There was a surprising air of enthusiasm in Anaheim's training
camp this fall. Some of it surely had to do with the presence of
new coach Bryan Murray, who has made a career of turning losing
teams into winning ones. Most of it, however, is predicated on
the assumption that things can't get any worse. Last season the
far-from-mighty Ducks scored only 188 goals, fourth fewest in the
NHL, allowed 245, second most in the Western Conference, and had
a record (25-41-11-5) worse than either of the expansion teams.
Yet listen to them: "I really feel good about this team," says
defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky. "We've improved our defense. We have
good goaltending. I think we will be solid."
Perhaps Tverdovsky, who had 14 goals and 39 assists last year, is
optimistic because he is one of the few Ducks who isn't coming
off a disappointing season. Anaheim tried to shore up its blue
line this summer by acquiring 10-year veteran Keith Carney and
signing free agent Jason York. In goal behind them, however, are
two players yet to prove themselves as consistent NHL starters.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, a first-round draft choice in 1995,
showed some promise in 2000-01, going 11-17-5 with a .911 save
percentage. Steve Shields, a seven-year vet who was part of the
trade that sent Teemu Selanne to the Sharks last March, did not
play after his arrival because of a left shoulder injury.
Dealing Selanne lopped $5.7 million off Anaheim's payroll but
also left the Ducks as thin as tissue paper at forward and almost
as delicate. Left wing Paul Kariya is still one of the top
talents in the league, but he missed 16 games last season with a
broken right foot. His center, Steve Rucchin, sat out the final
50 games with postconcussion syndrome. More production will be
needed from left wings Jeff Friesen, who scored just two goals in
16 games after arriving as part of the Selanne trade, and German
Titov. Titov, whose year was darkened by the deaths of his father
and his brother, had only nine goals and 11 assists after signing
a three-year, $4.6 million contract. "We're looking forward to
seeing the real German Titov," says G.M. Pierre Gauthier.
If the defense and the goaltending are as sturdy as hoped,
Anaheim will be in more low-scoring games this year. A
significant injury to one of its top forwards, however, would be
a setback this team could not withstand.
Mighty Ducks defensemen Oleg Tverdovsky (290 games) and Keith
Carney (247) have the second- and fourth-longest active
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 30 Not much scoring talent behind Kariya
DEFENSE 28 Need more physical players like Vishnevski
GOALTENDING 27 Giguere is very athletic but unproven
SPECIAL TEAMS 27 Power play will be poor, so PK must improve
MANAGEMENT 27 New coach Murray will push G.M. to make moves