By Curtis Zupke | NHL.com
NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.
For a team that led the Western Conference with 116 points, the Anaheim Ducks had a lot of issues that came back to bite them in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their power play was unacceptable, their lack of depth at center was exposed by the rival Los Angeles Kings, and defense and goaltending that had held up most of the season finally cracked.
General manager Bob Murray, who long had tried to upgrade the center position, landed Ryan Kesler in an offseason trade with the Vancouver Canucks to give Anaheim a 1-2 punch down the middle with Kesler and captain Ryan Getzlaf. Murray was willing to part with center and 22-goal scorer Nick Bonino to get Kesler, and he declined to re-sign veterans Saku Koivu and Mathieu Perreault.
Murray also signed Nate Thompson, who likely will center the third line.
Coach Bruce Boudreau is excited at the possibilities, but also sounded caution.
"We expect [Getzlaf-Kesler] to be as good a 1-2 center [combination] as there is and we can put him against any team that we match up," Boudreau said. "[But] I don’t look at it as, 'OK, all of a sudden we've gotten so much better.' We lost Nick Bonino, who scored 22 goals, and Mathieu Perreault scored 18 goals. We're hoping that Kesler and Nate Thompson can make that up. If they don't make that up they can do other things on the ice.
"I haven't seen anything yet. I want to see how it looks in training camp but I think it should be great."
A closer look at Kesler and Thompson reveals why Murray acquired them.
The Ducks were beaten badly in faceoffs against the Kings -- 123-84 in Games 5-7 of their Western Conference Second Round series and 262-214 overall. Kesler has a 52.9 career faceoff percentage and led the Canucks in faceoff wins in five of the past seven seasons. Thompson has a career faceoff percentage of 51.7 and won more than half of his faceoffs in five of the past six seasons.
Kesler and veteran left wing Dany Heatley, signed in July, also should improve an Anaheim power play that ranked 22nd in the League in the regular season at 16 percent. It improved in the playoffs, but the Ducks went 0-for-11 in Games 2-4 of the first-round series against the Dallas Stars and 0-for-8 in the final two games against the Kings.
Kesler and Heatley said they are motivated with career reboots. Boudreau is positive too, but knows he has to integrate major pieces.
"Every time I've predicted it's going to be great, great, great, it doesn't turn out that way," Boudreau said. "Sometimes it doesn't work out. I want to see how it goes in training camp. I want to wait."
Los Angeles shredded Anaheim's defense in Game 7, when the images of Justin Williams backhanding in the puck from the slot and Jeff Carter blowing by defenseman Hampus Lindholm were seared into the memories of Ducks fans. Lindholm and Sami Vatanen were fine in the regular season, but the Ducks need bigger, physical shut-down types for playoff hockey; Murray came up with Clayton Stoner, who had a strong postseason with the Minnesota Wild and signed a four-year, $13 million contract with Anaheim.
Stoner ran out of opportunities in Minnesota, and he and the Ducks want a new start to pay off. They don't really have any young defensemen in their system ready to step into an NHL role.
Goalie John Gibson, 21, clearly was ready for the NHL when Boudreau gave him the nod late in the regular season, but he became human in the playoffs. Gibson and fellow rookie Frederik Andersen facilitated the end of Jonas Hiller's tenure in Anaheim, but the two are unproven and have a combined 11 games of experience in the playoffs. That's why Murray signed Jason LaBarbera for veteran presence.
Anaheim is coming off a second straight Game 7 collapse at home and still is far behind the Kings, but the Ducks have shown they are capable of the spectacular. With Teemu Selanne gone this is a new era for Anaheim, which lost lot of dressing room presence that perhaps Kesler and Heatley can help make up.
"We're losing a great, great ambassador [Selanne] to the Ducks, but the Ducks have lost guys like Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger in the past," Boudreau said. "We'll miss his presence. We'll miss his camaraderie. We'll just have to move on."
DUCKS OFFSEASON OUTLOOK
2013-14 record: 54-20-8, 116 points; 1st in Pacific Division, 1st in Western Conference
2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Lost to the Los Angeles Kings in seven games in second round
Pending Free Agents: None
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