“I have two players who are unavailable,” Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray declared to a pair of Southern California newspapers on Jan. 4, a saliva-inducing statement as the other 29 NHL teams began to pick apart the Ducks’ roster.
More than a month later, where do those two players and the rest of the team stand on the eve of the Feb. 27 trade deadline?
Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, who possess no-trade clauses, are still in Anaheim – and that remains unlikely to change. The main reason: A 12-3-3 run since Jan. 1 (through Monday) that has kept the team on the fringe of the playoff conversation. Be assured that Murray’s phone is still ringing, but he might wait until the last minute before committing to joining the sellers’ camp
Be assured, too, that Murray is listening. The GM has been quite active in advance of deadlines past.
On Feb. 9, 2011, Murray re-acquired Francois Beauchemin from Toronto for Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner. Also that month, he made a significant trade for backup goalie Dan Ellis and another for agitator Jarkko Ruutu.
A year earlier, Murray traded franchise goalie J-S Giguere (again to the Maple Leafs) for Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala. In 2009 – his first trade deadline as the Ducks’ GM – Ryan Whitney went from Pittsburgh to Anaheim, a deal that turned out much better for the Penguins, who acquired Chris Kunitz.
Clearly, Murray isn’t afraid to make a splash at the deadline – but it has to make sense.
Should the Ducks fall out of contention, the player who makes the most sense to trade is Selanne. The 41-year-old right wing still ranks among the league’s top 20 scorers (18-33-51 in 55 games), and his expiring contract makes him an attractive commodity as a late-season rental.
Problem is, Selanne is comfortable in Anaheim. And for fans in Orange County, watching the best player in franchise history ascend the NHL record books could be the only reason to tune in once the Ducks fall out of contention. Murray doesn’t want to wave the white flag. Selanne isn’t going anywhere.
For a moment in December, fans across the league were tantalized by the prospect of landing Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry or Bobby Ryan in a trade. However, as time passed and the Ducks kept winning, the trio returned to form and seemed more likely to stay put. And why not? The core pieces of the Ducks’ offense, all three are 26 or younger and under contract until 2013 or beyond at reasonable prices.
Go ahead and cross Koivu, Beauchemin and goalie Jonas Hiller off the trading block, too. Beauchemin, 31, was recently awarded a three-year contract extension as a reward for his steady play. Hiller has been among the hottest – and most-used – goalies during the Ducks’ winning streak, and is signed through 2014.
If the Ducks remain in contention, they will need to upgrade their defense.
Power-play quarterback Lubomir Visnovsky, 35, is well off his 18-goal, 68-point pace of a year ago, at just 5-17-22 in 42 games. He’s due to earn $5 million this year, $3 million next year, and holds a $5.6 million cap hit, according to capgeek.com. If Murray isn’t getting viable offers for Visnovsky this year, he will if the Ducks are struggling around this time next year.
But Visnovsky is still effective when healthy. His dip in production is due more to early-season injuries and the disappearance of Toni Lydman, a stay-at-home blueliner whose plus-32 rating was tied for second in the NHL last season. This season Lydman is minus-5 and is averaging only 19:20 per game, down from 22:10 last year. His $3 million cap hit through 2012-13 is fair.
That makes Lydman the Ducks’ most expendable defenseman. Youngsters Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa are part of the team’s long-term plans and will be allowed to play through their mistakes, win or lose. Without an immediate upgrade residing in-house, the Ducks could try to swing Lydman for an complementary defenseman with an expiring contract, if only to free up room for the upcoming free agent class. Minnesota’s Greg Zanon and the Islanders’ Mark Eaton are the type of safe, shot-blocking specialists that Lydman is when he’s effective, but don’t expect those teams to take on more money in a straight-up deal.
A more attractive bargaining chip is left wing Jason Blake. The 38-year-old veteran missed almost three months earlier this season with a freak hand injury. When healthy he’s been surprisingly effective – if not scoring (five goals in 19 games) then as a pesky forechecker (plus-4 rating) capable of creating turnovers through perseverance and deft stick work. Blake’s contract – $3 million salary/$4 million cap hit, per capgeek – expires at season’s end and he doesn’t figure to be part of the Ducks’ long-term plans.
Short of bringing Paul Kariya out of retirement, the Ducks have tried everything to generate offense from the left wing position. Simply put, they have none beyond Bobby Ryan, making this the team’s secondary area of concern.
That means any deal involving Blake – maybe any deal, period – would need to bring help on the left side. Tuomo Ruutu would satisfy Murray’s Finnish fetish and would have the opportunity to audition for a role beyond this season. Kristian Huselius’ expiring $4.75 million contract is of little use to the Blue Jackets, but the Ducks would have to give up a couple active players to get him, as owner Henry Samueli is historically reluctant to lift the Ducks out of the NHL’s middle class.
If the Ducks can’t surpass any of the four teams separating them from eighth place, expect both Blake and Lydman to be in play, in addition to young forwards Nick Bonino, Andrew Gordon, Patrick Maroon, Brandon McMillan, Dan Sexton and Kyle Palmieri. All have been tearing up the American Hockey League in Syracuse but, for various reasons, haven’t been able to score in Anaheim. If another general manager sees something in any of those players, Murray would probably pull the trigger on a trade for a more proven player or two.
History doesn’t help when evaluating the Ducks, who have never been this far out of playoff contention in mid-February during Murray’s tenure as GM. He usually makes his sexiest trades well in advance of the deadline, so consider anything beyond a depth deal a surprise at this point.