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Jason Spezza, Ryan Kesler and Joe Thornton

Jason Spezza, Ryan Kesler and Joe Thornton

Duhatschek: Expect Anaheim to be in the discussion for Spezza, Kesler and Thornton Add to ...

Remember collecting and swapping bubble gum cards as a kid, you’d sometimes hedge a transaction by calling “trade backs” – a way to get your Dave Keon or your Frank Mahovlich back if you ever had buyers’ remorse?

It makes wonder if the Anaheim Ducks and the Ottawa Senators can do some sort of version of trade backs this summer, when the NHL trading season heats up, upon completion of the 2014 Stanley Cup final.

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Potentially, there are three attractive centres that might be available – the Senators’ Jason Spezza, the Vancouver Canucks’ Ryan Kesler and the San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton – and Anaheim will likely be in the discussion for all of them.

Let’s start with Spezza and why that trade might be the best fit for the Ducks.

A year ago, the Ducks traded away Bobby Ryan to the Senators and in exchange received a first-round pick, a prospect (Stefan Noesen) and a young player (Jakob Silfverberg). The decision to move Ryan was made largely for contract reasons. The Ducks are a mid-cap team and with new contracts for both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry kicking in, there wasn’t going to be enough money left over to pay Ryan.

Getting a handful of futures made sense, especially since the Ducks have done an excellent job of grooming possible replacements for Ryan, with Devante Smith-Pelly, Emerson Etem, Patrick Maroon and Matt Belesky, all providing size and varied levels of skill on the wing.

But when the Ducks fell short this spring, losing in the second round to the Los Angeles Kings, the perception was that they didn’t match up well enough down the middle. The Kings ran Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards at them. The Ducks countered with Getzlaf, Mathieu Perreault, Saku Koivu and Nick Bonino.

That is a mismatch of the first order.

So Anaheim is interested in adding someone to support Getzlaf and ideally would like to do it without breaking the budget.

Spezza would be an attractive option, in part because the actual cash outlay on his current contract, which expires after the 2014-15 season, is $4-million (even if the cap hit comes in at $7-million).

That is a dollar figure that would meet Anaheim’s budgetary limitations and also give both sides a chance to feel each other out. Spezza would likely be a good fit on the West Coast, and as recently as the 2011-12 season was the No. 4 overall scorer in the NHL.

The price for Spezza is likely to be a package similar to what the Senators surrendered for Ryan – a first-rounder, a prospect and a player. So that’s where trade backs come in. Could it be the exact package – just return the pick to the Senators and the players?

More likely, it’d be some variation of it. Anaheim might prefer to trade its own later pick to Ottawa and if the Sens have lost interest in one or both of Silfverberg or Noesen, they have any number of prospects at forward and on defence Ottawa could choose from. On paper anyway, there appears to be a fit there.

Kesler is a different sort of player, a little grittier than Spezza and maybe in a perfect world, the Ducks would rather have him because the road to the Stanley Cup final looks as if it will go through L.A. for some time.

If the new regime in Vancouver goes ahead and deals Kesler, the cost to the Ducks would be roughly the same as it would be to bid for Spezza – and the contract isn’t bad either (two more years at $5-million per season, with a no-trade clause to work around).

Thornton would be a far longer shot.

He’s making more money than either Spezza or Kesler (a new three-year, $21-million deal kicks in next year); and teams are loath to trade stars within the division because that can make for some uncomfortable moments if the deal turns out to be one-sided.

If the Sharks are inclined to move Thornton, he must sign off on the destination. Toronto has been rumoured as a possible landing place, though why the Maple Leafs would want to go older at this stage of their development is a mystery. You have the sense that Maple Leafs GM David Nonis would happily move two of his youngsters, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner, in the right deal, but is adding Thornton the right move? Maybe not.

If Thornton determines the Sharks want him out, then Anaheim – straight down the coast, still in California, where he really enjoys the life – might be the most palatable destination.

But logically, that’s a harder deal for the Ducks to make – adding a pricey older player from a divisional rival, that hasn’t won enough in the playoffs to suit his current employer.

One way or another though, Anaheim figures to make a splash this summer – equipped with the will to make changes, and enough quality prospects in the pipeline to make a blockbuster happen.

RICHARDS VERSUS RICHARDS: If there was a common thread anywhere on media day linking the two participating teams at the Stanley Cup final, it was probably the discussion over Mike vs. Brad Richards (no relation, other than the fact that both are candidates for compliance buyouts once the Stanley Cup playoffs end).

