Second-year coach Mike Babcock may have a unique way with
words--during last spring's Stanley Cup finals he introduced the
terms "playing greasy" and "puck management"--but he usually gets
his point across. Babcock's take on the coming season is, "The
league won't be hunting Ducks in camouflage anymore."
What he means is, after coming within a game of winning the
chalice, Anaheim will no longer have the element of surprise in
its favor. With a shocking playoff run that carried them past the
second round for the first time, the Disney-owned Ducks shed
their reputation as a Mickey Mouse operation. In the off-season
G.M. Bryan Murray continued to make savvy moves, most notably
allowing captain and 25-goal scorer Paul Kariya to become a free
agent instead of paying him $10 million to pick up his option.
For roughly the same annual cost Anaheim signed free-agent
forwards Sergei Fedorov (five years, $40 million) and Vinny
Prospal (five years, $16.million). The 33-year-old Fedorov, a
former league MVP, scored 36 goals for the Wings last season, and
Prospal, 28, led the Lightning with 79 points.
Look for Fedorov to center an explosive first line that includes
Prospal and Petr Sykora, who had a team-best 34 goals last
season. With gritty Steve Rucchin, the new captain, and speed
demon Rob Niedermayer, who was rejuvenated by a trade from the
Flames last March, depth up the middle is a strength.
Another Anaheim strong suit was its seasonlong commitment to team
defense. Goalie J.S. Giguere, whose playoff performance (1.62
GAA, .945 save percentage) won him the Conn Smythe Trophy, was
helped by the cocoon that the Ducks created around him. Anaheim
might have hoisted the Cup if it weren't for an impotent power
play. This season Babcock will emphasize the importance of
getting bodies in front of the net, not the excessive passing he
feels was his team's undoing last year. "That was a skill power
play," he says. "I'm more of a meat-and-potato guy."
Expect that message to get through loud and clear. --S.C.
( 1 Best- 30 Worst )
POWER PLAY 10
PENALTY KILLING 2
G.M. AND COACH 5
A key for the Ducks is their ability to win face-offs, especially
by Steve Rucchin and Jason Krog.... Expect a breakout season from
second-year LW Stanislav Chistov--he proved to be a big-play guy
in the postseason.... How well intense coach Mike Babcock handles
fragile free-agent signee Sergei Fedorov bears watching. Their
relationship will be a big factor in how the Ducks' season
unfolds.... This team can play overly aggressively because the
penalty-killing unit is outstanding.