In the salary cap era, where NHL teams have to be efficient with their money, it's important for each club to have a core group of players who set the foundation on which to build the rest of the team. This group often includes the players who consume the bulk of a team's cap space, while also providing the greatest on-ice impact.
With that in mind, Eye on Hockey introduces our summer series: "Core Values." We'll take the rest of summer to evaluate the group of five to seven players who make up the core of each team. Using criteria like point production, average age, how the players were acquired, total cost and cap hit, we'll detail which teams have the strongest cores and which need work. On top of that, we'll also gaze into the future to look at the players who could one day be part of this crucial group for each team.
The Anaheim Ducks stood at the end of the gauntlet that was the West with the best record in the conference and second-best record in the NHL. They finished just a point shy of the President's Trophy in 2013-14 and finished in third place in the entire NHL in 2012-13 season.
With head coach Bruce Boudreau at the helm, the Ducks have been playing some great hockey in the regular season. Now they need to just get it clicking a little better in the playoffs.
Bolstered by the long-term pillars of the franchise, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the Ducks have superstars who lead the charge and carry the bulk of offensive production. The duo scored 28 percent of Anaheim's goals last season.
The Ducks actually had quite a bit of turnover this offseason considering their success last year with some of the losses including Mathieu Perreault, Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, Jonas Hiller, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu. Even with that turnover, there's reason to believe the Ducks will still be a highly competitive team. That's particularly due to the addition of Ryan Kesler to take over the No. 2 center role. He can take on some of the tougher defensive matchups while also requiring teams to focus on the Ducks' second line more.
The Ducks are going to need younger players to step up to fill the other holes, but they have a good group led by Hampus Lindholm, who is a new addition to the Ducks' core group. There's also a pair of elite-level young goaltenders the Ducks will be relying on in Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, who will likely battle for the long-term No. 1 job over the next season-plus. They're just a few of the youth movement that could carry the Ducks into a brighter future ahead.
Here's a look at the rest of the Ducks' core.
Core Values: Anaheim Ducks
Players (Age, term remaining on contract): C Ryan Getzlaf (29, 7 years), RW Corey Perry (29, 7 years), C Ryan Kesler (29, 2 years), D Cam Fowler (22, 4 years), D Hampus Lindholm (20, 2 years), C Andrew Cogliano (27, 4 years)
Total Cap Hit for 2014-15: $29,769,167 (43% of salary cap consumed by six players)
Average age: 26
Total point production in 2013-14^: 108 goals, 169 assists, 277 points (61 percent of team's total point production)
^ - Stats do not include Ryan Kesler's 25-18—43 stat line from the Vancouver Canucks
Anaheim Ducks Player Usage Chart via ExtraSkater.com*:
*Circle size represents time on ice, shade of circle represents possession (5v5 Corsi For percentage -- total shot attempts for relative to total shot attempts against). Blue represents CF percentage of 50 or better. Red represents below 50 percent. The darker the shade, the further away from 50 percent.
About the Core
Ryan Getzlaf: After finishing as a runner-up in the Hart Trophy race last season, Getzlaf staked his claim as one of the best centers in the game today. He has 608 points over 633 career games, all with Anaheim. Getzlaf is the team captain and plays in every situation, averaging more than 21 minutes per game. Along with running mate Corey Perry, Getzlaf is under contract for seven more years, which will bring him to age 36. With his rugged two-way game, size and skill level, he could be effective for a lot of years assuming he stays healthy. With two Olympic gold medals and a Stanley Cup, Getzlaf has been on a path for success since he stepped into the league. Now he'll be charged as one of the two players expected to lead this club to another title.
Corey Perry: Coming off a 43-goal campaign, Perry's NHL career has been downright fascinating. Known primarily as an agitator most of his career, Perry's reputation is now more closely tied to his ability to produce. He won the Hart Trophy in 2010-11 after he scored 50 goals and 98 points. Since that season, only Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos have scored more goals than Perry's 145. He's still as agitating as ever, but Perry significantly cut down on his penalty minutes last season. Too valuable to be spending time on the box, the Ducks will have to hope that is the start of a trend. With Getzlaf and Perry, the Ducks have one of the more formidable top two forwards in the league and they will help carry this franchise for years to come.
Ryan Kesler: The Ducks were smart not to rest on the laurels of a great regular-season record. They went out and got Kesler and now have a No. 2 behind Getzlaf who can eat some of the tougher defensive minutes the team's captain was tackling. The Ducks somewhat sheltered Mathieu Perreault last season, but that won't be necessary with Kesler, who is good in the circle and already has a Selke Trophy to his credit. There's also going to be an expectation for Kesler to produce and he should in Bruce Boudreau's offense-friendly system. It is unlikely Kesler is going to hit the career-highs he managed in 2009-10 and 2010-11 with 75 points and 41 goals, respectively, but he should be better than the 43 points he put up last season. Assuming he can stay healthy and the younger wings the Ducks have at their disposal can step up into bigger roles, Kesler should have some good support to have a big year in Anaheim.
