ANAHEIM, CA -- While the world waits on pins and needles to see what happens in Ilya Kovalchuk II, a small intriguing production in southern California is quietly gathering momentum.
The Anaheim Ducks, just three seasons removed from hoisting hockey’s Holy Grail, now find themselves in a rather perplexing situation.
They did answer one big question, when on August 8 they re-signed future hall of famer Teemu Selanne to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. The 40-year-old Finnish sniper should reunite with fellow countryman Saku Koivu and gutsy might mite Jason Blake to form the teams' second line. That is unless unrestricted free agent Paul Kariya comes back to the team he abruptly abandoned after losing in the Stanley Cup final in 2003.
Though Selanne was a member of the San Jose Sharks during the 2003 Ducks playoff run, the magic between he and Kariya from 1995-2000 was undeniable, as each popped in 225 goals and had perhaps the best chemistry ever between two wingers. Steve Rucchin centered the line, and unconventionally, also did the dirty work.
Kariya would add nice depth to the lineup, and reportedly, Teemu has spoken with him about coming back to Anaheim.
Kariya was the Ducks' first ever draft pick in 1993 (4th overall) and wore No. 9 while a member of the then 'Mighty Ducks of Anaheim'.
The current No. 9 is 23-year-old Bobby Ryan, the second overall draft pick in 2005. The beefy kid from Cherry Hill, N.J. tallied 31 and 35 goals, respectively, in the past two seasons while teaming with gritty Corey Perry and super-skilled center Ryan Getzlaf to form the teams' top line. The problem? Ryan is still a restricted free agent and recently rejected a 5-year, $25 million offer from the Ducks.
There has been speculation that the unsigned 2010 Team USA Olympian wants a three-year deal so he can test the free agent market in 2013, while there have also been whispers the New Jersey native desires a return to the East Coast.
Anaheim fans, most of whom are still bitter over the former No. 9's sudden departure in the 2003 off-season, would again be crestfallen if 2010 training camp were to open without the current No. 9.
Believe it or not, this is but the beginning of the question marks which probably have GM Bob Murray tossing and turning throughout the night.
"Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships." No longer the most original statement in the world, but still rings very true.
The 2007 Championship team was anchored by a Hall of Fame blueline which featured a Greyhound in Scott Niedermayer, and a Pit Bull in Chris Pronger; not to mention Francois Beauchemin, who was capable of body checks hard enough to loosen one's fillings.
Beauchemin is now in Toronto, Pronger was traded to Philadelphia after the 2008-09 season, and Scotty just retired in June. Long story short, three seasons later, there are zero defenseman remaining from that Championship roster.
The blueline was notably weaker last season, with father time hunting down Niedermayer, and all the others struggling to find chemistry.
Thirty-four year-old puck moving defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky was a late season acquisition, presumably acquired to replace the aging Niedermayer. At this point, only Lubo, Sheldon Brookbank, Brett Festerling, Brendan Mikkelson and Luca Sbisa are set to return to the blueline.
Brookbank appeared in 66 games last season and Festerling in 42, but Mikkelson only played in 28 games, and Sbisa in eight.
The most notable free agent defensive signings thus far has been 35-year-old Andy Sutton and 32-year-old Toni Lydman. The Ducks did also lock up their top draft pick, 18-year-old defenseman Cam Fowler, a Niedermayer admirer, with a three-year deal.
The 6-6, 245 lb Sutton was amongst the league leaders in blocked shots and hits last season while skating with the Ottawa Senators. Lydman is also over 200 lbs and comes from a good defense-first system in Buffalo. All in all, a lot of new faces on the blueline for the Ducks.
Coach Randy Carlyle will have his work cut out for him as he instills his philosophy on his new defensive charges and tries to create a chemistry which was sorely missed last season. The Ducks seemingly have a few more defensive acquisitions to make before the seasons begins.
On the offensive side, right wing Joffrey Lupul, who was acquired from Philly in the Pronger deal, played in only 14 games last season before being sidelined with a season ending back injury. The return of a possibly healthy Lupul, the impending signing of Ryan, the possible signing of Kariya, and the shoring up of a suspect blueline continue to make the Ducks the best quiet story of this offseason.
Fortunately, the Ducks did make a rather seamless transition at the most important position, as goaltender Jonas Hiller was rock solid between the pipes after replacing the incumbent J.S. Giguere last season. As for the rest of the story? Stay tuned.