The Magic Kingdom Dennis Bernstein takes a look at the Anaheim Ducks' chances of
returning the Stanley Cup to Orange County.
LOS ANGELES, CA -- In the first month of the season Iíve learned of a
place where hockey magic is being created daily.
Itís a place where maligned veteran left wings can lead the lead in
plus/minus ratings. Itís a destination where unknown European
goaltenders can flourish and earn multi-year contracts. Itís a world
in which a team can rank in the bottom five of the NHL on the
powerplay yet rise to the top of the league standings.
If I didnít know better, Iíd say some of the pixie dust that floats
over Disneyland has drifted a few miles down Katella Avenue in Anaheim
and settled in and around the Honda Center where the Anaheim Ducks
The guys in the room will tell you their early success has little to
do with magic; itís been fashioned through hard work and great
While Head Coach Bruce Boudreau isnít a modern day Houdini, thereís no
way the Ducks would have taken flight without him. Every coach has a
shelf life with a franchise and while Randy Carlyle has done great
things in Toronto, his administration had run its course in the O.C.
Boudreau is a playerís coach and exactly what was needed behind the
bench to insure that its two stars, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry,
didnít fly the coop when pending unrestricted free agency loomed.
The conventional thinking that most subscribed to (including myself)
was that maybe General Manager Bob Murray could hold on to possibly
one but certainly not two of the pair that Ducks fans fondly refer to
as ďThe Twins.Ē The moniker was attached to Getzlaf and Perry because
from Day One their careers were destined to be forever connected.
Maybe that where the magic really started, Getzlaf was supposed to
surface in Toronto as the No. 1 center they still need and Perry was
the winger that Sidney Crosby has been promised for years.
The pair decided to continue what they started in Anaheim and since
theyíre getting north of $8 million per season for the next eight
campaigns, itís less about magic and more about a lot of billionaire
owners Henry and Susan Samueliís greenbacks.
But Murray did have some more magic powder around some moves heís made
since securing his two cornerstone players.
The gifted Bobby Ryan, a pure goal scorer who routinely put up 30 goal
seasons despite not being a favorite of either Carlyle or Boudreau was
dealt away and to no one surprise has started hot in Ottawa. The guy
even told us so on Twitter the day of his liberation from the
franchise -- ďIím coming in hot, Ottawa,Ē was the proclamation.
Although the Ducks clearly surrendered the best player in the deal,
they acquired a budding star in Jakob Silfverberg, who was on the way
to an equally quick start before being sidelined with broken right
Perhaps Murray cast a spell over another GM when what seems like a
never ending search for a second line center continued early this
season. Though Saku Koivu is a quality person, his days as an
effective supporting scorer are long gone. The Ducks have tried
numerous solutions, but none have been long lasting and this gap was a
major reason why they were eliminated in round one against Detroit
Mathieu Perreault is a high-skill player who was undervalued as a
member of the Washington Capitals. Since the world revolves around
Alex Ovechkin in the Nationís Capital, it wasnít hard to secure the
former 2006 sixth-round selection by George McPhee with only spare
parts (AHL prospect John Mitchell and a 4th round pick in next Juneís
While you never like to evaluate a draft early, that better be one
hell of a fourth round selection if McPhee is to get equal value.
Perreault appears to have brought the long journey to a happy
conclusion. The Drummondville, Quebec native has produced at almost a
point a game rate and has been strong in the faceoff circle as well.
The better news is that heís only 25 years old, making just a shade
over $1 million and the Ducks have control over him as heís a
restricted free agent at seasonís end. Heís found some chemistry
recently with an oldster (Teemu Selanne) and youngster (Devante
Smith-Pelly) lately to form a second line scoring threat, an essential
for any contending team.
Dustin Penner is proof you can go home again. The big left winger had
a celebrated run 40 miles north of his present work location. He
experienced both triumph and despair with the Los Angeles Kings,
scoring the overtime goal that sent the team to the Stanley Cup Final
in 2012 and being a healthy scratch during a two goal season in 2013.
When doors of unrestricted free agency swung open on July 1, the Kings
had no cap room for a deal and with Getzlaf brokering a return to
Honda Center, Penner chose a one year run back home.
