With the exceptions of the lockouts, what we have here is the most public of the NHL's many embarrassments. It comes off as nothing but a desperate ploy for attention.
Here's what happened: In 1992 there was this awesome movie called The Mighty Ducks that came out. Everybody loved it. Today, its still highly regarded as, at the very least, a classic of sports movies. It was a big enough hit to spawn a pair of sequels, and get the career of one of its young leads, Joshua Jackson, off the ground. When the NHL was going through its early 90's expansion round, The Walt Disney Company decided it wanted to take a shot at this hockey ownership thing. It's Disney, they got their team, and what was the first name that sprang to mind? Why, since a kids' movie came out that was called The Mighty Ducks, the name Mighty Ducks must be popular now! Time to sponge off that popularity and call the team the Anaheim Mighty Ducks! Except, for even more of an embarrassment, the Mighty Ducks didn't even get the dignity of a proper team name. Officially, they were called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
The new team didn't use the sweater logo from The Mighty Ducks movie. It quickly mocked up a new design of a traditional goalie mask angled to resemble a duck bill. Their first coach was first-time NHL coach Ron Wilson who, aside from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1998 while coaching the Washington Capitals, has had a resoundingly average career. At least they got one thing right: Their first draft pick was Paul Kariya, who went on to become the first face of the team for a long time afterward.
Despite Kariya's presence, the Mighty Ducks got to be known as a low-scoring team for their first few seasons. They missed the playoffs in their first few years, although their first record of 33-46-5 was substantially better than that of their expansion-mates, the Ottawa Senators, who had managed to lose 70 games that same year, and the second-year San Jose Sharks, who lost 71. In the middle of their third year, the Mighty Ducks made a big trade for Winnipeg Jets star Teemu Selanne. He teamed up with Kariya and Marc Chouinard to form a very potent line, but the Mighty Ducks still kept on missing the playoffs. The Mighty Ducks didn't make the playoffs until 1997, finishing with a record of 36-33-13, their first winning record. Seeded fourth in the first round, the Mighty Ducks fought a hot contest against the Phoenix Coyotes, winning in seven games before being swept in the second round by eventual Stanley Cup Champions Detroit Red Wings. Through all the bumps and expansion pains, coach Ron Wilson was kept aboard, but after the season, he was fired for saying he would like to coach the Red Wings. On came Pierre Page for the 1998 season! And out went Paul Kariya for the year with a concussion. The Mighty Ducks made the playoffs again in 1999, but were swept by Detroit again, this time in the FIRST round.
In 2000, the Mighty Ducks finished again with a winning record, but missed the playoffs by four points as the Sharks slid into the final slot. That was the last we heard about how mighty the Ducks were for the next couple of seasons, heh heh. In the 2001 season, Selanne was traded to the Sharks for Jeff Friesen, Steve Shields, and a draft pick. Their coach - Craig Hartsburg, who had taken over from Page after he was fired after his first season - was fired during the year, and the Mighty Ducks did good enough for last place in the Western Conference.
The Mighty Ducks didn't go back to the playoffs until 2003, with new coach Mike Babcock. They had actually posted a good record to get there too - 40-33-9. Okay, it was actually 40-27-9-6 this year in NHL parlance because the league was going going with that stupid standings method reading wins-losses-ties-overtime losses, but still, the point standings don't lie, and the Mighty Ducks post 95. It was good enough for the seventh seed. They shocked the NHL by finally getting even with the Red Wings for all the times the Red Wings swept them, by sweeping the Red Wings! In the second round, the Dallas Stars loomed. The first game was the fourth-longest in NHL history, and Anaheim's Petr Sykora gave the Mighty Ducks the series lead being the overtime hero. Dallas lost in six, and in the Western Conference Finals, they played against their fellow Cinderella brethren: The Minnesota Wild. Anaheim swept Minnesota, and goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere emerged as the Mighty Ducks' MVP allowing Minnesota only one goal over the course of the entire series.
This bought the Mighty Ducks their first ticket to the Finals, against the New Jersey Devils. This Finals had a good storyline: The Devils had a star named Scott Niedermayer. He had won the Stanley Cup with New Jersey twice already. He had a ringless brother named Rob who was playing for Anaheim. The series went the distance, with the home team winning all seven games. In game six, Devils Captain Scott Stevens knocked out Paul Kariya, but Kariya returned to the game and managed to score the fourth goal. The Devils eventually emerged victorious after a hard series, but Jean-Sebastian Giguere was vaulted into elite company by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded after the Stanley Cup Finals to the MVP of the playoffs. In the playoffs, Giguere had gone 15-6, 7-0 in overtime, posted a breathtaking 1.62 GAA, and recorded a streak of 168 minutes and 27 seconds without letting in a single goal. It was only the fifth time in NHL history the Conn Smythe was given to a player on the losing team.
Kariya promised a return to the Finals, with a Stanley Cup to go with it, for the following season. I wonder how specific he was about that…. Okay, I don't really, because it doesn't matter. It didn't matter to Anaheim, because Kariya left over the offseason in which he made that promise, and it didn't matter to the Colorado Avalanche, the team he wound up playing for, because they didn't get that far either. Giguere couldn't repeat his playoff heroics, and the Mighty Ducks finished in twelfth place.
