30 in 30: Anaheim's Youth Movement Pays Dividends
Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray saw almost all positives in a 2012-13 season when his team flew out of the gate and never really slowed down, ultimately winning the franchise's first Pacific Division title in five years and earning the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
Even a loss in Game 7 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Detroit Red Wings, though disappointing, didn't change Murray's opinion.
"I think we got beat by a team that had been injured all year long but was getting healthy and was a very veteran, experienced playoff team," he told NHL.com. "I looked at it as some of our younger players -- while it would have been nice to have another round -- got some really quality playoff time, and our younger players played very, very well for us. That’s a giant plus for us, that they got there and they got to experience playing a great team like the Detroit Red Wings.
"I don't look at any negatives from that -- except we lost."
Losing is something the Ducks didn't do too much of last season. They won six of their first eight games and 13 of their first 16 en route to finishing second in the conference with 66 points, behind the Chicago Blackhawks (77).
That's a big change from the previous season, when the Ducks started 6-13-4 and finished 13th in the West.
"When you're a mid-salary cap team, which we are, you cannot afford to have injuries, bad streaks," Murray said. "Two years ago, we had some very bad injuries and just never recovered from the bad start."
It didn't help that all-star center Ryan Getzlaf had the worst season of his career, finishing with 11 goals, 57 points and a minus-11 rating. Murray said he believes Getzlaf also struggled adjusting to his role as captain in the 2011-12 season.
"It was an off year for a lot of people in our organization and Ryan Getzlaf took most of the heat for that," Murray said. "But I can go down the list and there were a lot of guys that had bad years, and we had injuries. It was a bad year for the organization. When you're a mid-cap team, you can't afford certain things to happen. One of them is injuries, and the other was [Getzlaf] had a rough year offensively. He also, being the captain, I think sometimes he overthinks it a little bit."
Getzlaf was back to his usual star form last season, finishing with a team-best 49 points in 44 games. There also was improvement off the ice.
"Last year he didn't overthink at all," Murray said. "He's growing with being captain. He's very serious about it. Sometimes you can just play, and last year he just played."
The solid play of Getzlaf raised the team around him. The Ducks upped their scoring average from 2.45 goals per game to 2.79, and the power play rose from No. 21 in the league at 16.6 percent in 2011-12 to fourth in the league at 21.5 percent.
Some of that was a byproduct of the team adjusting to coach Bruce Boudreau's up-tempo offensive style. Boudreau replaced Randy Carlyle in November 2011, but only this fall will he have his first training camp.
"The biggest thing for Bruce is now he knows everybody in our system," Murray said. "It's tough coming in in the middle of the year a year-and-a-half ago and not knowing everybody, and then you have the lockout year the next year," Murray said. "He spent time in the minors, seeing the kids. He knows everybody now. That is his biggest advantage going forward: He knows everybody now. Coaches love to know their players."
And the Ducks' young players should give Boudreau a lot to love.
Kyle Palmieri, 22, saw time on the top line alongside Corey Perry and Getzlaf in the playoff loss to the Red Wings. Palmieri had 10 goals and 21 points in 42 regular-season games, and five points in seven playoff games. Emerson Etem, 21, made his NHL debut with three goals and seven assists in 38 games last season, and had five points in seven postseason games. Jakob Silfverberg, who arrived from the Ottawa Senators as part of the Bobby Ryan trade this summer, had 10 goals in 48 games as a rookie. Peter Holland, 22, and Rickard Rakell, 20, also are expected to compete for spots as forwards.
"It's going to be a hell of a dogfight in our training camp to see who comes out playing," Murray said.
Replacing Ryan on the top line is the first step in that competition. One of the young players could slide into that spot, or it could be someone from the team's past: Dustin Penner, who returned in July as a free agent. Penner teamed with Perry and Getzlaf to form arguably the Ducks' best line in the 2007 run to the Stanley Cup. Murray, who was the senior vice president of hockey operations on that title team, certainly remembers how well that trio performed.
"They enjoyed playing together," Murray said. "You don't know if the chemistry will still be there or not. There's been lots of guys moving in and out of that spot over the years. Dustin has done just as well as anyone else has there, probably better, because that line was very good in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that year. That's definitely in Bruce's and my mind. But again, we have lots of opportunities now for young players."
Whether there are one or two open spots in the top-six depends on Teemu Selanne. Murray said he has no knowledge of what the 43-year-old might do, but said fitting him into the lineup won't be a problem if Selanne decides -- at any point -- that he wants to continue playing.
"I want Teemu to play if he's 100-percent sure he wants to play," Murray said. "If he's not sure, if he's not feeling -- when you get to that age, he's got to want it bad. If he's sure he wants it bad, then we'll make it work, whatever I have to do. The only answer I need is he's 100-percent sure he wants to play. That's the only answer I need. I told him that the other day. I don't care when he tells me. We'll find a way. We've got lots of cap space, and we have enough contract [room]."
Though the forward spot looks a bit unsettled, the Ducks appear set in goal with Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth. Fasth, who signed with the team in September 2012, emerged as a life preserver early in the season, winning his first eight starts. The 30-year-old finished his first NHL season 15-6-2 with a 2.18 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and four shutouts in 25 games.
Hiller rediscovered his form as the season progressed and eventually retook the No. 1 job. He went 15-6-4 with a 2.36 GAA and .913 save percentage in 26 games. He also started all seven playoff games, posting a 2.46 GAA.
The rotation likely will remain the same this season. And if one falters or gets injured, top prospect John Gibson -- the only non-NHL goalie invited to USA Hockey's Olympic orientation camp -- waits in the wings.
"I love the way our goaltending was last year," Murray said. "They picked each other up. When one would be banged up, the other guy would carry the ball for a while, then the other guy would get banged up and the other would carry the ball for a while. They get along very well. They're similar-type guys. I think we have good goaltending and we have good, young goaltending coming. I like where we are with goaltending."
It's that wealth of young players that most intrigues Murray and gives him high hopes for the present and the future.
"We had to go through the pain of retooling after the Stanley Cup year and the year after and trying to win again," Murray said. "We got ourselves in a position where we had to go back and rebuild the stock, our assets. We have good young players now. When you have that talent competing for spots as young players, I think that bodes well for the future of the franchise."