By Arthur from Anaheim Calling
Ducks' General Manager Bob Murray began purging Anaheim's defensive corps in February of 2010. That was when he waived Nick Boynton and inquired into a deal that might have sent James Wisniewski to Chicago for Cam Barker. A month later, he shipped Ryan Whitney to Edmonton for Lubomir Visnovsky, and over the summer, he was finally able to move Wisniewski and Steve Eminger in minor deals. Somewhere amidst the employee turnover, Scott Niedermayer decided to call it a career.
A revamped blueline is a familiar sight for Murray, who decided he could trade Chris Pronger and couldn't afford to pay Francois Beauchemin last offseason. Unfortunately, his Top 4 replacements barely survived a calendar year in a Ducks uniform, and his bottom pairing fill-in players were beat out for a roster spot by depth defenseman Sheldon Brookbank.
Now, the GM rebuilds around Lubomir Visnovsky with a decreased emphasis on offense through a supporting cast of Andy Sutton, Toni Lydman and whatever is left of Paul Mara. Despite completely different players, the Ducks may have just traded one brand of defensive instability for another, but for a team that was 29th in shots against last season, a blueline change would do them good.
By contrast, nothing much has changed for the Ducks' forwards and goaltenders. Jonas Hiller is still looking to break the 59-game mark after looking shaky down the stretch of two straight 59 game seasons (though if you factor in the Olympics and schedule last year, the netminder is clearly improving). The forwards are mostly the same. Joffrey Lupul will miss the start of this season as he missed most of last season, and some combination of rookies and pro tryouts will fill out the roster. But will the Ducks be able to find consistent and productive trios this season? And will those lines be able to persevere through the injuries that undid them last season?
1. Will the forwards find chemistry?
Arthur, Anaheim Calling: There is a tendency to describe Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry as the Ducks' top line. However, the trio played without each other more often than not last season. According to Dobberhockey's Frozen Pool, a healthy Getzlaf spent only 43% of his even strength shifts with Ryan and Perry.
So it's no surprise that Head Coach Randy Carlyle intends to pencil-in Bobby Ryan at center in the coaching staff's latest attempt to apply a Vegas dealer's shuffle to the lineup. The move will have repercussions across the depth chart-- all of which I'm sure the head coach hopes are positive --and it may result in splitting up Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu or the induction of several younger players, both of which seemed to create hesitation behind the bench last year.
Ducks fan pessimists will expect to see the above 43% statistic again, defining another year of endless line shuffling. Ducks fan optimists? Well, they're likely to point out that clinging to the image of that top line was a problem throughout the opening of last season. Somewhere in Bobby Ryan's attempt to grow as a player and his linemates' protracted point streak (which marked time during a protracted Ducks' losing streak), a Bobby Ryan spinoff just started to make sense. Tune in. Randy Carlyle's putting it together in time for pilot season.
2. Can the Ducks rag-tag defensive corps turn in an admirable performance?
SBNation.com: Gone are the days of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer patrolling the Ducks blueline. Welcome in the days of Sheldon Brookbank and Lubomir Visnovsky. Yeah, things aren't the same in Anaheim. But can this depleted Ducks blueline pull themselves up and make something out of nothing?
There's talent there, sure. Brookbank, Visnovsky, Lydman, Mara, Sutton. Are any of these guys great talents? No, but they aren't necessarily scrubs either. It's hard to say exactly what kind of identity they'll have this season, but it'll certainly be interesting to watch.... perhaps, unless you're a Ducks fan.
3. Will Bobby Ryan live up to his new contract?
SBNation.com: Bobby Ryan is the man to watch at training camp this fall, and generally, when one holds out on signing until the week before camp begins, they do become the center of attention. But Ryan's big, new shiny contract isn't the only thing putting a target on him this year.
He'll be playing center, as mentioned above. He's big and he's a hell of a passer, which always helps at the center position, but he's never played there before. When it comes to defense, there's obviously a lot more responsibility. The biggest question about this move is how he'll be able to handle those new defensive responsibilities.
Obviously, he's earned his money already and a simple position switch shouldn't make a huge difference on whether or not fans believe he's worth that money. Still, it'll be interesting to see how he handles the new position.
4. Joffrey, when will you return?
SBNation.com: Joffrey Lupul has been out of the Anaheim line up for a very, very long time. He's been frustrated by a blood infection that followed a January back procedure. In short, he hasn't touched the ice since last December.
On Monday, Lupul tweeted that he's been cleared to skate and that he should be back in a few months. Apparently he was a little too excited, because since that tweet it's been reported that he's just been cleared to work out and skate on his own. Getting back with the team is something that's still down the road.
A time table is not set for Lupul's return just yet, and really, you just never know when the problem is something like an infection.
5. What kind of impact will the youngsters have this season?
SBNation.com: Cam Fowler and Emerson Etem were drafted just a few months ago, and while it's unlikely that the two first rounders will make the Ducks out of camp, the opportunity is still there. If they do make the team, what kind of impact will they have?
Well, that's tough to say, but the real youngster that Ducks fans should have their eyes on is Luca Sbisa. We've already discussed how the defense is shaping up in Anaheim this season, but Sbisa has a chance to bulk them up a bit.
The 21-year-old who came over in the Chris Pronger trade is finally ready to make the permanent jump to the NHL. The 19th overall pick in 2008 has the chance to become a very, very good NHL defenseman, and if he can begin to realize that potential sooner rather than later, the Ducks defense could be better than expected this season.
Read a big, in-depth preview of the 2010-11 Ducks over at Anaheim Calling and check out a preview of the Pacific Division over at From The Rink. Also, we have more Ducks fun at Battle of California.