SI Vault
 
9 ANAHEIM Mighty Ducks
Stephen Cannella
October 13, 2003
The surprise team of last season is working to keep its place among the league's elite
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 13, 2003

9 Anaheim Mighty Ducks

The surprise team of last season is working to keep its place among the league's elite

View CoverRead All Articles

SI RANKING
(1 BEST-30 WORST)

OFFENSE

11

DEFENSE

7

GOALTENDING

6

POWER PLAY

10

PENALTY KILLING

12

G.M. AND COACH

5

Second-year coach Mike Babcock may have a unique way with words—during last spring's Stanley Cup finals he introduced the terms "playing greasy" and "puck management"—but he usually gets his point across. Babcock's take on the coming season is, "The league won't be hunting Ducks in camouflage anymore."

What he means is, after coming within a game of winning the chalice, Anaheim will no longer have the element of surprise in its favor. With a shocking playoff run that carried them past the second round for the first time, the Disney-owned Ducks shed their reputation as a Mickey Mouse operation. In the off-season G.M. Bryan Murray continued to make savvy moves, most notably allowing captain and 25-goal scorer Paul Kariya to become a free agent instead of paying him $10 million to pick up his option. For roughly the same annual cost Anaheim signed free-agent forwards Sergei Fedorov (five years, $40 million) and Vinny Prospal (five years, $16.million). The 33-year-old Fedorov, a former league MVP, scored 36 goals for the Wings last season, and Prospal, 28, led the Lightning with 79 points.

Look for Fedorov to center an explosive first line that includes Prospal and Petr Sykora, who had a team-best 34 goals last season. With gritty Steve Rucchin, the new captain, and speed demon Rob Niedermayer, who was rejuvenated by a trade from the Flames last March, depth up the middle is a strength.

Another Anaheim strong suit was its seasonlong commitment to team defense. Goalie J.S. Giguere, whose playoff performance (1.62 GAA, .945 save percentage) won him the Conn Smythe Trophy, was helped by the cocoon that the Ducks created around him. Anaheim might have hoisted the Cup if it weren't for an impotent power play. This season Babcock will emphasize the importance of getting bodies in front of the net, not the excessive passing he feels was his team's undoing last year. "That was a skill power play," he says. "I'm more of a meat-and-potato guy."

Expect that message to get through loud and clear.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

1