Thursday, September 8, 2011

Anaheim Ducks: Did they forget that there is an off-season or is management simply naive.

I have been intending to publish my pre-season predictions, and evaluation of every teams summer activity, for quite some time now. However, with the Anaheim Ducks being at the top of the alphabeitcal order, I have been holding off with the hope that their general manager Bob Murray, would come through and actually help improve the weaknesses in his team. Yet, he continues to place all of his eggs in the Teemu Selanne basket, and is holding himself and his team hostage.

What happened last year: The Ducks last year, on the back of Corey Perry's remarkable end to the season, ended up as the fourth seed, in the uber competitive Western Conference. The Ducks ended up losing in six games to the Nashville Predators in the first round. It is difficult to assess the actual season for the Ducks due to the nature of the dichotomy of the performances of their top players. Of their top six players, three overperformed, (Perry, Selanne, and Visnovsky) two under-performed due to injuries (Ryan Getzlaf, Jonas Hiller), and Bobby Ryan played just about as well as was expected from him. Truth be told the overperformances of Visnovsky, Perry and Selanne were essentially unprecedented. Corey Perry's numbers are inflated by the best 16 game goal scoring streak of the decade (19 goals), Visnovsky should have won the Norris trophy, I challenge anyone in the comments section to deny this, and Teemu Selanne had the best offensive season for a player over forty in the last 30 years. Not only was it the best, it was the best by far. His 80 points were in only 73 games, and the second highest total was Mark Messier in 2000-01,  67 points and he needed 82 games to do it. At the same time, not having Hiller for the end of the season and Playoffs, and missing Getzlaf for a significant amount of time, in some ways offsets the skewed numbers that this season represents in assessing the Ducks long term expected performance.

Summer Cap Space Available and Team Needs: You know that classic cliche of, "our goal here is to win a championship" that every general manager preaches? GM Murray may be the first person in a team management position that does not seem to abide by this wishful sentiment. He simply in a Seinfeldesque fashion did nothing this summer, and has his sights set on re-signing Selanne, which will at best make his team as good as it was last season. After spending 96% of the cap last season, he has reduced his teams spending to approximately 85% percent of the cap, albeit before his hopeful re-signing of Teemu Selanne. The same weaknesses that he had on his team last season exist this season as well, and the problem has only become worse. The biggest problem with the structure of the Ducks is, as I have pointed out in previous posts, their dearth of depth talent. What I mean by "their problem has only become worse", is that while last year they had a below average second line and a horrible third line, this year as Saku Koivu and Jason Blake continue to get older and slow down, they will provide less and less secondary scoring. Murray needed to address this issue in the summer, and simply failed to do it. He has over ten million dollars available under the salary cap, and has only one roster spot remaining on the roster. 

To be fair, giving up a second round pick for Andrew Cogliano was a very intelligent and savvy trade. Cogliano was slowly losing ice time and his leadership role with the Oilers, and with a change of scenery can quite possibly develop into the solid second line forward that everyone expected from him when he entered the NHL. Then again, while this was a solid addition, the second biggest addition that Murray made for his team was signing Mark Bell, yes Leafs fans the same Mark Bell that was thrown into the Vesa Toskala trade all those years ago.

Murray seemingly did not get the message that general managers are starting to place a premium on solid second and third line players, and will continue to rely heavily on his top end stars.

What the future holds: The Ducks have no question some of the top end talent in hockey. Up front, they are lead by Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan and hopefully Selanne. Their defence corps has one of the highest ceilings in all of hockey, dependent on the growth of youngsters Cam Fowler and Lucas Sbisa. In goal, the Ducks are set as long as Jonas Hiller can come back healthy and fully returned to form. Dan Ellis is more than an adequate backup and as always is the case with the Ducks, goaltending will not be their downfall. However, due to their general managers inactivity in the free agent market, they will stumble and remain a mediocre team. So while Murray has shown extreme loyalty to his longtime star, he has hurt the short-term prospects of his team.

 In the long-term, things are looking extremely interesting for the Ducks. After this season, Koivu, Jason Blake and Francois Beauchemin will all have their expensive salaries off the books. This will free up over ten million additional dollars, assuming the salary cap does not change. I say in addition, because there will be at least five million dollars in funds available from this season, as Selanne is going to sign in the five million dollar range on a one year deal, and the Ducks have so far only spent $54 million out of the $64 million cap. Seems like with all that space, Murray's strategy may be to spend all that money next season right? Wrong. The following  off-season 2013-2014, is going to be a defining year in the future of the franchise. Getzlaf, Perry, Visnovksy, Fowler and Lydman are all going to be free agents, and at least Fowler, Getzlaf and Perry will be looking for significant raises. While the raises for Getzlaf and Perry will probably be in the $2 million dollar range, Fowler may be looking at a significant raise of approximately $3.5 million. It is too much of a risk to invest heavy money in the summer of 2013, if you are going to possibly lose these stars in the following off-season.

My Prediction: The Ducks will need to rely heavily on the growth of some of their prospects if they would like to match last season's success. Assuming Selanne re-signs their bottom six forwards are: Cogliano, Dan Sexton, Matt Beleskey, George Parros, Brandon McMillan, and Nick Bonino, or in other words essentially minor leaguers. The Ducks will finish 7th in the West, once again overachieving on the backs of their superstars.

Hope you enjoyed, be sure to check back in as I continue my team-by-team analysis.
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