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Turnover and the Stanley Cup Champions: Part 2

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The second installment in looking at Cup-champion turnover and whether any lessons can be drawn for the Caps.

NHLI via Getty Images

In the first installment of our series comparing turnover on the Capitals from their 2018 Stanley Cup-clinching roster to that of the upcoming season, we looked at the turnover experienced by the Hurricanes between their Cup win and two seasons later. In this second installment, the Caps are compared to the 2007 champion Anaheim Ducks.

2007 Champions: Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks have probably been one of the more overlooked teams in the middle of the last decade. Under first-year head coach Mike Babcock in 2002-03 they snapped a three-year playoff drought with a run to the Stanley Cup Final. They followed that up by missing the playoffs again in 2004, and then bounced back to reach the conference final in 2005-06, falling to the Edmonton Oilers under another first-year coach in Randy Carlyle. Despite that middle season in which they missed the playoffs, the Ducks had more playoff wins (24) over those three seasons than did any other club in the NHL.

In the season leading up to their Cup win, they proved to be a pretty decent team, tying Nashville for third in points with 110 and tied for eighth in wins with 48. They were a top-ten team in both offense (tied for eighth with Toronto at 3.10 goals per game) and defense (seventh at 2.41 goals allowed per game), and were the only team to be top-five on both sides of special teams – 22.4 percent on the power play (third) and 85.1 percent on the penalty kill (fifth). It was a deep and solid team.

The Ducks slipped the following season, finishing with eight fewer standings points in the regular season (102) than the previous season and eliminated in the first round of the postseason by the Dallas Stars in six games. It left the question whether the 2008-09 season would be a return to greatness or further slippage. Here is their starting lineup for the 2008-09 season compared to the lineup in their Cup-clinching game in 2007:

Outgoing…

Of the 19 players iced in Game 5 of the 2007 Stanley Cup final against the Ottawa Senators, five were out of the lineup by the start of the 2008-09 season – two wingers (left winger Shawn Thornton and right winger Dustin Penner), two defensemen (Sean O’Donnell and Joe DiPenta), and center Andy McDonald.

The departures took a variety of forms over more than a year. Thornton was the first departure, signing with the Boston Bruins as an unrestricted free agent in July 2007. Dustin Penner’s departure came about thanks to the Edmonton Oilers who, in an effort to take advantage of a difficult salary cap situation in Anaheim, tendered an offer sheet to Penner. In August 2007, the Ducks declined to match the offer, and Penner was off to Edmonton. In December 2007, McDonald was traded to the St. Louis Blues for Doug Weight and other assets. DiPenta played one more season with the Ducks before departing for Sweden after the 2007-08 season, his last in the NHL. O’Donnell was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for “future considerations” in September 2008, the last of the five in this group to leave Anaheim.

Incoming…

The incoming group to take the ice to start the 2008-09 season had a distinct “ex-Caps” familiarity about it. Three of the five new players – Ken Klee, Brendan Morrison, and Brian Sutherby – either did or would play for the Caps at some point in their respective careers. Sutherby was traded to Anaheim by the Caps in November 2007 for a second-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. Morrison was an unrestricted free agent signed away from the Vancouver Canucks in July 2008. Klee was obtained via trade from the Atlanta Thrashers (Winnipeg Jets) with Brad Larsen just before the start of the 2008-09 regular season for Chad Painchaud for Mathieu Schneider.

As for the others, Steve Montador was an unrestricted free agent signed away from the Florida Panthers in July 2008. George Parros was, in fact, a Duck when Anaheim clinched the Cup in 2007. However, after appearing in only five postseason games, the last of which being Game 2 of the second round matchup against Vancouver, he did not appear again in the postseason.

Having come in, how did they fare? Klee’s tenure in Anaheim was brief and unexciting, as he dressed for just three games before being claimed off of waivers by the Phoenix (Arizona) Coyotes, for whom he played 68 games in his last NHL season. Morrison would be another waiver casualty, although he dressed for 62 games before being waived and claimed by the Dallas Stars in March 2009. Sutherby made it three-for-three for in-season moves featuring once and future Capitals, dressing for 17 games with the Ducks before being traded to Dallas in December 2008.

Of the other two players, Montador lasted until March before he was traded to the Boston Bruins for Petteri Nokelainen, while Parros would be a fixture in the Ducks’ lineup over six seasons with the club, appearing in 356 games for the team (currently 22nd in team history) before departing as a free agent to Florida after the 2011-12 season.

COMPARISON

Age
Anaheim, like Carolina the previous year, iced a lineup that leaned on the older side with an average age of 28.9 years old. In swapping out five skaters from the Cup-clinching lineup leading up to the opener of the 2008-09 season, the Ducks did not get younger, but they also didn’t get older. The 13 returning skaters averaged 28.9 year of age, while that of the five departed skaters was 28.8 years of age. However, between 2007 and the 2008-09 season opener, they did retain two of their three oldest players from the 2007 championship club – Brad May (35 for the Cup clincher) and Teemu Selanne (36). May did not finish that 2008-09 season with the Ducks, traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in January 2009 for future considerations. Selanne would remain with the Ducks through the 2013-14 season, when he reached his 43rd birthday.

