Ducks make statement with Beauchemin trade

BY foxsports • February 11, 2011

FOX Sports West and PRIME TICKET
Feb. 11, 2011

Every general manager has to decide whether they are buyers or sellers as the NHL trade deadline approaches.

And 19 days prior to the deadline, Ducks GM Bob Murray clarified his position Wednesday by trading for former Duck defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who is expected to step into a top-four role immediately with Anaheim, likely complementing rookie sensation Cam Fowler on head coach Randy Carlyle's second pairing. With this move, Murray rewarded a team that has impressed all by going 10-4-0 while their captain and best player Ryan Getzlaf was sidelined with a fractured sinus cavity. Getzlaf is back, and the Ducks have put themselves into the drivers seat of the Western Conference playoff race. They can now determine their own fate. Adding Beauchemin gives them an edge that Murray hopes will put them over the top.

With every point so crucial to a team's playoff fortunes, it made sense not to wait until the deadline so they have Beauchemin available for every possible remaining game.

Timing is everything.

The Ducks won a Cup in 2007 with a dominant defense that featured Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Losing both over a two-year time frame has been, as expected, very painful at times. Make no mistake that the two former defensemen in charge of this team  Murray and Carlyle combined for over 2,000 NHL games on the blueline over 32 seasons  know that any future playoff success ultimately rests with the retooling of the blueline.

Defense still wins championships.

It is worth noting that Murray and Carlyle have emphasized that "they know" Beauchemin, meaning that they have a good feel for both his strengths and weaknesses. He struggled in Toronto at times as he tried to step into the role of a top-two defenseman on a rebuilding team. Losing was wearing on him, and Orange County will offer a welcome respite from the pressures, criticisms and scrutiny that he endured while under the microscope in hockey-crazed Toronto.

Murray and Carlyle also point out that the Leafs play a much different "system" than the Ducks do. Toronto asks its defensemen to constantly "pinch" in the offensive zone, a higher risk tactic that asks defenders to constantly be moving forward to pressure the puck, all the while hoping that they have support from forwards if the puck (and/or the attacking player) manages to slip by. The Ducks system is more traditional, where defensemen can either hold the blueline, or back out and accept the rush, with the support coming from forwards applying "backside pressure" to the puck carrier and forcing them into spots where the defensemen can more easily take care of business. This distinction between systems is important, and the Ducks firmly believe elements of their system are more ideally suited to the talents Beauchemin brings to the table.

What Murray and Carlyle also know about Beauchemin is that he had his best years playing alongside the Hall of Famer Niedermayer. It's not fair to Fowler to say he might one day become the caliber of player Niedermayer was, but his unique vision and incredible skating ability make such comparisons inevitable. His style of game certainly mirrors that of Niedermayer, and the Ducks brass think Beauchemin will be a great fit for the youngster.

The principal asset heading to the Leafs is Joffrey Lupul, who was not going to take playing time away from front line right wings Teemu Selanne or Corey Perry. With two years remaining on his contract after this season and earning $4.25 million per season, Lupul was deemed too expensive to be a third-line player and therefore was expendable. Beauchemin has one year left on his deal at $3.8 million per season. The short term financial implication is that the Ducks will save $450 thousand next year and about $100 thousand this year ($450 thousand prorated). Also significant is that they have created valuable cap space looking ahead to 2012-13. Lupul's health issues (back surgery and resulting complications) are also a consideration. After missing a full year of playing, he is not yet all the way back, but if he stays healthy, the Leafs may have landed a much coveted top-six forward who can put the puck in the net.

Defensive prospect Jake Gardiner is also part of the deal and may one day become a regular blueliner for the Maple Leafs. Anaheim felt he was expendable because the Ducks have an embarrassment of riches of talented young defensemen in their system. Justin Schultz is Jake Gardiners' teammate at Wisconsin and Anaheim's scouting staff ranks Schultz much higher than Gardiner. With Finnish World Junior captain Sami Vatanen also drawing rave reviews from NHL scouts, there was no possible way that Anaheim could hang onto Gardiner, Schultz and Vatanen given that the 19-year-old phenom Fowler and rapidly improving 20-year-old Luca Sbisa have already established themselves with the big club.

Duck fans should love this deal. It states clearly what the expectations Ducks owners and management have for this team, that they expect them to be a playoff team and they believe they can win right now.

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