Flashing back to 2010-11, the Ducks struggled to start the season and hit a low point in early March, hovering outside of the playoffs looking in. Fast forward a few months and the Ducks ended up climbing all the way up to the fourth seed thanks to a blistering goal-scoring pace courtesy of Corey Perry, who netted 19 goals over his last 16 games on the way to securing a Hart Trophy. As fate would have it, the Ducks lost to Nashville in the Stanley Cup quarterfinals but the team will have both a clean slate and retooled lineup for 2011-12.
On paper, the Ducks are a better team this year with the additions of center Andrew Cogliano and defenseman Kurtis Foster to an already strong nucleus, but two major questions will continue to haunt Anaheim as long as they are left unanswered: Is goalie Jonas Hiller going to stay healthy long enough to make a legitimate contribution, and can the hockey world expect Teemu Selanne to lace up his skates for yet another season?
Hiller posted a 26-16-3 record in 49 games played (46 starts) for the Ducks last season, while carrying a 2.56 goals-against average and a career-best .924 save percentage. Unfortunately, health is a major factor for the Swiss backstop as his 2010-2011 campaign was cut short due to a serious case of vertigo, which ended his season in early February. At press time, reports have Hiller returning with a clean bill of health, but it would be wise to temper expectations until more is known. If he proves that he's symptom-free during camp, Hiller could be a nice, mid-round value pick in fantasy leagues given the quality of the club skating in front of him.
Selanne, technically a free agent, has set September 19 as a date for when he is expected to make his decision regarding next season. If he decides to retire, expect the newly acquired Andrew Cogliano to center the second line in Anaheim with a big boost in value to follow.
The Ducks have one of the better (if not the best) first lines in all of hockey with Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan leading the charge and scoring over 50 percent of the teamís goals this past season. The Ducksí weakness has been its depth, an issue that GM Bob Murray hopes to have solved after making a number of moves in the offseason. By trading for Mathieu Carle, Kurtis Foster, Andrew Cogliano; and signing Mark Bell, Matt Smaby, Jeff Deslauriers, Brian McGrattan, Jean-Francois Jacques, the Ducks have added key pieces to the puzzle and appear ready to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
THE BIG GUNS
Corey Perry (RW): Perry was the only player in the NHL to score 50 goals in 2010-11 and his late-season rush (see above) helped the talented young winger pick up the Hart trophy as the league's MVP. Perry tallied 98 points (50 G, 48 A) to pace the Ducks and while his point total has consistently grown from year-to-year a repeat, 50-goal campaign may not be in the cards. Still, there's little reason to believe he won't produce at better than a point-per-game pace again this season. Perry enters the season as the number one fantasy option from the right wing.
Ryan Getzlaf (C): Getzlaf is a talented center capable of being a 90-point scorer in the league. With an impressive 19-57-76 line from last year, Getzlaf is one of the more productive fantasy pivots. His numbers are even more striking considering he has missed an average of 15 games the past two seasons due to injury. Getzlaf will enter the 2011-2012 campaign healthy and will look to put the injury worries to rest. He has averaged 79.5 points over the last four seasons and should remain a top-tier option at his position, centering a line with sniper Bobby Ryan. The Ducks have the potential to rack up points at a dizzying pace and Getzlaf figures to be a main catalyst of its success.
Bobby Ryan (RW): Ryan posted another strong season for the Ducks, potting 34 goals and reaching the 30-goal mark for the third straight campaign. He also saw an increase in assists, raising his point total to a career-high, 71 (fourth on the team). With an exciting group of talented players on the Ducks' roster, Ryan has the tools to become a 40-goal scorer as early as this season.
Lubomir Visnovsky (D): Visnovsky led all defensemen in points (68) during the 2010-2011 season, averaging .84 points per game in 81 games played. It's been the story throughout his career that Visnovsky is an offensive-minded defenseman with a knack for piling up points. Quarterbacking a loaded Anaheim power play should stabilize his place in the top tier of fantasy blueliners, and we're talking about a very safe option when you consider that Visnovsky has averaged close to 50 points per season over his last five campaigns.
