(Reader note: To our new readers, every morning I write a short preamble to the morning links that I provide from the daily newspapers located in every NHL city. If you are only interested in the newspaper links please scroll down to the bottom of this post. )
After dominating Minnesota and Vancouver and just squeaking by Detroit, the Anaheim Ducks handily defeated the Ottawa Senators in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals. With a new season on the horizon, the pressure is now on the Ducks to repeat as the Stanley Cup champions in 2007/08. The team has not gone unchanged since this past June and questions have arisen as to whether the Ducks can be the first repeat champions since the 1997-1998 Detroit Red Wings pulled off the difficult feat.
Here are five questions hockey fans have about the Ducks heading into 2007/08:
Can Todd Bertuzzi and Mathieu Schneider replace Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer?
For the purposes of this piece we are going to assume that Selanne and Niedermayer are eventually going to retire and not return to Orange County this season. Having established that, the simple answer to this question is that they cannot replace these two superstars. Scott Niedermayer is/was arguably the best defenseman in the NHL and Teemu Selanne is/was one of the greatest goal scoring forwards to ever lace up a pair of skates. While Schneider and Bertuzzi have had their fair share of highly successful seasons, they are not in the class of the players that they were essentially brought in to replace.
Will the loss of Dustin Penner hurt the team more than people think?
Penner is a big body with good hands and, while he was not relied on heavily in Anaheim, he brought assets to the table that aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. Penner is just about to enter his prime, and has the past AHL numbers to generally allow us to infer that his success in Anaheim this past season was no fluke. Losing Penner for draft picks is a fine strategic move (especially when taking into account his salary) but the lack of current reinforcements may hurt the team this season.
Can J.S. Giguere continue his terrific play from a season ago?
Giguere has his fair share of supporters and critics, but overall he gets the job done and always seems to improve his play come playoff time. Some people forget that it was just last season that people thought Ilya Bryzgalov was the answer in goal and that the money the team ended up paying Giguere could be better spent elsewhere. Brian Burke was in a difficult negotiating position with Giggy after he led the team to a championship but if you have followed Burke’s career, you know he is not averse to making tough decisions. If Burke felt that Giguere was overvalued in today’s market, or that Bryzgalov could replace him without much drop-off in play, he would have let Giguere go elsewhere. Burke is an astute judge of talent and he made the right choice when re-signing Giguere. The French netminder should be a shoe-in for 40 wins.
Can Chris Pronger carry the defense without Niedermayer?
If anyone recalls the Edmonton Oilers run to the finals in 2006, when Chris Pronger proved he could almost single-handedly carry a team to a Stanley Cup championship, the answer seems quite simple. While the rest of the defense is nothing to scoff at, especially with the underrated Schneider now eating big minutes (his recent four week injury aside), Pronger will be looked at to carry even more of the load than he did last season and should be more than up to the task.
Can the Ducks repeat?
There is no question the losses the Ducks’ incurred this off-season will hurt the team, however, the organization did a solid job of replacing its veteran losses with other veterans and, more importantly, is rich in young talent. This year will see Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry become well-known NHL stars and allow Bertuzzi to flourish in the background without much pressure. Additionally, any team that has Pronger is almost an instant contender. Factoring in the team’s terrific checking unit, the underrated Andy McDonald and a Conn Smythe winning goaltender and you have the recipe for an extremely successful campaign.
Prediction: Expect the Ducks to return to the Western Conference Finals but bow out to the San Jose Sharks in seven games.
On to the morning papers:
- As you have probably heard, the Ducks will be without defenseman Mathieu Schneider for at least the next four weeks after he suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left ankle during Saturday’s pre-season game versus the Kings.
- There are four spots available on the Thrashers’ roster and Bob Hartley is giving those spots out to players that dominate in the pre-season writes Craig Custance of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Youngster Matt Hunwick is attempting to make the Bruins’ defensive roster decisions that much more difficult; however, it appears he is headed to Providence once camp breaks.
- Rich Thompson of the Boston Herald details the reunion of Chuck Kobasew and Bobby Allen in Boston after the two played together at Boston College earlier this decade.
- Newcomer Jocelyn Thibault knows his role in Buffalo this year and is happy to provide a rest for Ryan Miller whenever opportunity knocks; John Vogl of the Buffalo News has the story.
- There was a pleasant surprise at Flames’ camp yesterday as youngster Matt Keetley, seemingly bound for either the AHL or ECHL, was called on to suit up after an injury and impressed with his inspired play.
