The Anaheim Ducks made the playoffs for the second straight season and lost in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the second round.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Ducks team that set a franchise record with 116 points in 2013-2014 and is forcing its way into the discussion of Western Conference contenders.
This isn't to say that it's a sure thing that the Ducks will join the best of the West, because as good as they were last season, they were a middle-of-the-road possession team that was far ahead of the rest of the league in shooting percentage when the score was close. Even if the Ducks are an above-average finishing team -- a justifiable position to take -- there is above average and there is 25% ahead of the second-best team.
The reason for optimism is based on the Ducks having elite cornerstone pieces in centre Ryan Getzlaf and right winger Corey Perry, but (particularly with Teemu Selanne retiring and possibility of Saku Koivu moving on), the supporting cast is mostly young and should be getting better.
It's the Ducks' depth of prospects and young NHL talent that makes them an interesting team to watch this summer. They have easily the assets to deal if they want to get in on the trade talks for Ryan Kesler, Jason Spezza or any other top-six forward that might be out there. They have the cap room if they are inclined to seek answers in free agency.
There are some challenges ahead, because it's not going to be easy to catch up to the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, but the Ducks have a roster that could get better and that's saying something coming off a 116-point season.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- Corsi, adjusted for zone starts, quality of competition and quality of teammates, hits, blocked shots, penalty differential and faceoffs. Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be around 70, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013-2014 regular season ratings at 87.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
CF% = Corsi percentage (ie. percentage of 5-on-5 shot attempts), via www.extraskater.com.
Bob Murray/Bruce Boudreau
In the past seven seasons, there are two players that have had scored at least a point per game six times (minimum 40 games). One is Alex Ovechkin, the other is Ryan Getzlaf. His size makes him very difficult to handle down low in the offensive zone and he also happens to be one of the top playmakers in the game.
Over the past four seasons, only Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin have scored more goals than Corey Perry. Over the past seven seasons, Perry is the only player with at least 200 goals and 500 penalty minutes. He's a unique character in the game, who gets under the skin of opponents, yet is simultaneously one of the premier goal-scorers.
After several seasons battling to earn a regular spot in the Nick Bonino broke through, not only as a regular, scoring a career-high 49 points, but he was also a force on the Ducks' power play, which was rather cost-effective production and Bonino is inked for three more years.
Andrew Cogliano hasn't missed a game in seven years in the league and, last season, finished with a career-high 22 goals, the first season in which he's scored more than 40 points since his rookie year of 2007-2008. Cogliano was the only player in the league to have more than 35 points without at least one points on the power play -- he does his damage at even strength (and shorthanded). While Cogliano's possession stats weren't good, he did face the highest quality of competition in his career, so that would affect those numbers.
A stocky, physical winger, Matt Beleskey continues to battle for regular playing time and injuries cost him 25 games last season, but he also spent time skating with Getzlaf and Perry, scoring a career-high 24 points in 55 games. Beleskey does have some versatility in that, if he's not in a complementary role on a scoring line, he can still fit in a third or fourth-line role.
In his first NHL season, Patrick Maroon worked his way into a prominent role and was one of the few players who was an active scrapper and also productive. He finished the regular season with 15 points (6 G, 9 A) in the last 18 games, and if the 26-year-old can build on that, he's a remarkable bargain for another season.
Kyle Palmieri is another of the Ducks' young forwards who is productive despite limited playing time. He barely plays a dozen minutes a night but, over the past two seasons, only Corey Perry has been a better 5-on-5 scorer among Ducks forwards.
A part-time enforcer, Tim Jackman plays in a protected role, but has managed to survive in possession terms. So long as the Ducks are going to have a seven-minute-per-game forward, might as well be one that can play a little.
Mathieu Perreault played a career-high 13:52 per game last season, setting career-highs for goals (18), assists (25) and points (43). He's tiny by NHL standards, but the 26-year-old's scoring efficiency makes him a nice fit in a complementary role.
Picked up from Ottawa, as part of the Bobby Ryan, Jakob Silverberg battled through some injuries and was moved all around the Ducks' lineup, but he's generated enough shots on goal in his first two seasons to be optimistic about his chances to produce offensively.
The Ducks have some room to improve, with lots of young and inexpensive forwards competing for playoff time and veterans like Teemu Selanne and possibly Saku Koivu moving on, there will be room to make some additions. Trading for a centre like Ryan Kesler and seeking out a veteran scoring winger could give the Ducks an even deeper and more talented forward group.
Free Agent Defence
||'13-'14 Cap Hit
Cam Fowler made progress in his fourth NHL season, playing a career-high 23:52 per game and facing the highest quality of competition that he's faced in his career. He's an effective puck-mover who has 116 points through his age 22 season; only three defencemen (Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Dion Phaneuf) since 2000-2001 have more points by the age of 22, so Fowler has lots of promise, but also needs to continue on his upward trajectory.
Rare is the rookie defenceman that has matched the feat of Hampus Lindholm last season, as Lindholm had 30 points and was plus-29 in his first NHL season. The last defenceman, aged 20 or under, to have at least 25 points and a plus-25 rating was Andrej Meszaros in 2005-2006. He stepped into the lineup, played more than 19 minutes per game from the get-go, and was impressive throughout, his 26 even-strength points was tied for 15th among defencemen.
Playing a career-high 19:24 per game, Ben Lovejoy was tasked with skating in a shutdown role for the Ducks and while that may have been a tad aggressive, he's a reasonably-priced option if he can merely play a regular role in the top six.
A year after he finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting, Francois Beauchemin wasn't nearly as solid in relative puck possession terms, yet no defenceman can match Beauchemin's plus-45 rating over the past two seasons. He has played more than 23 minutes per game for eight straight seasons, but last year's 23:06 per game represented a career-low for Beauchemin, perhaps a nod to a 34-year-old whose minutes can be allocated more judiciously than in previous seasons.
