Why Selanne's return helps give Anaheim the division crown

Some of our more eagle-eyed readers may have already spotted two new additions to the Yahoo! Sports NHL page header. The first is the Ranker: An instant-reaction polling mechanism that gives fans the chance to vote for the better team in head-to-head matchups. This leads to a full team ranking page, and playoff projections. It's slightly addictive.

The other new link leads you to the massive collection of 2008-09 season previews that columnist Ross McKeon and Puck Daddy have been compiling this month. Also there: Our official standings projections for the season. Ross likes the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific. We think the Anaheim Ducks are winning the banner; and Teemu Selanne's official return only increases those chances.

Selanne inked a two-year deal yesterday, earning $3.25 million this season and $2 million the following year, with a $2.625 cap hit. (Sundin thinks that's about $10 million below market value ... kidding.)

What's interesting about the two-year deal is that this season could be the last hurrah for this flock of Ducks: The team has 15 unrestricted free agents next summer, including both Niedermayers and every defenseman not named Chris Pronger. Toss in the uncertainty about Brian Burke's return, and we could be seeing the biggest facelift in California since Joan Rivers's last one. (You know she's seen more knives than a Benihana, right? Just checking.)

But that's next year's model. This season, with Selanne and Scott Niedermayer in early, the Anaheim Ducks will win the division.

The Ducks spent a lot of time crying about their European vacation derailing their Stanley Cup defense at the start of last season -- and place your bets for which of the four teams over there now will bitch the loudest when they have a slow start.

But without Niedermayer, the team went 15-15-4; with him, the Ducks were 32-12-4. With Selanne in the lineup, the Ducks went 20-5-1. Imagine if those two lazybones had been there from the start?

Well, now they are.

There's been this silly notion that Selanne won't be the same player offensively as he's been for the Ducks. It's unfounded. He still had the offensive spark in limited time last season, and one assumes he'll be working with newbie Brendan Morrison as his pivot.

But Selanne's real value is on the power play, where he scored twice in his exhibition debut against the Vancouver Canucks. The Ducks' man advantage struggled last season, but Selanne had 12 power-play points in 26 games. That's an average of 5.90 points for every 60 minutes of 5-on-4 power-play time, and the best on the team.

Offensively, the Ducks are now better than they were a year ago at this time. Niedermayer obviously makes the defense better. Jean-Sebastian Giguere is still the goalie, Randy Carlyle is still the coach. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are motivated (but hopefully not intimidated) by off-season paydays.

San Jose's regular season success hinges on a rookie coach. The Dallas Stars have a chance to be a damn good hockey team, and should be the Ducks' toughest contender for the division crown.

But in the end, Anaheim's the pick if it can stay healthy. Solid depth, fantastic leadership (meh, even Pronger), great coaching; and the kind of selfless, team-first attitude that Selanne displayed in re-signing. If this is the last flight for these Ducks, it'll be a successful one.

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