Tuesday, March 21, 2006

How Did Anaheim Become A Playoff Team?

In 2003/04, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks finished in 12th place in the West Conference and missed the playoffs. Since that time, the team has lost or traded Sergei Fedorov, Petr Sykora, Steve Rucchin and Vaclav Prospal. They were their four highest scorers in the 03/04 season. They have also lost Niclas Havelid and Martin Skoula. They were their two highest scoring defencemen in 03/04. They have also traded Sandis Ozolinsh and Keith Carney. They were two other significant defencemen in the 03/04 season. That sounds like the recipe for a failed rebuilding season in 05/06.

Anaheim has had a very good season in 05/06. They look likely to make the playoffs in a very tight West Conference race. How is this possible? What happened?

In goal, Anaheim has kept Jean-Sebastien Giguere. He has had a string of good seasons in Anaheim. This season Giguere has a 2.53 GAA and a .914 saves percentage. This is almost as good a performance as in 03/04 when he had a 2.62 GAA and a .914 saves percentage. These numbers have stayed roughly the same despite an increase in goals scored in the NHL.

The team's defence has improved. This improvement is lost largely in the increase in scoring leaguewide. Anaheim's defensive improvement is due in a large part to the signing of defending Norris trophy winner Scott Niedermayer, who is having a very good season. They have also had a strong season from rookie Francois Beauchemin who was acquired in the Sergei Fedorov trade. Amazingly, Beauchemin (who was basically a throw in in this deal) has played better than former Hart trophy winner Sergei Fedorov. Other defensive contributors are stay-at-homer Ruslan Salei and newly acquired Sean O'Donnell.

Statistically, the biggest improvement Anaheim made was offensive. They did this while shipping out their top four scorers in 03/04. This improvement is partly explained by the leaguewide increase in scoring. For the most part, their offensive success has come from the emergence of homegrown talent. Brian Burke was quite lucky to take over a team that had this depth of young offensive talent. Their offence is built around emerging Andy McDonald and has important roles for youngsters Joffrey Lupul, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Their top scorer is Teemu Selanne who was added as a free agent.

For the most part, Anaheim's season is due to a good emerging young core of forwards and a couple good free agent signings. Niedermayer was too good to be passed up and he filled a large whole on defence. Selanne was very underpriced, after a poor 03/04 season which was not typical for him. Jean-Sebastien Giguere was identified as a key piece around which the team could be built, while the remaining older core players who were declining in value were traded or let go. It has been a very successful year for Brian Burke's vision in Anaheim. How well will they stand up in the playoffs or in future seasons? That is still to be determined.

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