In 2005, the great lockout came along, and the Mighty Ducks actually seemed to have benefitted from the time off. The team was sold, first of all. Second, Teemu Selanne returned. Third, once his contract with the New Jersey Devils was up, Scott Niedermayer signed with Anaheim because he wanted to be on the same team as his brother. When hockey finally returned for the 2006 season, the Mighty Ducks, not expected to be much better than they had been in the couple of years immediately following the Stanley Cup run, did surprisingly well under the new rules. They posted a nice record of 43-27-12 for 98 points and didn't stop in the playoffs until the Western Conference Finals, where the Edmonton Oilers beat them in five game.
The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim weren't finished there, though. Oh, no! They were only just beginning! For the 2007 season, the first thing the team did was make a change that was badly needed since their creation - they dropped the embarrassing Disney moniker. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were, at last, no more. The players and fans could finally hold their heads up with far more pride than they were accustomed to after the official team name was changed to the Anaheim Ducks. Maybe the Disney association was embarrassing to them, but even so, the fans HAD loved their team, and apparently they wanted them to retain at least some kind of connection to their past. So the Ducks dropped the "Mighty" and became just the Ducks. Although the "Mighty" was missing from their name now, though, it certainly wasn't gone from their game. With Chris Pronger added to the lineup, a deadly scoring line featuring Rob Niedermayer, Samuel Pahlsson, and Travis Moen, and a great defense, the Ducks were a chic pick to win the Stanley Cup. In the first 16 games of the season, the Ducks didn't lose a single game in regulation, going 12-0-4, a record since broken by the Chicago Blackhawks. They rushed out to a record of 48-20-14, tied for second place in the conference (with the Nashville Predators) and league (beneath the Detroit Red Wings and regular season champion Buffalo Sabres, who won the Presidents' Trophy with victory numbers as a tiebreaker). After storming through the Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks, and Detroit Red Wings, the Ducks returned to the Finals to face their expansion-mates, the Ottawa Senators. The was not a Finals that was ever in doubt. Although three of the games were of the one-goal differential variety, Anaheim destroyed Ottawa in the attack, neutral, and defensive zones in the five games it took them to win the Stanley Cup. The Anaheim Ducks became the first California team to win the Stanley Cup, beating out their two rivals: The Sharks, and also their fellow southern Californians, the Los Angeles Kings, who were founded in 1967. The Kings responded by finally winning one of their own five years later.
The 2008 season started without Selanne and Scott Niedermayer, but Todd Bertuzzi and Mathieu Schneider made up for them. Selanne and Niedermayer had been thinking of hanging up their sticks, but they did return after all, and the Ducks finished with a 47-27-8 record. The Ducks haven't been back to the Finals since winning the Stanley Cup, but they've been far from bad. Currently, they're occupying the second slot in the Western Conference, just behind Chicago, and they have a legitimate shot at both the Presidents' Trophy and the Stanley Cup.
Despite the team's extremely young existence, they can field a fairly good all-time roster. Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne are probably the best-known faces of the team. Ryan Getzlaf is there. Jari Kurri, one of the great players from the legendary Edmonton Oilers dynasty, played a small window in a Ducks outfit, as did Boston Bruins great Adam Oates. Bobby Ryan made the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2009. Jean-Sebastian Giguere isn't a bad goalie to have around. They even have one of the fiercest enforcers in history in Brad May.
While the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, it was their 2003 run that does more to define them. After all, they held their own against one of the modern dynastic teams in the Finals, beat a much better Red Wings team in the first round to get there, and beat the Cinderella Minnesota Wild, a team which had, in both previous rounds, won after coming back from 3-1 series deficits. While the Ducks have a cross-southern California rivalry with the Los Angeles Kings, but that's not the big one. It seems there's a bigger rivalry with the San Jose Sharks up north, which makes sense because Los Angeles and San Francisco have been big cultural and economic rivals for a long time. And there is surprisingly a potent rivalry against the Detroit Red Wings, because the two teams have met in the playoffs so often, and lately they've been fielding comparable talent.
Let's not kid ourselves: We ALL know the Anaheim Ducks are primarily identified through one thing, and it's being The Disney Team. Yes, it's nice they're taking so many steps to distance themselves from that past, but it hasn't been nearly enough time yet. Although the original Mighty Ducks movie used a completely different sweater logo than anything the team came up with, the Disney Company produced a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-like Saturday morning cartoon in order to promote the team. Also, both sequels were unmistakable promos for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. D2 was far more subtle about it - Mike Modano of the then-Minnesota North Stars made a cameo, and the jerseys that gave the movie team its Duck Power were the NHL jerseys, but they didn't appear until the climactic third period. D3 was, without any sense of shame, leaching off the team and trying to tell everyone the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are a thing. The guy who announces the Big Game in the end spends half of it kissing cameo star Paul Kariya's ass.
And here I thought the New Jersey Devils were supposed to be the Mickey Mouse Team! That's what Wayne Gretzky once called them, anyway. Now, the Ducks actually have a lot going for them: Stability and quality are two very important factors to look for in a team, and the Ducks have both. The Ducks could damn well win another Stanley Cup very soon. But when your original team name looks like a way of telling The Great One to go fuck himself, well, just be prepared to sndure the relentless taunts and catcalls of hockey fans. A few years ago, a Ducks fan could always point to his team's Stanley Cup as a way of getting back at Kings fans poked at the Disney association too much, but the Kings are now the defending Champions, so they don't even have that anymore.