Similar to what we noted in the look at Carolina’s turnover in the first installment on this topic, the Caps likely returnees for the 2019-20 season skew younger than the Ducks and will not return a player from their Cup-clinching lineup who was 35 years old when they won the chalice. None of them will be 35 when they open this season (Alex Ovechkin will be 34 years old). Here is how the teams compare in returnees from their respective Cup-clinching rosters:

Production

The 13 returning skaters for the Ducks off that 2007 Cup-clinching lineup accounted for 182 of the 254 goals scored in the 2006-2007 regular season (71.7 percent). Only Selanne of that group recorded more than 25 goals (Chris Kunitz and Ryan Getzlaf had 25), posting 48 for the season. In that respect the Ducks resemble the Caps, whose Cup-winning 2017-18 team featured only Alex Ovechkin as a 30-plus goal scorer among those players likely to return this October (49). Seven of the 13 hit double digits in goals scored, falling short of the nine skaters likely to return for the Caps who finished in double digits in 2017-18.

The five players having departed that 2007 Cup-winning lineup for the Ducks made up a productive group, which might be a bit surprising given its lack of star names. These five players accounted for almost a quarter of the goals scored by the Ducks in the regular season (62 of 254), although the goal total was concentrated in two players – Penner (29 in what was his first full NHL season) and McDonald (27, coming off his career year of 34 in 2005-2006).

The Caps are likely to return a more productive group, at least in terms of goal scoring in the championship regular season, as we noted in the first installment. That is true (76.6 percent of the team’s regular season goal total), even with a profile that is similarly weighted toward one player (Alex Ovechkin with 49 goals in 2017-18).

Goalies

It was not supposed to be as difficult a road to the Cup for Jean-Sebastien Giguere as it would become. He was a 13th overall pick in the 1995 Entry Draft (Hartford Whalers), the first of 27 goalies taken in that draft. Two seasons later he made his NHL debut with the Whalers. Then he was traded (to Calgary in August 1997) and traded again (to Anaheim in June 2000). It would not be until 2001-2002 that he would hit the 20-win mark, and he did not make his first playoff appearance until the 2002-2003 season, but what a postseason debut it was. He backstopped the Ducks to the Stanley Cup final, ultimately going 15-6, 1.62, .945, with five shutouts before falling to New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of the Cup final.

In their next postseason appearance, the Ducks opened with Ilya Bryzgalov in goal after weathering a number of injuries to Giguere in the regular season. Giguere did appear in six games over two rounds in the playoffs, but his numbers wilted compared to his debut postseason: 3-3, 3.39, .864. The unsettled nature of the Ducks’ goaltending persisted into the 2007 playoffs in which Bryzgalov got the nod to open the postseason with Giguere on leave to address a family emergency. But he returned and once more was brilliant. In backstopping the Ducks to the Cup, he appeared in 18 games, went 13-4 (one no-decision), 1.97, .922, with one shutout. He could not recreate that magic, though. In seven more career postseason games over two seasons (both with Anaheim), he was 2-4 (one no-decision), 3.04, .902.

Compare that to Holtby, who had his own ups and downs in his early career. A fourth round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft (10th of 23 goalies taken), he reached the NHL in the 2010-11 season, but he appeared in only 21 games over his first two NHL seasons. Despite a sparkling 1.95/.935 performance in the 2012 playoffs, including a series win over the defending champion Boston Bruins, his role was uncertain the next two seasons. He did appear in 36 games of an abbreviated 48-game schedule in 2012-13, but he started only 45 of 82 games the following season, three other goalies (Philipp Grubauer, Michal Neuvirth, and Jaroslav Halak) splitting the other 37 starts. It would not be until the 2014-15 season that Holtby, in his fifth NHL season and six years after he was drafted, would take the number one spot firmly in his hands.

What Holtby did have in his early career that was different from Giguere was frequent, in addition to frequently successful appearances. As pointed out in the first installment, in his first five postseason appearances (covering 59 starts) he posted a 2.00 goals against average, a .932 save percentage, and four shutouts, among the best in each category over the period. It just did not translate into a winning record (29-30). It was that disconnect between win-loss record and production numbers that haunted Holtby until he finally won the Cup with the Caps in 2018. One might say that both Giguere and Holtby had to endure personal challenges (albeit of a different nature) that frustrated their performance and, by extension, that of their teams before leading their teams to the big prize.

CONCLUSIONS

Anaheim and Washington carried and carry over a comparable profile of returnees from their respective Stanley Cup-clinching win to the season opener two seasons later. Both teams bring back more than 70 percent of their goal scoring production, although the baseline for each is dominated by a single player – Teemu Selanne from the 2007 Ducks and Alex Ovechkin from the 2018 Capitals.

The teams differ in the age profile of the returning skaters. In this respect, Anaheim resembles the 2006 Cup winners, a club that retained a number of older players (six players who were 30 or older for the 2006 Cup-clinching win, two of them older than 35), while the Caps will not ice a player in the 2019-20 opener having reached the age of 35 when they played in the 2018 Cup-clinching win.

Anaheim has been a frequent postseason participant since winning the Cup in 2007, appearing nine times in 12 seasons. But only twice in that time did they advance past the second round, and they have not made an appearance in the Cup final in those 12 seasons. Except for the age issue, the Caps and Ducks have some similarities in terms of how they moved on from winning the Cup. And that makes what bears watching is whether the Caps can earn their way deeper into the postseason than have the Ducks in 12 seasons since winning the Cup.