Ankle and hand injuries contributed to Luca Sbisa playing only 30 games last season, and while the 24-year-old has yet to have a positive possession season, he was closer to break-even in his limited role last season.
Veteran stay-at-home defender Bryan Allen has gone 128 games without a goal, but he's typically done a reasonable job suppressing the quality of shots against and he was reasonably effective in a reduced role -- his 17:33 average time on ice per game was his lowest since 2003-2004.
On an even longer goalless drought than Allen, Mark Fistric has gone 153 games since scoring in back-to-back games late in 2010. He plays a physical, no-frills, game and is cast as a seventh defenceman, spotting into the lineup for 15 minutes a night when needed. Somehow, that earned Fistric a three-year contract, which might indicate some motivation to have him take a regular turn on the blueline.
After Sheldon Souray missed the entire 2013-2014 season due to wrist surgery, who knows whether or not he can return to action and be effective? Prior to his most recent injury, Souray had been playing relatively tough minutes and generating positive relative possession numbers.
Undersized defenceman Sami Vatanen was the Ducks' best puck possession defenceman when he was deemed to be worthy of a spot in the lineup. He's mobile, with puck skills to run the point on the power play and ought to play a regular role next season.
The Ducks have depth on the blueline and their young defencemen have the potential to be very good. Combined with the veterans in-house, they may not need to make dramatic improvements. Rather, they can let internal improvement carry the position.
Free Agent Goaltender
||'13-'14 Cap Hit
Frederik Andersen has stopped the puck wherever he's played and his transition to the NHL was a smooth one last season, but he may not have been quite ready to handle the playoff responsibility that was thrust upon him. Nevertheless, the 24-year-old is promising, a potential starter, though he's likely to face competition for that role from top prospect John Gibson.
The possibility of going with a pair of inexperienced goaltenders gives the Ducks increased flexibility to address needs elsewhere in the lineup and they can do so with expectations of having at least average -- if not better -- goaltending performance.
||2.34 GAA, .919 SV%, 45 GP
||22-57-79, +19, 70 GP
||Wisconsin (Big 10)
||15-23-38, +11, 28 GP
||24-30-54, +14, 50 GP
||27-16-43, -1, 55 GP
||14-23-37, +7, 46 GP
||HV71 Jonkoping (SHL)
||15-22-37, even, 55 GP
||0-0-0, even, 2 GP
||31-30-61, +16, 44 GP
||19-27-46, +2, 37 GP
||2.04 GAA, .921 SV%, 29 GP
||5-14-19, -4, 36 GP
Perhaps the game's best goaltending prospect, John Gibson didn't appear remotely fazed by his earliest NHL experiences last season, stopping 185 of 198 shots (.934 SV%) in seven (regular season plus playoff) games with the Ducks. Understandably, the 20-year-old, who was a second-round pick in 2011, is going to be part of the Ducks' goaltending plans next season.
A first-round pick last summer, Shea Theodore continued to improve in the WHL last season, before getting a late-season audition in the AHL. He turns 19 this summer, so there's no rush for Theodore, but he's a good building block for the future.
Drafted in the second round in 2012, Nicolas Kerdiles had 71 points in 60 games over two seasons at Wisconsin and jumped to the AHL late in the year, putting up eight points in 16 (regular season plus playoff) games.
The 29th pick in the 2010 Draft, Emerson Etem has 21 points, with subpar possession stats, in 67 career NHL games, but his production in the AHL last season should have Etem -- a speedy winger who can score -- knocking on the door for an NHL job.
Picked in the second round in 2010, Devante Smith-Pelly has 23 points in 75 career NHL games, but earned a prominent power forward role with the Ducks in the playoffs, playing with Getzlaf and Perry at times. Smith-Pelly should be looking at a regular role next season.
The 30th pick in 2011, Rickard Rakell is a skilled two-way centre who held his own in 18 games with the Ducks last season.
A second-round pick in 2011, William Karlsson made the move to North America following his season in Sweden, picking up 12 points in 17 (regular season plus playoff) games. There is a lot of competition among quality prospects for spots with the big club.
Acquired as part of the Bobby Ryan trade last summer, Stefan Noesen tore his ACL in his second game of the season, making it back in time to produce four points in four AHL playoff games. The 21-year-old could use a season of development to make up for his lost year.
Picked in the second round last summer, Nick Sorensen is a talented Danish-born scorer who has 136 points in 111 (regular season plus playoff) games in the QMJHL.
Taken in the fourth round in 2012, Kevin Roy is on the small side, but he's been very productive at Northeastern, scoring 80 points in 56 games through two collegiate seasons.
He's behind the young goaltenders at the top of the organizational depth chart, but 23-year-old Igor Bobkov is worth watching. He had a solid year between the ECHL and AHL and figures to get regular AHL time next season.
Andy Welinski was a third-round pick in 2011, and has been a decent puck-moving defenceman at Minnesota-Duluth the last couple years.
Ducks advanced stats and player usage chart from Extra Skater
10th - Brendan Perlini, Kevin Fiala, Haydn Fleury
24th - Roland McKeown, Nikita Scherbak, Adrian Kempe
According to www.capgeek.com, the Ducks have approximately $47.7M committed to the 2014-2015 salary cap for 18 players.
Check out my possible Ducks lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two top nine forwards, depth forward, one top four defenceman, one goaltender.
What I said the Ducks needed last year: One top six forward, depth forwards, depth defencemen.
They added: Dustin Penner, Patrick Maroon, Jakob Silfverberg, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen.
Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell, Bryan Allen, Luca Sbisa.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.