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April 24, 2017 | 9:34pm ET
Stanley Cup or Bust for the Ducks
By Hannah Spraker

ANAHEIM, CA -- I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess the Ducks are not the Cup Champs in your playoff bracket this year? If they are, I'd venture to say that you're a Ducks fan.

Whether you have the Ducks getting to the Western Conference Final or booted out in the first round, they are not typically the favorite to win the Cup, but they are always a competitor.

Isn't that the problem, though? We've all heard the saying "always a bridesmaid, never a bride," right? Are the Ducks always a competitor, never a Cup Champ? Well, it is possible that that might be the case for this roster.

It has been a decade since the Ducks won the Stanley Cup, with a group of guys that were arguably one of the best teams, top to bottom, to ever call themselves Stanley Cup Champions. The amount of leadership on that roster alone was ridiculous -- between the Niedermayers, Chris Pronger, Teemu Selanne, J-S Giguere and so many other legendary names -- how could they not be successful?

Live In the Now

Fast forward 10 years: same Corey Perry -- little less goals. Same Ryan Getzlaf -- a lot less hair. The Ducks who hoisted Lord Stanley in 2007 now face to face with the ticking clock of their window to once again win the Cup. This time, not as rookies, but as captains.

The Ducks have claimed the Pacific Division for the past five years now, our under Bruce Boudreau, and now this one under their Stanley Cup coach Randy Carlyle. Now, we all know that Boudreau got the boot after yet another Game 7 loss. He had proven to be a stellar regular season coach (as he has proved this year in Minnesota, as well), but his team got caught with that Game 7 curse, year after year, which resulted in him losing his job.

Anyone else curious to see if that curse followed him to Minnesota or stays in Anaheim?

All jokes aside, are those Game 7 losses on the coaches shoulders? No. It is up to the guys on the ice to show up, night in and night out, which has not always been the case for this team.

Rumors are buzzing about the captaincy in Anaheim. Perry and Getzlaf made less than an impact in the postseason the past years, and looked absent in those Game 7 losses.

Is this their last chance to redeem themselves before getting stripped of the captaincy? I think so. Is this their last year to make that push for the Cup? No, but the window is most definitely closing.

They have one more year of overpaying Clayton Stoner and Kevin Bieksa, and then those contracts free up a significant amount of space to work with. After that, then it is crap or get off the pot. If they don't have a cup in the next 3-4 years then it’s done for this roster.

"Old" Guys Rule

First of all, let's call a spade a spade; no one is getting any younger here. Not everyone is Jaromir Jagr or Joe Thornton. This Ducks roster has eight players who are 30 or older. Most of which are forwards.

Getzlaf- 31
Kesler- 32
Perry-31
Boll- 30
Eaves- 32
Bieksa- 35 (sigh)
Vermette- 34
Thompson- 32

Age is most definitely a factor in this closing window, but what keeps the window open is whether that age is showing or not.

Ryan Kesler is 32 and a front runner for the Selke this year. An impact player, and shutdown forward who still puts up the points night after night. He hasn't shown signs of slowing down and is most definitely thirsty for the Cup.

Antoine Vermette is 34, and still a very serviceable third line center. He is still producing third line points at his age, and taking a decent amount of pressure off of Kesler when it comes to faceoffs.

Bieksa has quickly become the most controversial player in the Ducks lineup. If you want to see some salty fans, send a tweet out about anything he does in a game. At 35 years old, his age shows like it is tattooed on his face, and that wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for his $4 million/ year contract with a no-move clause. Don't start telling me that they will buy him out. BUDGET TEAM.

Getzlaf and Perry

We've seen the first crack in the dam this season with Perry. For the past two seasons, he has had the same amount of shots on goal (215), and while last year he put up 34 goals, this season it was a mere 19. You can call it a bad season if you want, but let's face it, we are never going to see the same Corey Perry that won the Hart in 2011.

Getzlaf, on the other hand, has had a great season with 15 G, 58A and 73PTS, proving he is still one of the best passers in the League. So what is the problem here? Many would say that he is too slow for the way the league is now. Although, that is not necessarily because of age. He has always played a slow, very methodical game and that is not going to change. That is how he has always played and he still has success in this league.

So, I would argue that when it comes to Getzlaf, he is not slowing down per-se. The problem is Perry and Getzlaf as a pair. That relationship needs to end permanently, as the "twins" the "dynamic duo," are officially ineffective.

When does Getzlaf play his best? When he has a winger that is gritty, that drives towards the net, and can take a beating. Last season, that winger that worked with Getzlaf was David Perron, this season it has been Patrick Eaves.

This season has been a bit of a transition year for Perry. He is no longer that rink rat down low by the net. He has changed his style of game to rely more on his shot than on a rebound. Perry is an underrated sniper, who still has a very high caliber shot. You give him time and space and he will beat you clean.

