The Anaheim Ducks proved they're the most complete team in the NHL this spring and they're not going away anytime soon. With the core of the team expected to stay together, they've got a real shot at being the league's first back-to-back champs since Detroit turned the trick in 1997 and '98.
Young stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry still have another season on their entry-level deals and will only be restricted free agents after that. Conn Smythe Trophy winner Scott Niedermayer has two more years on his contract while fellow stud defenceman Chris Pronger has three. No. 3 blue-liner Francois Beauchemin has two years left.
Super checkers Rob Niedermayer and Samuel Pahlsson each have two years remaining on their contracts, the same number as first-line centre Andy McDonald. Linemate Chris Kunitz has another year.
Only two key players have their futures in doubt. Star netminder J.S. Giguere and veteran winger Teemu Selanne are slated to become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Giguere, who earned US$3.99 million this season, made it clear during the Cup final that he definitely wanted to stay with the Ducks. Selanne, who took home $3.75 million this year, was non-committal after sipping some champagne.
"Well, the last two years have been the best time of my life, and I think I played pretty much overall the best hockey in my career, too," said Selanne, who turns 37 on July 3. "So I've always said that I tried to keep playing as long as I feel the same passion and motivation and dedication that I've had the last couple of years.
"On the other hand, I've always dreamed about retiring on top. And I don't know if you can go out more on top than this. But I decided before the season that emotionally you're going to have some high and low points and I don't want to make any decision before I'm stable and I have the time to think about the future."
Either way, the Ducks are in good shape.
It's debatable what kind of impact their Cup win will have on hockey. The NHL is a copycat league and if other clubs try to mimic Anaheim's defence-first, hard-hitting style, the new NHL won't quite be what it had hoped coming out of the lockout.
That's not a shot at the Ducks, who were well-built and whose determination and work ethic was unmatched this season. They deserved the Cup. But from a fan's perspective, the prospect of other teams adopting the defence-first philosophy won't be terribly exciting.
The kind of hockey that Buffalo, Ottawa and Pittsburgh play in the Eastern Conference is what the league was hoping to see coming out of the lockout, a breathless offensive-minded style.
But the West figured it out before the East. Defence is back, along with the trap (without the clutch and grab). Most of the top goal-scorers in the league were in the East this year. Most of the top goals-against averages were from Western Conference goalies.
Anaheim is joined by Dallas, Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary and to some extent Detroit, Nashville and San Jose as teams that put defence ahead of offence. The Wings and Sharks have plenty of offensive stars but were forced to adopt - it's how hockey is now played in the Western Conference.
"They played really well defensively," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said of the Ducks. "They sit back with three, four guys, sometimes forecheck hard. And it's that defence that won them the series."
Perhaps more worrying for the league is that the Ducks were the first team since the Broad Street Bullies Flyers team of 1975 to win the Stanley Cup after leading the league in penalty minutes.
Not that the Ducks are boring. While they may be a patient team because of their defence-first philosophy, their hard-hitting approach is fun to watch. Bodies fly all over the ice. And the Niedermayer-Pahlsson-Travis Moen checking line is intriguing as they shut down the other team's top offensive threats.
"That line was unbelievable for us," said Ducks GM Brian Burke.
Maybe it was too greedy to have wanted run-and-gun teams like the Sabres or Senators to win the Cup. The Ducks are still more fun to watch than the pre-lockout, clutch-and-grab contenders.