by PuckStopsHere on 03/11/09 at 02:57 AM ET
The Anaheim Ducks were the Stanley Cup champions as recently as 2007. Their fall has been surprisingly fast. It looks like this season the team will miss the playoffs. Right now, Anaheim is in 12th place in the West Conference with 68 points. They are only three points back of eighth place but they are tied for the games played lead in the conference. They have fifteen games left to pass four teams in the standings. That seems very unlikely. All that will be needed to eliminate the Ducks is one or two of the bubble teams ahead of the Ducks going on a hot streak. Given the number of such teams that is very likely.
What happened to the Anaheim Ducks? How have they fallen so quickly?
Probably the biggest answer is problems in the front office. Most team’s success on the ice is paralleled by a successful front office and similarly their failures parallel a failing front office. Anaheim has operated this season with owner Henry Samueli suspended due to a stock market fraud conviction. Their general manager at the beginning of the season Brian Burke left to join the Toronto Maple Leafs at mid-season. There has been upheaval in the front office and it isn’t clear who is overseeing the team. Bob Murray has been brought in as GM. He had been a senior vice president in the organization. He had failed in a two year run as Chicago Blackhawk GM from 1997-1999. It isn’t clear that he is up to the job of returning the Ducks to their winning ways.
On the ice, Anaheim has done better offensively this year than they did last year. Their 2.73 goals per game this year is an improvement from 2.40 last season. This is due to continued improvement from Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the emergence of Bobby Ryan and an increased number of games played from Teemu Selanne.
The problem has been keeping goals out of the Anaheim net. Jean-Sebastien Giguere is not having a particularly good season. He has a .901 saves percentage and a 3.12 GAA. This is a big drop from the .922 saves percentage and 2.12 GAA he posted last year. Although Jonas Hiller has played well, he has done so in largely a backup role. Giguere leads the Ducks in games and minutes played.
The Anaheim defence is built around two future Hall of Famers in Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. Both have begun the decline phases of their careers, but they remain among the better defenceman in the NHL. Their defence was hit by injury to Francois Beauchemin. In the past, the Ducks defence relied on Beauchemin, Pronger and Niedermayer to play a large amount of minutes. For most of the season they were unable to find anyone to successfully fill Beauchemin’s ice time and been forced to give it to people like Kent Huskins, Steve Montador and Bret Hedican. For the rest of the season, Ryan Whitney (who was acquired from Pittsburgh) might be a good candidate to fill the role. This has significantly weakened the team.
Another defensive dropoff has come from the team’s defensive forwards. In the past, Sami Pahlsson, Travis Moen and Rob Niedermayer had been the best shutdown forward line in hockey. They did a great job in shutting down the Ducks opposition. They have not been so successful this year. The line is now broken up. In deadline day deals, Sami Pahlsson was traded to Chicago and Travis Moen to San Jose. This is a big reason why Anaheim has allowed 2.91 goals per game this year, which is significantly up from the 2.24 they allowed last year.
The Anaheim Ducks run at the top of the league appears over. They are likely to miss the playoffs this year - only two years after their Stanley Cup win. Their drop has been mostly caused by defensive failures this season. The catalyst for the drop has been turmoil in the front office that limited accountability for the team and slowed any responce to the problems. Whether or not the Ducks can turn their fortunes around will be a big test to GM Bob Murray.
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