The playoffs are done, so that means the offseason is now upon us. With the 2013-2014 season now finished, many important dates are coming up for franchises across the league. The 2014 NHL Draft begins on June 27, and free agency begins a few days later on July 1. Every team is going to be looking to move toward the ultimate goal: the Stanley Cup.
For the Anaheim Ducks, this past season was one of progress. They won their 2nd consecutive Pacific Division crown. In that run, the Ducks had a stretch where they won 18 of 19 games, soaring to the top of the Western Conference.
The team finished with 116 points, one of many franchise records set by the team (including wins and goals) and earned the top seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, starting the 1st year of their monster contract extensions signed last spring, played like the superstars they are, with Getzlaf finishing as a Hart Trophy finalist for MVP of the NHL.
But as we all know, the positives really ended there. Because for a second straight season, the Ducks flamed out to end their season, ending with a no-show in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Kings that was arguably worse than the game they played against Detroit last season. As much as the team preached “Unfinished Business”, they once again failed to close out a 3-2 series lead with home ice and exorcise the demons of last year.
One of the biggest ways the Kings exposed the Ducks was their lack of strength down the middle. While Los Angeles could throw out Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll, and Mike Richards out on the ice very comfortably, the Ducks lacked that strength down the middle. With Getzlaf facing Kopitar constantly, none of the other centers really stepped up much.
For a team that had some power play struggles throughout the season, the Ducks really needed strong play at even strength. However, the Kings won the puck possession battle in 5 of the 7 games they played. Puck possession is usually a good indicator of which team will win the game: if a team has the puck more, they generate more shots and, usually, more goals. The best way to start puck possession is in the faceoff circle, where the Ducks were consistently beaten throughout the playoffs.
Now, there are rumors of the Ducks being in the market for a center. The biggest names are Jason Spezza, who has apparently asked to be traded out of Ottawa, and Ryan Kesler. Both are great fits for the Ducks: they are premier faceoff winners (53% for Spezza, 52% for Kesler) and drive possession play (52.3% Corsi for Spezza, 52.4% Corsi for Kesler).
To put that into perspective, Mathieu Perreault led the Ducks in faceoff % at 52%, but took about 550 fewer faceoffs than either player, and both Kesler and Spezza have higher Corsi numbers than any centerman on the Ducks (Corsi is a statistic that measures possession: all shots, whether on goal, blocked, or missed, are counted. If the number is over 50%, then the team has more shots for than shots against while that player is on the ice). Both also help on the Power Play, an area where the Ducks struggled for long stretches this season (Spezza as a creator and puck-handler, Kesler as a net-front presence, where he excels).
However, I believe that the correct decision is for the Ducks to find a way to land Ryan Kesler. Either center would be a fantastic add to a team that needs to upgrade down the middle. Then, why should the Ducks want to get Kesler instead of Spezza?