At 31, Perry has shown that he is no longer going to take a beating down by the net night after night. If they want longevity out of that $8 million contract, he has to be separated from Getzlaf and on that third line where he can do more damage than take damage. We already know Perry is that token A-hole that everyone beats on anyway. The guy who you love if you're a Ducks fan, but despise as a player or fan of any other franchise.

So, is age really the problem? Yes, that is why the window is closing, you can't expect your top guys over 30 to continue to produce 70+ points as they get older and the game gets faster. How you keep that window open for the next couple years is the real question.

Cup

How do you win a Cup in today's NHL? Depth. Depth. Depth. You MUST roll four lines -- every.single.night.

If that doesn't happen in 2017, Bob Murray has to put his foot down on some decisions here. Time to build a team from top to bottom in the summer, not at the trade deadline. For the past few years, the Ducks do well enough up until the trade deadline, relying on one or two lines, and then miraculously the team comes together with an acquisition like Eaves or Perron.

As dominant as the Cogs-Kesler-Silfverberg line is, that is not enough to win a cup. That might ride you through Christmas, but one line does not a Cup make. Look at Chicago -- there is a reason Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane do not play on the same line. And, um, how many cups have they had in the past decade? Oh yeah, three. Time to bite the bullet and make some big decisions if the vision of the Cup is on the horizon.

So what does that look like? Who does that look like?

My choice: Gabriel Landeskog. Acquire him up in the summer. Play him alongside Getzlaf. A proven goal scorer, playing next to a passer like he's never seen before, and ensuring that Perry and Getzlaf are split up.

Assuming Murray works his magic to pull off keeping Silfverberg, keep that second line in tact and continue to go with that chemistry into the following seasons.

I know, I know, "but Silfverberg is going to be exposed in the expansion." Hush. Murray needs to keep Silfverberg, and even if he can't get Bieksa to waive his no move in order to protect him, he can always cut a deal with the Golden Knights, giving something in return for not selecting him. Don't forget, Josh Manson is also an attractive pick for Vegas.

Re-signing Vermette is also important. Yes, he's 34, but, he is an extremely underrated player. Watch his game. He plays with great finesse, he is a great passer who can handle the puck and is great in the dot. Keep him on the third line with Perry and Ritchie, and that is a solid third line.

Let go of the idea of an enforcer. Anaheim is a big, gritty team, and they don't need a Jared Boll. That is an idea that Carlyle needs to just let go. Build a fourth line that can do some damage AND score, not just a line to go out there and hit. Ondrej Kase is your guy here. Don't get me wrong, Chris Wagner is a good fourth line guy, but to make this team the most effective that it can be, Kase needs to be on that fourth line.

Kase is strong on the puck and is extremely fast. Having that extra scoring depth on the fourth line would behoove this team's chances at a Cup. Furthermore, Thompson is a UFA at the end of the season so there's no telling if he will be back. Perfect opportunity to bring up guys like Max Jones or Sam Steele. (Perfect example: Tom Wilson gets the GWG in Washington's first playoff game this year)

Oh, and re-sign Cam Fowler... Obviously.

It's time for the pipeline to become the blueline. Odds are a defenseman will be shipped out in the summer. Whether that is Manson or Sami Vatanen or a prospect, someone is bound to leave, so this will most likely be necessary. The top-three defensive prospects in the Ducks system have had an adequate sample of the big leagues. Time to sink or swim. Time for Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour or Jacob Larsson to step up, maybe not on a top pair, but as vital cogs in the machine that is the Ducks blueline.

Jonathan Bernier has proven himself this year, big time. He is going to go and chase a contract that Anaheim will likely not be able to afford. As a result, if Bernier leaves, Murray needs to go after a backup that could play 30+ games if need be.

John Gibson has had a great season, but like I've said a million times over, he is injury prone and you never know when he is going to be out and how long that will be. A bonafide backup is going to be necessary. Could that be Jhonas Enroth? Perhaps. That is a season by season concern, in this league you need a backup -- that can be a legit starter if needed.

This team has talent. This team has leadership. This team is a competitor for the Cup, but that only lasts so long. In order to win a Cup in this short window, Murray has to all-in.

A big criticism that has always been on the Ducks shoulders, is that they always bring in a "supportive role." What they need is a "difference maker."

Beyond that, it is all about what happens on the ice, especially with the leadership. Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler need to prove that they can guide a team to a Cup. Kesler has proved this -- playing buzzer to buzzer, every game, every year -- that is why there is debate that he should have the Captaincy. Getzlaf and Perry have to show that they can get this done instead of riding on the coat tails of the 07 team.

That is how the Ducks go from competitor to champion. If it is a bust, then it would be smart of Murray to start stock piling some talent to rebuild that forward core.

Murray is that bridesmaid that has caught the bouquet at every wedding. Everyone nudging that "you'll be next," only to be met with disappointment. Time to join Hockey Tinder, Bob. Get out there. Get the Cup. No one is getting any younger.

But first, bring on the Edmonton Oilers.

Hannah Spraker is the Anaheim Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.

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