it's going to be great!

(If you have any thoughts on who you think the Mighty Ducks will/should/could sign, please post them in a comment by clicking on the link below.)