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The playoff drive continues in earnest Friday night for the Anaheim Ducks with a huge game against the Dallas Stars, minus some familiar faces.
Samuel Pahlsson, Travis Moen, Brendan Morrison, Steve Montador and Kent Huskins are gone, but the Ducks forge ahead with star Chris Pronger still in tow and a few younger new faces.
The high-wire act that is running the Anaheim Ducks is a compelling tale.
Imagine Ducks GM Bob Murray with a foot on each side of a creek. One foot says the Ducks still want to win this season, and keeping Pronger (at least for the rest of this season) suggests as much. But the other foot says the Ducks need to begin replenishing the organization with younger assets, a process that got under way with the deals at Wednesday's deadline.
Call it Murray's split personality, but he's worn two hats this season; given the circumstances, which included the need to trade in some expiring contracts for assets, he's done about as well as he could have so far. And it will continue this summer.
There's a very slim chance both Pronger and Scott Niedermayer will show up at Ducks camp in September. One of them likely won't be there -- Niedermayer, because he might have retired, or Pronger, because he might have been dealt at the NHL draft in June or sometime later in the summer. Hopefully Murray will know whether Niedermayer is back before he heads to Montreal in June. That will seal Pronger's fate either way. And we can already tell you Philadelphia and St. Louis are among the several clubs that intend to make serious pitches for Pronger come June.
In the meantime, Murray has restocked his blue line in the likelihood that one of those great defensemen will be gone next season, picking up Ryan Whitney last week and James Wisniewski on Wednesday. Not bad at all. If Murray is able to re-sign Francois Beauchemin (who will be an unrestricted free agent July 1), he'll have a top-four blue line consisting of Pronger or Niedermayer with Whitney, Wisniewski and Beauchemin next season. With an offense led by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan, that will be a Ducks team that certainly can compete, while perhaps being still short of a top-end contender.
If Murray is really lucky, Niedermayer will be back for a little Ducks discount, maybe $4 million instead of the $6.75 million a year he's earned since the lockout. And in that case, maybe, just maybe, both Pronger and Niedermayer can return. But the point of dealing Pronger (who has another year at $6.25 million) isn't only to save money, but also to use what could be had in return of such a blockbuster trade (stocking the organization with younger assets).
One difficult decision that potentially looms over the next year or two involves the team's goaltending. Jean-Sebastien Giguere has lost starts to Jonas Hiller this season, and you have to wonder whether the future includes more of the latter than the former. But here's where it gets complicated. Giguere has a no-trade clause, a clause former GM Brian Burke gave up (rare for him), because of a family situation involving the goalie's infant son, who needed medical care from an eye specialist at UCLA.
Giguere, who will be 32 in May, has two more years on his deal, which pays him $6 million next season and $7 million in 2010-11. Again, with the Ducks not viewing themselves as a maximum cap-spending team going forward, that's some mighty dollars in net when you consider Hiller will need a new deal (and pay increase) in 2010-11. So will young Mr. Ryan, who by then likely will command a pretty big raise.
It's a delicate situation when it comes to Giguere. We feel for Murray. Can he approach Giguere and ask him to consider a move? Aside from the personal aspect of it, Giguere also is the most popular player not named Selanne among Anaheim fans. Knowing that Giguere might be in Anaheim to stay, a move of Pronger seems even more likely.
Murray, who replaced Burke as general manager in November, got off to a nice start with his work before the trade deadline. But it's only just begun.