My first hockey memories as a fan were not my beloved Kings beating the rest of the league into submission the way they do now. In fact, my first hockey memories were not about the Kings at all, but about stupid little arguments with my high school peers about the Kings and the Ducks. I would try my best to argue that Blake and Visnovsky were indeed a superior pair to Niedermayer and Pronger. Then the Ducks won their cup in the glorious fashion and with a team that was similar in style to the Kings teams I saw win it.
This team was ill-fated from the moment that the next season began. Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer both sat out the first half of the season, and while they eventually returned, the Ducks never were consistently great after that. When they got rolling they were nearly unstoppable, such as when they nearly defeated the then champion Red Wings in a 2009 playoff series decided by a last minute goal.
For whatever reason, the Ducks ownership was unable to financially support the team like they did in the glory years (and this may have something to do with the legal issues of Samueli following the win). It felt like Pronger left for this reason, and once he and Niedermayer were gone, it was quite clear to everyone that the Ducks were going to be in for a long rebuild.
Rather, it was clear that they should have gone for a long rebuild.
Instead of cutting the budget further and trading assets away for draft picks and prospects, the Ducks decided to bolster their lineup with the likes of Visnovsky, Koivu and Kesler. They hired Bruce Boudreau to supercharge the team’s offense as he did in Washington. They even went a year without a direct AHL affiliate. It worked – the Ducks were at the top of the Western Conference with relatively little talent, at least in terms of name recognition.
From a roster perspective there were two related problems with the team. They never had great depth and they never paid up to keep depth players. Without building up a large amount of prospects and picks they never had enough currency to acquire a great depth player until the Ryan Kesler trade, which was only possible when the Ducks traded away the superior player in Bobby Ryan. Fans I know have praised Bob Murray for being a shrewd GM, but not overpaying for a veteran using young players is a sign that the cupboard is too bare. When the Ducks did find good depth players, too many like Perreault and Palmieri were lost for future picks or nothing at all.
With a decent group of prospects lead by Theodore and Ritchie the Ducks might have been able to add depth this year. The weight of their previous years of mismanagement, however, had already forced the team to acquire Hagelin as a third liner and Bieksa as a top-4 defenseman. Combined with the poor show at the beginning of the season, the commitment of salary to these players precluded the Ducks from making any sort of upgrade.
It could have worked out. And if you were the Ducks management, it would be very hard to justify wasting years of Getzlaf and Perry’s primes in favor of building up the depth of the entire team. I cannot help but feel that investment into the future during the window from 2010-2014, instead of operating in a win-now mode, would have paid substantial dividends. It’s hard to Getzlaf and Perry with a supporting cap not being a consistent cup contender, especially since the formula has already worked.