Cam Fowler: At just 22 years old, Fowler has grown into the Ducks' top defenseman. He led the team last season by averaging nearly 24 minutes a game. He also put up 36 points in 70 games and was part of the U.S. Olympic Team in Sochi. Fowler is still chasing his 40-point campaign he had as a rookie, but he also dealt with a concussion early in his career. Though not as productive, last season was probably his best as an NHLer. With that in mind, the best days of Fowler's career are probably ahead of him. It's pretty clear Bruce Boudreau has a lot of faith in Fowler with his minutes and deployment. Another bonus with Fowler is his cheap contract for a No. 1 D. And with only one year left on veteran Francois Beauchemin's contract, this D corps could truly be Fowler's to lead.
Hampus Lindholm: Not well known among NHL fans, Lindholm had a standout rookie season with the Ducks last year. He put up 30 points including 24 assists and averaged 19:26 per game. He's only 20 years old, but Lindholm makes a lot of good decisions on the ice and has some really strong skill. Though protected a bit in his deployment last season, Lindholm had the best Corsi for percentage of any of the Ducks' regular defensemen at 51.1 percent. The former sixth overall pick is going to figure prominently in the Ducks' plans again and he still has two full years left on his cheap entry-level contract, meaning Anaheim should expect a high-value return from its young blueliner.
Andrew Cogliano: Though likely to be bumped from the team's core group in the near future, Cogliano still has four years left on his contract and helps give the Ducks tremendous depth down the middle. Slotted behind Getzlaf and Kesler, Cogliano may benefit from some lineup flexibility next season that will see him get into more offensive situations. He played well last season with a career-high 22 goals and 42 points. Odds are Anaheim's goaltenders and guys like Jakob Silfverberg, Emerson Etem, Kyle Palmieri and/or Devante Smith-Pelly will supplant Cogliano, but with the term remaining on his contract and production from a season ago, Cogliano seemed like the most logical pick at the present time to be included as a core player.
Who's next in line
It might be better to ask who isn't next, but that's a testament to the Ducks drafting and prospect management over the last few years. The Ducks have built one of the very best goaltending prospect systems in the NHL. It allowed them to jettison Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller and hand the keys to a couple of young guys.
Frederik Andersen made the all-rookie team last year after posting a .923 save percentage in 28 appearances. The Danish netminder is 24 years old and will be looking to handle the bulk of the starting duties next year, but he's not going to be without competition.
John Gibson very well could supplant Andersen after he showed glimpses of readiness during his three regular-season starts. The 20-year-old also picked up a pair of postseason wins, but was between the pipes for the Game 7 disaster against the Kings in the second round. How he bounces back from that may tell just how ready Gibson is to be a full-time NHLer. There's no question he's one of the best goaltending prospects in the game today.
The Ducks also have youth at every other position and could look to get more out of that group. The team still has to re-sign Jakob Silfverberg and Devante Smith-Pelly, but once those deals get done, Anaheim should be looking for big things from both.
There's also 22-year-old Sami Vatanen on the back end. He is coming off a rather successful half-season with the Ducks where he put up 21 points in just 48 games. As he becomes a full-time member of the team next season, Vatanen could take another step forward and very well could be a core defenseman before long.
Other forwards who should figure prominently in the future of the organization are Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem. Bould be top-six forwards. The club also has high hopes for 2014 first-round draft pick Nick Ritchie.
The Ducks have the luxury of having two players at the top of their lineup that rival just about any team's in the league. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are star players who could be top-15 scorers annually in the NHL if surrounded by enough talent. That's such a great base to build the rest of the team on.
The addition of Kesler could be a huge one for the Ducks as they look to take some of that pressure off their top line. That's going to require players like Palmieri, Etem and Silfverberg to be ready to take the next step as top-six forwards and give Kesler some quality linemates who can help boost production. Also, if Kesler's two years remaining on his contract prove fruitful for the Ducks, they may ask him to stick around for a while longer.
Matt Beleskey, who saw time on the top line last year, could also be looking to boost his numbers to play a more prominent role on the team after putting up 24 points in 55 games last year.
There's really a litany of young forwards this team is going to be able to plug into various roles throughout the season to see what works best.
A lot of the Ducks' hopes for success next season will rest on the young goaltending tandem of Andersen and Gibson. The team signed Jason LaBarbera as a veteran backup for a little insurance, but the young guys are being handed the keys here. Neither has experienced a full NHL workload yet and they'll probably each get a chance to take control of the job as the season wears on. Both are promising prospects, but the team is banking on them being ready for a lot more right now.
The defense, led by Fowler also includes veteran Francois Beauchemin, whose age and one year remaining on his contract left him out of the core group despite his prominent role on the team. Ben Lovejoy is coming off a really good season as well, while Bryan Allen also provides a solid veteran presence on the back end. The club also added Clayton Stoner in free agency, which was an expensive signing. He will definitely bring more of a physical presence the Ducks' blue line lacked, but it comes at a premium price.
The success of the Ducks defense next season may hinge on whether Lindholm and Vatanen take another step forward developmentally. If they do, Anaheim could be looking at a pretty solid group on the back end that will help protect the young goaltenders, while also bolstering offensive production.
After big success over the last two seasons in Anaheim, the Ducks have raised expectations for themselves. Now they need the young guys surrounding the team's established stars to step up and take the organization to the next level in the very tough Pacific Division and Western Conference.