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NHL Morning Papers: Can the Ducks repeat?

(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:

For Illegal Curve, I’m Richard Pollock.