One year ago, Anaheim Ducks General Manager Bob Murray stood in front of the media and said his team wasn’t ready for a Stanley Cup run. The team that beat them clearly was, though, and Murray and the team he put together haven’t forgotten what that feeling was like.
This time around, that same feeling — the feeling of a Game 7 loss — stings far worse. This time, everyone in the Anaheim dressing room thought — and still thinks — the team was ready for a Stanley Cup run.
The team that looked unstoppable until facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals is suddenly facing a lot of questions.
"You don’t win, you’re going to get questions," alternate captain Corey Perry said. "That’s the nature of the sport, the nature of the business. If you go out and you do win, nobody’s going to be asking those questions. They have all the right to ask."
Why can’t they win Game 7s?
There are no questions that burn hotter than this one. When facing elimination, this team seems to fall flat. The last three seasons have ended with Game 7 losses at home, and the Ducks haven’t exactly shown up in Game 6, either.
Ryan Kesler said the team lacks "mental toughness" — the very thing he was brought in from Vancouver to provide. But Kesler can’t be the only one in the room with a killer instinct.
"I think we have to look at ourselves in the mirror more. Like what we did and how we prepared and what we could do better," defenseman Hampus Lindholm said. "If you lose to someone, you want to feel like you’ve thrown everything on the table and they just were better. In this case, I thought we really didn’t come up to our standards."
When faced with a deficit in key closeout games, the Ducks lose sight of their own game and the things they did to get there in the first place.
"The unanswered question is still the structure when we get under stressful periods," Murray said. "I’m a big structure guy, and when you’re not playing well, you have to fall back on your structure. It failed us in a critical moment. All year long, it was there. And why we didn’t trust to go back to it, I don’t know. But that’s what I’ve got to evaluate."
Will Bruce Boudreau be back?
The head coach signed a two-year extension last fall prior to training camp, and although Murray would’t confirm his return, he didn’t refute the notion either.
"I thought the coaching staff made strides this year," Murray said. "But I have to talk them. I’m not ready to talk to them yet. We’ve got to meet later. I’ve got to sort things out in my mind and I’m not one to do things quickly."
Murray is waiting to see how negotiations unfold with the four biggest names entering free agency: unrestricted free agents Francois Beauchemin and Matt Beleskey and restricted free agents Emerson Etem and Jakob Silfverberg.
Boudreau has not heard anything otherwise.
Do they need a true, No. 1 shutdown defenseman?
When the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, they had two of shutdown d-men. Murray said he would be happy to have one right now. The Ducks were deep on the blue line this year — and still are — but they didn’t have that one, singular elite defenseman.
However, players like Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith aren’t exactly readily available. Instead, the Ducks are looking to develop one and they’re looking toward Lindholm.
"A guy like Hampus could be a player like Keith eventually," said forward Andrew Cogliano. "I think he has the potential to be someone like him."
Lindholm seems up for the challenge.
"I want to be the best defenseman in the league," the 21-year-old defenseman said. "If I don’t feel that way I shouldn’t be playing."
The organization may have ones coming up in Nick Ritchie and Shea Theodore, but Murray isn’t looking to rush their individual progressions.
"They’re good players, but I’m not going to hurry them," he said. "I’ve hurried a couple players along the way and a couple of times I’ve kicked myself in the butt for hurrying people. If they’re ready to play, they will play."
Who is the bigger priority, Beauchemin or Beleskey?
You could make the case for either of them. Beleksey scored 22 goals in the regular season and eight in the postseason, but he’ll be expensive. Beauchemin may be a little cheaper and he’s been influential in helping to bring up Lindholm, but he’ll be 35 this week.
"That’s going to be hard," Murray said. "I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it’s going to be hard."