Murray, Ducks contemplate changes
Changes will certainly happen within the Ducks and they must after limping to the finish line and missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
How significant those changes are will be the question that general manager Bob Murray mulls over as he looks to fix the problems that afflicted his underperforming team.
The Ducks will be able to replace aging free agents like Jason Blake and Niklas Hagman and they figure to continue their plan of bringing along their talented prospects like current players Devante Smith-Pelly and Nick Bonino and future performers Kyle Palmieri, Peter Holland and Emerson Etem.
But are core players like Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, Jonas Hiller and Cam Fowler the ones that will bring the Ducks back to prominence?
Murray acknowledged that while this group helped trigger a 17-3-4 run that got them back into playoff contention, they also were part of a horrific first half that dug too large of a hole to dig their way out of.
"I'm not disregarding what happened in the first half," he continued. "That's two of three we've missed the playoffs. And the same sort of guys have been here four of those years. So I have to look at that."
One thing Murray doesn't have any regrets is not trading any players at the Feb. 27 deadline in order to get assets to use later.
"I was really impressed with how they came back," he said. "I'm not going to second-guess that whatsoever. They earned it. For a while there, nobody was better than us. And we were beating good teams. We were beating all the best teams.
"And my gut told me I had to trust them. A few of them let me down, I have to be honest."
Does that mean Murray would consider trading either Getzlaf or Ryan to shake up the Ducks? One wouldn't rule out that possibility.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Starting with a Jan. 6 win over the New York Islanders, the Ducks ripped off a two-month stretch in which they went 17-3-4 to pull themselves from 29th place in the entire league into the playoff picture. They finished off a 5-2-1 road trip with a victory over Carolina, which got to within four points of eighth place. And they seemed to be in position for a final push after a nationally-televised Feb 26 home win over Chicago right before the trade deadline. But the Ducks lost to Colorado the next night, which began a 3-7-1 swoon that effectively knocked them out of contention. An individual highlight was Teemu Selanne's emotional return to Winnipeg, where he began his storied career and was greeted with multiple standing ovations by Jets fans.
TURNING POINT: The Ducks were already slumping badly in November when they faced Chicago in their annual matinee home game the day after Thanksgiving. It was truly a Black Friday as they blew a 4-2 lead in a matter of minutes early in the third period and lost 6-5. Two nights later, the Ducks were a flat-lined group in a dreary 5-2 home loss to Toronto. General Manager Bob Murray had made his up mind to replace longtime coach Randy Carlyle and immediately sought out Bruce Boudreau the moment he was fired by Washington on Nov. 28. Two nights later, Carlyle was fired after a win over Montreal and Boudreau was announced as the new coach. Boudreau went 27-22-8 after taking over.
Teemu Selanne mulling retirement
--Could Teemu Selanne have ended his career in a meaningless road game in Calgary? Possibly. Selanne faces his annual decision of choosing whether to play another season and he'll go his usual plan of taking some time off and consulting with his family before letting Ducks general manager Bob Murray of his plans by July 1. The issue isn't whether he has enough game left in his 41-year-old body. It is whether he is willing to make the commitment in the off-season to get himself into top shape for another 82-game grind. "I really do think that I can play well," Selanne said. "But, same hand, I don't know if you always have to play as long as you can. You know that it's going to end somewhere. My dream always was that I can retire with my own terms. I'm healthy. And I (can) still enjoy the game and life after hockey."
--The Ducks have reportedly reached a verbal agreement on a contract with Swedish goaltender Viktor Fasth, who could become their new backup to Jonas Hiller next season. According to a report in the Swedish daily Expressen, Fasth is intent on playing in the NHL next season and will sign with the Ducks once he finishes competing for his country in the IIHF World Hockey Championships that take place in May. No contract details were in the report but it is believed that the deal is done. Fasth, 29, played in 48 games for AIK during the regular season and had 23 wins, 21 losses, a 2.12 goals-against average along with a .931 save percentage
--The Ducks will play a preseason game against the Kings on Oct. 6 at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif. It will be the first time that the Ducks have played in Ontario and the second for the Kings, who previously played a preseason game against San Jose in 2009. A unique twist to the game is that the arena will be "split down the middle" with one side reserved for Ducks fans and the other reserved for Kings fans. The 9,736-seat arena is the home of the Ontario Reign, the Kings' ECHL affiliate.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think anybody wants to see him retire, especially in a year like this where he was our best player in a lot of games this year. At 41 years old, he shouldn't have to be. There's a lot of other guys, including myself, that should have taken the reins from him a little earlier than we did." -- Ducks winger Bobby Ryan, on Teemu Selanne
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Teemu Selanne led the Ducks in scoring with 66 points at 41 years of age in his 19th year in the NHL. No player was better in the first half of the season as Selanne often had to carry his slumping teammates on many nights. Selanne finished with 26 goals, marking the 15th time that he scored 25 or more and making him the second-oldest player behind Gordie Howe to score that many goals in a single season. He finishes the campaign 12th all-time in goals (663), 19th in points (1,406) and fourth in power-play goals (248).
