Anaheim Ducks: Will Bruce Boudreau Keep the RPG Line Together?

By Bobby Kittleberger

There’s a growing assumption that the Bobby Ryan fallout with the Anaheim Ducks has, at least for the meantime, been alleviated.

If this is true, then Ducks fans can breathe a sigh of relief and start to look forward to the upcoming 2012-2013 NHL season, where they will see all Anaheim’s star players in familiar colors. What they might not see, are Anaheim’s star players on familiar lines.

Bruce Boudreau has never been shy about moving his top scorers to other lines, especially in regards to Ryan, who spent time last year on all four lines. The concept is that as a coach you divide up your talented players more evenly between the top three lines, then designate your fourth line as the “checking” or “energy” line. For lack of a better term you could say he’s, “spreading the wealth around”.

The effectiveness of this method is still up for debate, and in Anaheim’s case, things haven’t looked too good. Offensive output for Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry went down significantly last season, and though Ryan maintained his usual 30-ish goals and 60-ish points, the Ducks as a whole struggled offensively, both 5 on 5 and on the powerplay.

The Ducks powerplay took an incredible nose dive last season, plunging from being tied for second in 2010-2011, to 21st in 2011-2012. Could it be that breaking up the RPG line isn’t good for the Ducks offense as a whole? Traditionally on the power play, Ryan would play on a line with both Perry and Getzlaf (and sometimes Teemu Selanne) who were his most typical linemates. However last season we saw Ryan on the second power play unit with a mix of Andrew Cogliano, Niklas Hagman, Saku Koivu and some randon youngsters. Is it possible that the mixing up the lines so much could have caused problems with chemistry on the power play as well?

You can’t argue with results, and last year, the Ducks’ results weren’t so great, especially considering their powerful offensive talent.

So what will Boudreau do this year? He has largely the same group of players that he started with, minus a few depth guys in the departed Hagman and Jason Blake. Those guys will likely be replaced with the up and coming Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem. Even if the output from these guys is higher than expected, not a whole lot will have changed on Anaheim’s depth chart in terms of scoring threats. Since this will be the first full season with Boudreau behind the Ducks bench, why would we expect him to change his strategy before being allowed a full season to implement it? We shouldn’t and as much as it might be painful to watch the beloved RPG line dismantled after a couple losses, it shouldn’t be surprising.

The theory that spreading out your offensive talent results in more offense over each line, only makes sense if you view your players in terms of isolated success. That’s not to say that Boudreau doesn’t have a healthy understanding of what it takes to develop chemistry between line mates, but he did have Alexander Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom in Washington. It’s just a matter of style really. With the speed game of the Capitals, Ovechkin and Backstrom just had a way of making the players around them better. That’s not the style in Anaheim. The RPG line was built up as unit. They’ve always functioned that way, and they’re just not the same players when they’re going solo. Again, that’s not a knock on their ability, or a knock on the Caps style. It’s just the way things were setup.

Regardless of what Boudreau decides, one thing is for sure: He’ll change the landscape of the Ducks offense. He’s a speed guy, and not nearly as defensive minded as Randy Carlyle was. Whether Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan can accomplish that better on one line, or separately is yet to be seen, and odds are, Boudreau will try both methods. I wouldn’t be surprised though if he has far more patience for the three scoring line approach. Only time will tell.

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