Surely the folks who run the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim know what
they're doing. This is Disney, after all, not some Mickey Mouse
organization. These guys are emperors of entertainment, kingpins
in the corporate world, maestros of management. Why, Michael
Eisner himself, Disney's CEO, usually makes it a point to appear
front-row center in the Ducks' annual team photo just to
reassure everyone that the team is in good hands.
So you just know there's some superior reasoning behind the fact
that the Ducks 1) fired coach Ron Wilson after he led the team
to its best season ever in 1996-97; 2) fired Wilson's successor,
Pierre Page, after a 10-month tenure that was undercut by the
prolonged absence of top player Paul Kariya; and 3) hired Craig
Hartsburg, who as coach of the Blackhawks mocked Kariya. After
Hawks defenseman Gary Suter cross-checked the Ducks' star in the
jaw in February, sidelining him with a concussion for the rest
of the season, Hartsburg said that Kariya "had to pay the price"
for being near the net.
Hartsburg and Kariya apparently smoothed over any potential
tension with a face-to-face discussion at the start of training
camp, and it's a good thing. Kariya, the league's most talented
left wing, and Teemu Selanne, the NHL's most talented right
wing, will have to be as happy as Ducks on a Pond for Anaheim to
make the postseason. In a further display of its elusive logic,
Ducks management has provided that duo with scant support. After
Kariya (277 points in 220 career games) and Selanne (two
straight 50-goal seasons), the Ducks possess exactly zero
offensive threats. Worse, Anaheim has the NHL's least
intimidating defense, an anonymous group that surrendered the
second-most goals in the Western Conference last season. Goalie
Guy Hebert, usually a bright spot, is coming off a mediocre
season (.903 save percentage) and shoulder surgery.
At least the players have responded well to Hartsburg's
demanding practice and conditioning regimen, leading him to
predict, "We're going to surprise people." Maybe they will.
After all, the folks who run the Ducks must surely know what
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN TAMANIO [Drawing of golden hockey puck]
Last year left winger Paul Kariya, who played in only 22 matches
because of a contract dispute and a season-ending concussion,
led the league in points per game (1.41).
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--The Mighty Ducks have to find some puck-moving defensemen to
start their transition game for offensive stars Paul Kariya and
--Goalie Guy Hebert, who had shoulder surgery in April, must be
100% because his backup is inexperienced Patrick Lalime.