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Ryan Getzlaf easily had the worst season of his seven-year NHL career. Getzlaf had a career-low 11 goals and needed to score twice in the last three games just to get to double figures. At times, he had long scoring droughts, including a stretch where he scored one goal in 32 games. His 56 points are also the worst since his rookie season. The Ducks' captain will be entering the final year of his five-year deal next season.
BIGGEST NEEDS: Beyond a return to form by disappointing center Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks sorely need a second-line center and more scoring depth on the wings as Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne were the only reliable options. Like many other teams, the Ducks would love a top-pairing defenseman to play with Cam Fowler and ease the load on respected veteran Francois Beauchemin. They'll need a backup goalie to replace injury-plagued Dan Ellis but that might have been solved with their apparent agreement with Swedish goalie Viktor Fasth.
FREE AGENT FOCUS: The Ducks are expected to let go underperforming wingers Jason Blake and Niklas Hagman as their contracts are up, freeing up $5.5 million of cap space. Backup goalie Dan Ellis also doesn't figure to be re-signed and that's another $1.5 million off the cap. The Ducks will also have some hard decisions to make on defenseman Sheldon Brookbank and popular enforcer George Parros but desperately want Teemu Selanne to come back for another season and will attempt to re-sign Saku Koivu. Unless he looks to go the trade route, look for general manager Bob Murray to use some of those savings to go after a second-line center in free agency or upgrade their forward depth.
--LW Bobby Ryan scored twice against Calgary to finish the season with 31 goals, which ranked him second on the Ducks behind Corey Perry's team-high 37. Ryan has often been the subject of trade rumors and could help the Ducks fetch a nice package in return. But the winger also has topped 30 goals in each of his first four seasons, joining Alex Ovechkin as the only current players to have done that.
--G Jonas Hiller didn't end the season on a good note as he allowed five goals in a loss to Calgary but his year is a success only because he played in a career-high 73 games after having the second half of last season wrecked because of persistent vertigo-like symptoms. Hiller's 32 consecutive starts and 73 in all set franchise marks. The quality of his play also improved throughout the season as he rebounded greatly after a poor start. Hiller finished 29-30-12 with a 2.57 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.
--D Cam Fowler finished with a team-worst mark of minus-28, which sparks great concern about his defensive play after his second season. Fowler's offensive numbers also dropped sharply from his rookie year as he ended with only five goals and 24 points. The fact is the Ducks out of necessity give the 20-year-old more responsibility on the back end than most defensemen his age. Fowler has played against the other team's top lines all season. While his numbers don't look promising, the Ducks believe that he has taken forward steps in his development.
--D Sheldon Brookbank finished a strong bounce-back season by logging 24:23 and 23:29 of ice in his final two games. Brookbank set career highs with three goals and 14 points while being a plus-11 that was best on the team. The Ducks love him and see the rugged blue-liner as the ideal seventh defenseman who can step into the lineup at any time. But Brookbank, 31, is an unrestricted free agent and will likely seek a raise from $800,000 salary.
--C Saku Koivu finished the year with points in three of his last four games and five of his last nine but also didn't score a goal after Feb. 21, a span of 22 games. With 11 goals and 27 assists, Koivu no longer produces the kind of offense that's needed for the second line. The Ducks do want to re-sign the classy veteran but probably at a lower amount than the $2.5 million he made this season along with the idea of having him center the third line. Koivu is still an effective penalty killer, wins faceoffs and can still play some on the power play.
--D Lubomir Visnovsky sat out the season finale against Calgary due to an upper-body injury suffered Thursday night that was the result of a hit by Edmonton's Darcy Hordichuk.
--D Nate Guenin is recovering from a fractured orbital bone above his left eye after being struck by a puck on March 21 against St. Louis. Guenin missed the final seven games.