Are The Anaheim Mighty Ducks Really Best In The West?

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks are leading the NHL’s Pacific Division, and have moved past the Chicago Blackhawks in both the Western Conference, and the league overall for the best record in hockey. The smart money in Las Vegas has taken notice, with Anaheim now at 5-1 to win the Stanley Cup, narrowly better than defending champion Chicago, at 11-2. Is it time to take the Ducks seriously as one of the league’s elite?

Anaheim won the Cup back in 2007, but has missed the playoffs twice in the ensuing six seasons and only once have they even made the second round. But they seemed to be knocking on the door last year, getting the #2 seed in the Western Conference before having their hearts broken by the Detroit Red Wings in a seven-game first-round series.

The problem Anaheim had then, and a reason I picked them to lose that series to Detroit, is a lack of offensive balance. This team is very dependent on Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaff to generate any kind of production. Perry is having an MVP-caliber season, with 28 goals (2nd in the league) and 27 assists, while Getzlaff isn’t far behind at 25 goals and 33 assists.

Perry and Getzlaff, virtually by themselves, have made this the #3 scoring offense in the NHL. But when you get to the playoffs and things tighten up defensively, they need some help. Teemu Selanne is 43-years-old. Does he have any gas left in the tank? How about Dustin Penner? The Ducks brought him in for Los Angeles, but Penner hasn’t done anything to imitate his heroics from the Kings’ run to the Stanley Cup in 2012.

Anaheim’s defense is sound, ranking 9th in the league in goals against, and slightly better than that in shots allowed. This is in spite of going some through inconstancy at the goalie spot. Viktor Fasth was injured in late November, and has yet to return. Jonas Hiller has stepped in and done a manageable job, with a 91.3% save rate. But that rate ranks 27th in the league—its fine for some fill-in work during the dog days of the NHL season, but it will be woefully inadequate come playoff time.

That’s what makes the potential emergence of 24-year-old Frederik Andersen so interesting. Andersen has gotten three starts in the month of January and played well in all three, including turning back 34 of 36 shots last night in St. Louis.

That’s strong performance against the kinds of teams Anaheim will need to beat in the spring. Yesterday, TheSportsNotebook posted a sports history article about the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes. They were a team that had some goalie issues, and gave a shot to 21-year-old Cam Ward. The team won the Cup and Ward took home the Conn Smythe. I’m not saying that’s what would happen with Andersen, but it’s the kind of dice roll it’s worth taking.

As the tone of this article makes clear, I don’t think Anaheim is a real Stanley Cup contender yet. I need to see better goaltending, and a couple other guys step up on the offensive end. I’m much more ready to buy Perry for the Hart Trophy (given to the MVP) for how high he has lifted this team than I am on the notion that Anaheim would beat Chicago when it counts the most.