ON THE RISE
Cam Fowler (D): The 19-year-old Fowler had a productive rookie campaign with the Ducks, scoring 10 goals and adding 30 assists in 76 games played this past season. The undersized defenseman has the ability to rack up points at an alarming rate; however, Fowler's defense leaves a lot to be desired. For leagues that count plus/minus, Fowler's value takes a hit as a result of his team-low minus-25 rating in 2010-11. Regardless, Fowler is an up-and-coming fantasy star and should be targeted early in drafts. With some of the better scorers playing in front of him, Fowler should find it easy to post a high assist rate while building upon a successful rookie season.
Andrew Cogliano (C): Cogliano scored 11 times and added 24 assists in 82 games played for the Oilers last season, parlaying that effort into a three-year deal with the Ducks after he was acquired in an offseason trade. Cogliano has not missed a game in his four-year NHL career, and while the former first-round selection (25th overall) has not quite matched the output (45 points) of his rookie campaign, joining the more offensive-minded Ducks should benefit his overall game resulting in an uptick in production.
Kurtis Foster (D): Foster tallied 22 points (8 G, 14 A) in 74 games played for the Oilers last season and he's just two years removed from a 42-point effort. He could look to approach that level again now that he is out of Edmonton, and the new address may result in an upswing in production. Keep Foster in mind when considering your options deep in the draft. Foster should hover around the 30-point mark, quietly creeping into sleeper potential.
TWO TO AVOID
Jason Blake (LW): Blake managed 16 goals and 16 assists in 76 games during his first full season with the Ducks, but he is clearly on the back end of his career. At age 38, you're better off letting another owner draft him even if the Ducks continue to roll him on a scoring line, as his two-way game has never been particularly strong and he's a liability in the plus/minus category as a result (minus-5 last season).
Teemu Selanne (RW): Selanne once again proved all that doubted him wrong when he tallied 80 points (31 G, 49 A) in 73 games played for the Ducks this past season. The 41-year-old had offseason knee surgery and recently stated that he will wait until September 16 before making a decision on his status for this season. This past year, Selanne became only the third player in NHL history to average a point per game over the course of a full season, and after the age of 40. Gordie Howe and Johnny Bucyk are the only other two players to accomplish the feat. If he returns, Selanne would remain a viable fantasy option across all formats but he is the posterboy for high-risk/reward until the retirement decision is made. Be forewarned that you could get burned if he decides to call it a career.
John Gibson (G): The Ducks have a need for goaltending depth and capitalized on that need by taking goalie John Gibson with the 39th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Gibson, who is a tall, smart and technically sound goaltender, recently de-committed from the University of Michigan and will instead play the upcoming season in the OHL. With starter Jonas Hiller a health risk, Gibson could find himself manning the crease in Anaheim sooner than expected.
Kyle Palmieri (RW): The 20-year-old Palmieri is another player in a long line of Ducks prospects looking to impress this year. The winger appeared in just 10 games with the Ducks last year, scoring one goal and finishing with a minus-1 rating. As a first-round pick in 2009, Palmieri will try to find a spot on the fourth line to start the season and work his way up. In 2010-11, Palmieri led the AHLís Syracuse Crunch with 29 goals and ended the season with 15 goals over the final 14 games.
Emerson Etem (C): Etem has spent the past two seasons with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, where he combined for 145 points (82 G, 63 A) in the junior league. Etem is a prolific scorer, and is inching closer to making a contribution at the NHL level. He has tremendous value as a long-term keeper option and will look to make the roster out of training camp. Since the Ducks are not lacking in the area of offense, Etem could spend another season lighting the lamp on a nightly basis in the WHL before making the jump full-time to the NHL.