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Ducks Lead the Way With Hybrid Hockey

By June 7, 2007

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They were loving their Ducks in Anaheim on Wednesday night, but life was back to normal within a few hours.

The Anaheim Ducks had their moment in the Southern California spotlight. Because of Paris Hilton, that's pretty much all it wasóa moment.
Hilton's release from jail early Thursday subjugated the Ducks to afterthought status just hours after they reached the pinnacle of their sportówinning the Stanley Cup.

But while Paris settles in back home and the Ducks plan Saturday's Stanley Cup rally (Sorry, no parade), the hockey world debates the Anaheim style and what it means for the future.

Will size and intimidation chase skill out of the NHL? Conventional wisdom says teams model themselves on the current champion, and this champion was more than a little belligerent.

"They slugged their way to the Stanley Cup, ruling the NHL with their fists," writes Lee Jenkins at the International Herald-Tribune. "They led the league in penalties, fights and, in the end, knockouts."

Last week, Roy MacGregor at Globeandmail.com half-jokingly labeled the Ducks The East Katella Avenue Thugs. Leading up to the final game, Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province called Anaheim's dominance a victory for "pimp-slapping" hockey.

But the real legacy of this Ducks' team is its versatility, an ability to tailor its game to counter any opponent. As Scott Burnside points out at ESPN.com, the oft-cited divide between skill teams and physical teams is a false argument:

(R)ather than reflecting the "old" NHL, where teams like New Jersey used to lie back in the neutral zone, grab onto opposing players as they tried to gain the offensive zone and thus limiting much offensive creativity, the Ducks seem to have found the perfect hybrid of the old and the new.

Under Anaheim GM Brian Burke's tutelage -- and making good use of prospects acquired by Murray when he was Ducks GM -- Anaheim has achieved success by using a lethal blend of size and speed to shut down the Senators.

That's the view from the bottom of the league as well, where a team like the Philadelphia Flyers is looking to several successful models in trying to rebuild from a disastrous season.

"I think we want to be a combination of all three teams [Anaheim, Ottawa and Buffalo]," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. "They are all good, competitive teams. We want to be a good, competitive team. When we look at players, size is an issue, skill is an issue and skating is an issue."

Ken Hitchcock, who won a Stanley Cup in Dallas and now coaches the dreadful Columbus Blue Jackets, offers what might be the perfect epitaph to the 2007 Stanley Cup champions:

"The thing that is most reassuring to me is that the two teams in the finals are the two teams that are the most committed to both ends of the ice," Hitchcock said. "Size is relevant, but when you compete at the level these two teams are competing at, as much as the game has changed, and it has changed as far as obstruction goes, it still goes to the teams with the most competitive players."

See Also:

  • The Unvarnished Hockey Moment
    The Anaheim Ducks raise the greatest trophy in sport, putting the Ottawa Senators out of their misery and delivering the Cup to the Pacific coast for the first time since 1925.
  • So Much for the Stanley Cup Drama
    Hockey being a sometimes haphazard game, a little luck might have turned one of those Ottawa losses into a win in this Stanley Cup Final. But never mind the close scores.
  • Backstabbers and Fakers: Ducks and Sens Stoke the Media Machine
    If you skipped all the pregame hoo-ha before the Ducks and Senators resumed business Monday night, you missed a fine old-fashioned media brawl.
  • Contrition Rears its Head in the Stanley Cup Final
    "They did the right thing here. It's a situation where it was a head blow and that's obviously something the league's trying to crack down on. I don't blame them in any way."
  • 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Complete Results

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