He started off slow and was a healthy scratch early on, but even a
concussion hasnít muted his on ice effectiveness or his post-game humor on Twitter. Though his detractors will always be around, this
player has been set up to win playing with Getzlaf and Perry. Heís
playing for a contract again and if he remains healthy, he will
produce a 20 goal season, although I didnít have him leading the NHL
in plus/minus at this juncture.
Thereís little doubt that if the Ducks have an extended playoff run,
Pennerís hands will have something to do with it. Heís the NHL version
of former NBA Robert Horry who had the nickname ďBig Shot Bob,Ē Penner
has two rings and is forging a season that will pay off with a
multi-year deal if he stays on track.
Thereís definitely some magic in Anaheim when it comes to European
goaltenders finding their way to the Honda Center. Coming into the
season, the incumbents Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth were undrafted
free agents. Hiller came first, inking a deal in 2007 after three
strong seasons with Davos in the Swiss League, five years later Fasth
signed after a long run in the Swedish Elite League. With Hiller and
Fasth both 31 and prospect John Gibson lighting up the AHL with the
Ducksí Norfolk affiliate, it would appear the heir apparent was in
Is it time for more magic? Could be.
Frederik Andersen was a seventh-round selection of the Carolina
Hurricanes in 2010, but never signed to play in Dixie. The towering
netminder (listed at 6-3, 250 pounds) re-entered the NHL Entry Draft
in 2012 and the Ducks made him their third round selection. A solid
2012-13 campaign in Norfolk (AHL) and an enduring lower body injury to
Fasth brought Andersen to the big club less than three weeks into the
As Fasth did last season, Frederik started hot, winning his first six
decisions with dual sterling save percentage and goals against
In a league that canít seem to find enough quality goaltenders, the
Ducks apparently have four if you assume Gibson lives up to the ďcanít
missĒ predictions. While itís never too early to start a good trade
rumor, itís unlikely the Ducks make a move until weíre far closer to
the trade deadline.
The question with the Ducks is if this magical start will continue to
a magic carpet ride to a championship? Last season, they were ready
from Game 1 and their start carried them to a Pacific Division title
in a shortened season. Though they had the home ice advantage as the
No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, they dropped a bitter game seven
at home thatís provided motivation early on.
Though no one on their blueline will make anyone forget Scott
Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, one of the guys who skated with those
two sees the where the possibilities could lead. Former Hart Trophy
winner Corey Perry believes that though only a quarter of the season
has elapsed, heís starting to see parallels between this squad and the
one that got him his ring.
ďIím starting to see similarities,Ē Perry revealed. ďYou look around
this room and there are a lot of new faces, there are a bunch of guys
in here who have a lot of character and want to win. The reason for
our early success is because where working hard and playing every game
like itís our last. If we keep doing that weíre going to be
Boudreau loves Perryís confidence, but he smartly pumps the brakes
when talk of titles are raised.
ďThe way training camp ended with us losing three in a row then losing
to Colorado opening night, I donít think we would have put this type
of streak together,Ē the likeable coach admitted. ďOnce they started
to compete, play for each other and battle for jobs because we have a
lot of guys playing well. I hope this team does remind Corey of the
one that won it all; Iíve got nothing to compare it to at this level.
The belief that they can win right now is up there with the
championship teams Iíve been on, but itís way too early. Itís
Though they possess the aforementioned depth in goal, none of the
current netminders are proven winners in the NHL post-season.
Hiller is a walk away free agent this summer and while that status
usually targets a player in a position of depth, heís the only goalie
with any post-season NHL experience. While he does have two post
seasons of experience, his 10-10 record and his Game 7 loss to Jimmy
Howard in last April support those who think he is not the one to lead
the Ducks to a second Stanley Cup championship.
Both Andersen and Fasth havenít never appeared in the NHL playoffs and
while they are deeper upfront than many of the Western Conference
contenders, the jury is out on if this defense corps is a championship
Francois Beauchemin is a reliable warhorse, Cam Fowler looks like heís
the player the Ducks were counting on when they drafted him four
seasons ago, and rookie Hampus Lindholm is on the radar of candidates
for the Calder Trophy. The issue with this gathering of Ducks defense
is that thereís no established offensive threat nor legitimate puck
stopper that championship teams usually have on the backline.
If GM Bob Murray does pull the trigger at some point on a deal, rest
assured it will be to bolster the defense.