With three wingers gone in free agency, two thirds of their second line set to retire soon and two thirds of their first line with expiring contracts at the end of next season, you might think that the Anaheim Ducks would have been inclined to pursue offensive additions during the nearly completed NHL offseason.
However after drafting a defender in the first round and making Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen their two biggest free agency acquisitions, the Ducks appear to be shoring up one of their weaker spots last season, and going for broke in 2012-2013.
Maybe there’s some confidence that a full year of Bruce Boudreau behind the bench will make Anaheim the kind of offensive juggernaut that the Washington Capitals became under Boudreau’s direction. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that the Ducks believe they can win with the offense they have, and that a little more help in front of Jonas Hiller will be enough to make them competitive in the Western Conference this year.
So what kind of pairings can we expect from Anaheim’s revamped defense? Let’s take a look.
With Sheldon Brookbank having departed via free agency and Lubomir Visnovsky not likely to return to the Ducks’ roster, despite the possibility of his trade to the New York Islanders being negated, the Ducks defensive pairings will certainly look different.
Francois Beauchemin was a consistent part of Anaheim’s first pairing last year because of his physicality and experience, and I wouldn’t expect that to change this year. Cam Fowler who saw a bit of a slump in his sophomore year is still the future of the Ducks defense and should continue to see more than 20 minutes of ice time each game. He’s likely to be Beauchemin’s partner on the first pairing.
This is where Souray and Allen could factor in. Luca Sbisa was a regular on the second pairing last season, and for the sake of his development, I’d expect that to continue. Since Sbisa is a more physical player I think we’ll see Allen playing alongside him as opposed to Souray. Souray is a lot like Sbisa in style and size, and I think Boudreau will want Souray on the third line in addition to the power play unit. Allen and Sbisa are also both great shot blockers and with the possibility of some youngsters taking on second line responsibilities the Ducks will want some reliable defenders to back them up.
We’re left with a combination of Toni Lydman, Souray and Nate Guenin. Guenin will probably be the seventh man and won’t be likely get much playing time baring an injury to any of the top six. Having Lydman and Souray available for third line duty is a great situation for any coach, as on many teams they would be considered second or even first pairing material. Since Boudreau has stated that he wants to roll three scoring lines, it would make sense for him to have a more offensively capable third pairing.
While the Ducks may not be the powerhouse defensive team they were when they had Chris Pronger and Scott Neidermayer on their roster, they’re a very balanced defensive team. Boudreau is certain to mix the pairings up as he sees fit, but as general rules of thumb for the Ducks defense, I would expect to see a strong third pairing and a lot of Fowler and Beauchemin leading the way.