More than ever, we as fans and analysts search for defects in teams. Warts, flaws; there’s a growing itch to pick teams apart. And why not? With the advent of analytics, the casual observer is empowered more than ever to find those defects.
How teams achieve success has almost superseded whatever success they do achieve. The bottom line results just aren’t good enough to validate questionable tactics anymore. Fans are too smart for that now. Teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks come to mind.
Both have trounced their respective divisions. Both will surely finish the season with at least 50 wins. Both boast superstar-level talent at multiple positions. Yet there might not be two teams more heavily criticized for how they’ve achieved that success.
Takes The Puck To Win It All
Like it or not, possession metrics are perhaps the greatest predictors of playoff success. Since the 2004 lockout, only three teams have managed to win the Stanley Cup while not being a top ten possession team. One of those teams is the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins, whose numbers are negatively skewed by having Michel Therrien as their coach for the majority of the season.
Six of the past nine champions have been either first or third overall in possession. The 2007 Anaheim Ducks are among that group, finishing third in the league with a 54.5 score-adjusted Corsi. That’s an elite number, and it makes sense given the defensive might of that roster with guys like Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
This year’s iteration in Anaheim currently sits sixteenth in the league, clicking at a 51.1 percent rate. Not a terrible number. Historically though, not a number that seems to guarantee a Stanley Cup. Boston won the Cup with the exact same rating in 2011, yet it put them tenth in the league. Clearly, the field has improved.
Are The Ducks Defective?
The Bruce Boudreau-led Ducks are a team that thrives on lightning-quick zone exits and aggressive puck pursuit when entering the zone. When it works, it looks fantastic and can quickly blitzkrieg teams into submission, as their litany of comeback wins would suggest.
Puck-moving defensemen such as Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and Hampus Lindholm are the catalysts to this concoction. All three have an uncanny sense of when to rifle the puck to a streaking forward, and when to smoothly carry the puck through the neutral zone. Unsurprisingly, they’re some of the Ducks best possession players.
Throw in an all-time great like Ryan Getzlaf with a side of speed and smarts in Jiri Sekac, Rickard Rakell, and Matt Beleskey (among others), and you have all the ingredients for an extremely potent offensive powerhouse. The numbers reflect it too: Anaheim sits twelfth in the league in scoring chance percentage.
The problem is, when that system fails and the Ducks can’t impose their speed and forechecking, they seem to be at a loss for answers. An inability to sustain any kind of offense has been the theme of many a Ducks loss in 2014-15.
Anaheim’s Second Cup
History says that the Ducks have a tough road ahead of them. However, the Bruins win in 2011 with comparable numbers and great goaltending provides an interesting glimpse. Like that Bruins team, the Ducks have four excellent forward lines and a solid defense corps.
Daniel Paille was a celebrated depth guy during Boston’s run to the Cup. Is it really that hard to imagine that a guy like Rakell or Sekac being that Paille-like player for the Ducks? Both of those guys are easily better players than Paille.
What history also says, is that goaltending can propel any team forward in the playoffs. Look no further than the 2010 Canadiens, who were basically willed into the Conference Final by Jaroslav Halak. Frederik Andersen has the game to elevate the Ducks like that (as long as he actually plays).
It’s not even close to a guarantee that the Ducks bring a second Cup to Anaheim this spring. Look at their roster though, look at the talent they have at nearly every position, and it’s impossible to count them out, possession woes be damned.