Sunday, May 28, 2006

Mighty Ducks 2005-2006 season review

Well, first off all my apologies for not updating this in over six months. Completely inexcusable and the only thing I can say is that I will do my best to never go more than a week between posts again.

Now, for my season review of the 2005-2006 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Going into the season we wondered if a top line of Sykora-Fedorov-Selanne would be able to provide enough offense to carry the team. Also, would Sandis Ozolinsh be the offensive force we all know he can be, or the defensive liability that we all know he can be? And how would Ruslan Salei and Keith Carney adjust to the new NHL?

As it turns out we couldn't care less what Fedorov, Sykora or Carney did. They were all traded during the season in separate moves and we would instead be wondering about players we had previously never heard much about. Was Francois Beauchemin ready for regular shifts in the NHL? Could Andy McDonald finally fulfill his offensive potential? Was Chris Kunitz for real and could he help ignite the offense? Did Todd Marchant have enough in the tank to help the Ducks depth? Is Joe DiPenta dependable enough for regular NHL shifts? How do you pronounce Zenon Konopka? Who is Dustin Penner and why was he not drafted by anyone?

Brian Burke has been the Mighty Ducks General Manager for less than a year but he's obviously done a lot in that time. Aside from trading the veteran players I mentioned earlier he's also traded Steve Rucchin & Mike Leclerc and waived Tyler Wright (who he got in the Fedorov trade). The team bares little resemblance to the team he had when he took over - and to me that's a good thing. The Ducks were a slow, unaggressive team with very little scoring ability. Now they are young, fast, aggressive, big and tons of scoring potential.

DEFENSEMAN

The biggest move was bringing in Scott Niedermayer as a free agent and clearly that was a home run. Scott is the best defenseman in the sport and brings a level of play to the Mighty Ducks blueline that its never had before. Having him for at least three more years is a blessing. In addition we have young defenseman in Beauchemin, DiPenta and Vitaly Vishnevski to go along with veterans Salei and Sean O'Donnell.

Beauchemin was a steal in the Fedorov trade. This is a guy that couldn't get on the ice in Columbus but who thrived in Anaheim on the top pairing with Niedermayer. He's big, skates well and has a cannon for a shot. DiPenta was a guy that played for new head coach Randy Carlyle in Manitoba last season and he was the epitomy of reliable. He very rarely made a mistake and seemed to always make the safe, smart play. His reliability allowed his partner, Vishnevski, to punish people with big hits in the neutral zone.

Salei took a long time to figure out the new rules in the NHL and I'm not sure he has them down even now. But, he's still making more good plays than bad and he can still hit. Sean O'Donnell, who came over at the trade deadline, is a cheaper and nastier version of Keith Carney. He hits well, plays smart and has a definite edge to his game.

FORWARDS

Once the top line of Kunitz-McDonald-Selanne was put together things started to click for Anaheim. Their speed and offensive creativity and ability put continuous pressure on the opposing defenses and led to career highs for McDonald and Kunitz as well as a rebirth for Selanne. Kunitz, who was waived after training camp by the Mighty Ducks and claimed by the Thrashers only to be waived again two weeks later and reclaimed by Anaheim, is a late blooming gem. I doubt we will see him placed on waivers again.

Scoring depth was a problem all year for the Ducks and so was finding consistent lines. When Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were in the NHL they were paired with tough guy Todd Fedoruk for a very solid line. Despite a line of two rookies and a goon the trio proved to not only provide offense but also played well on defense. They were the Ducks second best line most nights and the potential for Getzlaf and Perry is mouth-watering for Ducks fans.

The third line, most nights, was Marchant-Rob Niedermayer-Joffrey Lupul. These are three guys with speed, size and scoring touch. While they didn't contribute a lot of goals they did play the Ducks style to a tee. They forechecked aggresively, played well in the neutral zone and on defense and were great in the corners. Lupul has too much talent to stay on this line long but Niedermayer and Marchant are perfectly suited to continue doing what they are doing for years to come.

The fourth line was usually Jonathan Hedstrom-Samuel Pahlsson-???. This line got different partners throughout the year as Penner, Konopka, Travis Moen, Wright and others would take their turn on the shutdown line. Pahlsson was absolutely brilliant this season in face-offs and against the opposistions top player. Hedstrom had just enough of an offensive touch to keep teams honest but was also great on defense as well. Overall, this line was effective all year and did a great job on the penalty kill.

GOALTENDING


J.S. Giguere never looked brilliant but more often than not he looked good. He played well when the Ducks needed him to - after the Olympic break - and was vital to their success down the stretch. Rookie Ilya Bryzgalov played excellent hockey for a first-year goalie that couldn't even keep his starting job in Cincinnati last season. He also had a tremendous run in the playoffs that should prove to everyone he has what it takes to be a #1 goalie in the NHL.

COACHING

First year head coach Randy Carlyle, along with assistants Dave Farrish and Newell Brown, did a great job this season. With all the personnell changes they were able to integrate the new players seemlessly and instilled a strong work ethic throughout the team while also developing good camraderie. The players seemed to genuinely get along and were more than willing to stand up for one another on the ice. Captain Scott Niedermayer and assistant captains Teemu Selanne, Rob Niedermayer and Keith Carney deserve credit for this as well.

Overall this Mighty Ducks season has to be viewed as a huge success. Brian Burke was able to bring in his type of players as well as get valuable experience to young players while still winning a lot of games. The coaching staff was able to implement their style of play and the players all thrived. I can't think of a single player that played poorly this season - at least not for an extended period of time. Everyone had a bad game or two at some point, but not one player on the team at the end of the season was hurting the team. All of them were making positive contributions on a nightly basis and giving 100% effort.

The final season of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (the team is changing its name to the Anaheim Ducks on June 21st) was one to be proud of. While they ended up losing to the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Finals they still made it farther than 99% of people thought they would and they have so many players that are either in their first or second seasons (Lupul, Getzlaf, Perry, Bryzgalov, Kunitz, DiPenta, Beauchemin, Konopka & Penner) that you can't help but be optimistic about the future. But, the future is for another post. Thanks for reading and I hope you visit my blog again soon. If you have a comment, or just want to say that you were here so that I know someone read this, please post it below.

SacredCow