As the trade deadline approaches in exactly two weeks, the Anaheim Ducks may paddle madly or break up their flock.
Following their woeful start, which left them battling the Columbus Blue Jackets for the title of worst in the West, the Ducks have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL of late, going 12-3-3 since New Year’s Day.
"We still have hope. Everybody in this room believes that we can make the playoffs and I think that would be almost wrong to even think about any other options,” Teemu Selanne told the Orange County Register after a shootout loss at Detroit Friday, eschewing talks of his waiving his no-movement clause to go to a clear-cut contender.
Anaheim’s surge has placed it within nine points of a playoff spot when as recently as Jan. 6, it faced a 20-point deficit.
The Ducks had also faced the bold proclamation from general manager Bob Murray that the entire roster outside of veterans Selanne and Saku Koivu, who had no-movement clauses, was available for trade.
The response from their core players has been strong with Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and last season’s Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry each picking up their production significantly. While the speculation mill churns, Anaheim’s improvement has almost certainly removed those names from any serious trade discussion.
An eight-game road trip that the Ducks began Friday will end Feb. 23, with just one more game before the deadline. Thus far they have lost in overtime to Detroit and beaten Columbus. Perry recorded a hat trick and the Ducks snapped out of a 3-for-33 funk on the power play, cashing in on three of four man advantages in a 5-3 win against the Blue Jackets.
Still, the Ducks face a gauntlet through a competitive, crowded Western Conference. They will also face it with a team that has aging players in key roles at the top level of the organization with a deep array of prospects waiting to move up.
Anaheim could severely affect the trade market no matter what direction Murray moves in this month. Perhaps more so than other seasons, a pivotal team at the deadline could have more impact in a climate with diluted talent and thick competition.
“Prices are inflated and there is only one Stanley Cup parade at the end of the season. The trade deadline is a pit of quicksand,” former Ducks GM and current Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke told USA Today last week.
If the Ducks become sellers, a talented roster with its share of holes will be open to a bidding war. Even though their core pieces like Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan remain unlikely trade targets, their stock of veterans could steal deadline headlines.
Selanne, Koivu, Jason Blake and Niklas Hagman are all unrestricted free agents after this season. Offensive-minded No. 1 defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky has one year remaining on a deal that carries a hefty, but fair, cap hit of $5.6 million and would be one of the most talented defenseman on the trade market.
If they become buyers, the Ducks could become serious competitors or at least serious agitators in a potentially paper-thin talent pool on the trade block. They have top-tier prospect depth, including goal-per-game WHLer Emerson Etem, AHL standout Kyle Palmieri, NCAA Hobey Baker finalist Justin Schultz and Finnish SM-Liiga sensation Sami Vatanen.
With Koivu aging and approaching free agency while offseason acquisition Andrew Cogliano has moved to the wing, the Ducks could be players in the Derek Roy sweepstakes. Versatile forwards like Tuomo Ruutu, Brad Boyes and Vaclav Prospal are also among players that will draw serious attention from many teams, including the Ducks if they take an aggressive approach to the deadline.
Virtually any shutdown defenseman or two-way blue-liner — Hal Gill, Barret Jackman, Johnny Oduya, Scott Hannan, et al. — could be on Anaheim’s wish list as well.
If the Ducks stay pat, they will take either a significant competitor out of trade talks or a resource-wealthy supplier off the market. For now, however, their status and their season hinges on their play in the next two weeks.
“This trip is going to pretty much decide which direction we’re going to go,” Selanne told the Register. “Everybody’s looking ahead and up.”