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Canadian Press
8/29/2006 4:37:01 PM

The Anaheim Ducks are primed for a run at the Stanley Cup this season, a young and talented roster seasoned by last year's run to the Western Conference final.

Oh, and it's a club that's added superstar defenceman Chris Pronger.

"I know it's fashionable in our line of work to downplay your chances going into a season because all your planning is still just on paper," says Ducks GM Brian Burke. "Until we drop the puck it's guesswork. But we have to accept the fact that expectations have risen. Not only because our team overachieved last year but also because we added a big piece. And we are being picked by some to win the West, being picked to go to the Cup final, being picked to do this and being picked to do that.

"Good organizations, as their teams get better, manage those expectations. I have high hopes and high expectations as well."

There's apparently a buzz in their market, too. The Ducks are projecting being at 10,500 season tickets by the time the season opens, up from 9,000 at the same time last year.

"When the Samuelis bought the team (in June 2005), that was a big story here, they're highly respected and well-liked Orange County people," Burke said of his owners, Henry and Susan Samueli. "Once Disney got out of the hockey business and they bought the team there was an immediate response."

The key to Anaheim's enhanced Cup chances is the 6-6, 220-pound Pronger, a former Hart and Norris Trophy winner who forced his way out of Edmonton earlier this summer. The Ducks may have two of the three nominees for next year's Norris Trophy voting on their blue-line. It's an embarrassment of riches.

"You could be a GM for 20 years and not have a Chris Pronger on our team," Burke said from his Anaheim office this week. "You could be a GM for 20 years and not have a Scott Niedermayer on your team. The chance to have them both?"

Priceless, as the commercial says. Although in this case the two horses will earn a combined $13 million US, exactly 32.5 per cent of Anaheim's current $40-million cap number heading into the season.

Luckily the Ducks can ride some young and talented forwards once again this season who don't earn a whole lot of money. Ryan Getzlaf ($714,400), Corey Perry ($684,000), Dustin Penner ($450,000), Stanislav Chistov ($800,000,) and Chris Kunitz ($962,500) are all expected to contribute even more this season.

They'll need to after Burke had to give up 22-year-old winger Joffrey Lupul and his 28 goals in the Pronger deal.

"We think we can make up for the offence that we lost with Lups," said Burke. "We're going to have to replace those goals by committee, which means that Penner is going to have to do more, Perry is going to have to do more, Chistov is going to have do more - but we're confident we can do that."

Chistov, 23, is back with the Ducks after playing in Russia the last two years, a nice bonus for Anaheim after losing Lupul, whom many believe has the talent to be a 40- or 50-goal scorer.

"We know Lups is going to bite us right in the butt before his career is over," said Burke. "This is a guy that's going to score big goals against us and make things happen in Edmonton. There will be nights where we'll be saying: `What were we thinking?' But you can't worry about what a guy does when he moves. You have to worry about what you bring back."

Burke may not be done dealing. J.S. Giguere is expendable with last season's emergence of Ilja Bryzgalov. The Russian goalie is a restricted free agent right now but Burke is confident he'll get him signed. With all 30 teams in the league currently set in goal, Giguere won't be going anywhere until a need is created, and he's especially not going anywhere while Bryzgalov remains unsigned.

"Barring aliens landing here, we will start the season with both," said Burke. "We have two goalies who are established, they can both be No. 1 goalies in this league and we'll sort out who it will be."

Giguere has one year left on his deal at $3.99 million before becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer. Anaheim joins San Jose, Buffalo, Los Angeles and possibly Montreal as clubs with goalies to spare.
 
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