- Approximately 20,000 fans showed up at the Canes’ first exhibition game and carnival. Florida native Noah Babin scored the Canes’ first goal of the pre-season; the team eventually went on to win the contest 4-3 in overtime.
- After hitting the 20 goal mark in 2006/07, Patrick Sharp is taking nothing for granted at Hawks’ training camp writes Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune.
- Rookie T.J. Hensick out of the University of Michigan impressed the Avs’ coaching staff with his play in the team’s annual Burgundy-White scrimmage.
- David Vyborny has a sprained left knee, so the Blue Jackets’ new top line, which has been cause for optimism, will have to be put on hold. Luckily, the injury doesn’t appear serious and the Jackets believe Vyborny may have caught a break writes Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch.
- Pascal Leclaire and Duvie Westcott were just happy to be able to play in an NHL game after both being injured for much of 2006/07.
- After a disappointing sophomore season, Jussi Jokinen is looking to pick up the goal scoring load this season in Dallas; Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News has the story.
- As Helene St. James explains, Mike Babcock is aware of Brent Sopel’s offensive ability but he needs the defenseman to be safe and steady in his own zone before looking to create offense.
- Anson Carter returns to the Oilers’ fold but is no lock to make the roster writes Joanne Ireland in this morning’s Edmonton Journal. As Kevin Lowe said yesterday, “There’s openings, but there’s no promises.”
- Branislav Mezei is hoping to finally put the injury bug behind him going into 2007/08 writes Steve Gorten of the South Florida Sun-Sentinal.
- After off-season improvements, the Kings no longer have excuses for missing the playoffs writes Helene Elliot in this morning’s L.A. Times. (registration required)
- Lonnie White of the L.A. Times examines the Kings’ defense from top to bottom, and it is quite an impressive group. (Writer’s note: It better be with the Kings goaltending situation the way it is.)
- As Michael Russo of the Star Tribune explains, Brian Rolston may be 34 but he feels 24 heading into his final season under contract in Minnesota.
- As John Glennon of the Tennessean tells us, Jordin Tootoo wants to take on an increased offensive role for the Predators in 2007/08.
- Youngster Ryan Russell opened some eyes at Habs’ camp yesterday with a huge hit on the mammoth Ryan O’Byrne writes Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette. More importantly, he survived the first round of cuts. as the Habs sent seven players back to juniors on Sunday.
- There is fear at Devils’ camp that Jamie Langenbrunner may have an abdominal tear which would see his 144 consecutive game streak come to a screeching halt. Apparently the injury could keep him out as long as 6-8 weeks.
- Chris Drury is very excited to be able to suit up for his favorite childhood team write Tim Bontemps in this morning’s New York Post.
- Jeff Tambellini looks like he’s ready to make the next step to the NHL and the Islanders are hoping he can replace some of Jason Blake’s speed and production.
- Brian Boucher is back in Philadelphia but is starting the season with the AHL’s Phantoms. Boucher will be the third goalie on the depth chart writes Tim Panaccio of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Here is a quick review of the Coyotes’ exhibition game on Sunday versus the Ducks.
Sandis Ozolinsh returns to the club who traded him to Colorado 12 years ago, as he is attempting to crack the Sharks’ roster for 2007/08. Ozolinsh is on a training camp tryout writes Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News.
- Andy Murray was unimpressed with his team’s play in the Blues’ exhibition opener. According to Murray, most players graded out below average.
- The increased pace at Tampa training camp has John Tortorella in a better mood.
- Angelo Esposito is pumped for his first NHL exhibition game, and fittingly it is being played at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Excitement aside, don’t expect Esposito to crack the Pens’ roster this season writes Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star tells us that Nik Antropov is finally garnering more respect after being the perennial whipping boy of the Toronto media for many years.
- Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province takes a look at six players under the microscope at Canucks’ camp.
- The Canucks had a rash of injuries at camp yesterday, most importantly was the scare that occured when Roberto Luongo was struck in the throat by a Brad Isbister slapshot; luckily, Luongo is going to be fine. (Writer’s note: That’s the way you get into management’s good books Brad!)
- Nicklas Backstrom impressed the Capital’s brass during the team’s opening exhibition contest versus Carolina on Sunday. The rookie scored a goal and was responsible defensively.
- Kevin Allen of USA Today has the details of the outdoor game at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 1st.
For Illegal Curve, I’m Richard Pollock.