The Kings have had a funny time of it in their 2012 and 2014 runs to the final. In 2012, they faced the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk, a player they’d bid on in the summer of 2010, but failed to sign. It was the same the following July.

On the opening day of free agency, TSN famously showed a shot of Kings’ president Tim Leiweke, trying to get in the doors of the Newport Sports so they could present their contract offer for Richards’s services face-to-face, in the hopes that would enhance their chances.

In the end, Richards opted to go with the Rangers instead. Eventually, the money that otherwise would have been allocated to Kovalchuk and Brad Richards was handed to Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. What is it they say? Sometimes, the best moves are the ones that don’t pan out.

Rangers’ general manager Glen Sather declined to speculate about Brad Richards’s future at his press conference last week, but if they were absolutely certain they were retaining him, it would have been a simple matter to say that.

Instead, Sather hedged – and the reason likely is that even if Richards has had a major bounce back season in New York, there is still too much money and term left on that nine-year, $60-million contract to keep him around. Financially, it doesn’t make any sense. Even if the first $31-million have already been paid out, the average annualized value of the deal is $6.667-million for another six years – just not cost effective under the new collective bargaining agreement.

When asked about it last week, Richards said he was putting the future on hold so he could concentrate on the task at hand, and helping the Rangers win the Stanley Cup. In the absence of the traded Ryan Callahan, he is acting as the de facto captain.

“It's not the right time to even think about it,” said Richards. “It would hurt my game and it would hurt the team if I was worrying about it so I haven't really thought about it."

In the case of Mike Richards, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi did a good job managing his salary cap again this year, eventually losing enough players off his roster – Daniel Carcillo, Ben Scrivens and Matt Frattin were traded; Keaton Ellerby waived; and Colin Fraser demoted – to make the dollars work. It was a tightrope walk – and it only worked because the Columbus Blue Jackets absorbed half of Marian Gaborik’s prorated $7.5-million salary at the trading deadline, but this is way of the NHL world in 2014.

If you’re managing a team squarely in its championship window, you have to pull all the stops to give yourself a chance to win – and if by doing so, you manage to keep your core intact and still funnel a few youngsters into the line-up, well, that’s how you become a finalist for GM of the year.

But win or lose, Lombardi will face a new set of challenges this summer. Philosophically, he is deeply loyal and so will begin by seeing if he can keep all the key pieces together, and still sign Gaborik as an unrestricted free agent.

That was the whole point of getting Gaborik rather than any of the other rentals that were available at the deadline – the belief that Gaborik would welcome a chance to stay on and perhaps resuscitate his career in Los Angeles.

GMs will learn by the end of the month what the salary cap for next year will be. Last December, at the board of governors meetings in Pebble Beach, the belief was that it would rise to the $71-million level – a significant bump from the $64.3-million it was set at for this year.

If it went that high, all of Lombardi’s problems would - if not solved exactly – be a little more manageable.

Commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t get specific about it at his press conference this week, but he did note that the slumping Canadian dollar would likely take a bite of it.

The new projections are in the $69-million range, and if the cap rises even less than that, then the Kings may have a dilemma with regards to Mike Richards, who was effectively playing a fourth line role since March. Most teams cannot afford to pay an average of $5.75-million for a fourth liner (and the actual dollar cost for Richards this year was a cool $7.6-million).

Richards is exactly halfway through the 12-year, $69 million contract he signed with the Flyers and of course, a compliance buyout would be an option. But the structure of Richards’s contract is such that the actual dollars being paid out shrink as the contract moves along – and in the final three years, is quite affordable (a $4.5- million year and then the two final years at $3-million).

Those sorts of contracts can be attractive to teams in the lower half of NHL payrolls. It means they meet their spending obligations under the salary cap – because the system calculates the cap hit, not the actual dollars being paid. In Richards’ s case, if you factor in his winning reputation, he would be a player that the Kings probably could trade for a genuine asset, rather than spending the dollars on the buyout.

Richards is from Kenora, Ont. and the closest NHL team when he was growing up was the Winnipeg Jets.

Winnipeg, trying to develop a culture of winning, after all those years in Atlanta, might benefit enormously from Richards’s presence, if he went there with the right approach.

In a perfect world, the Kings would like to hang on to Richards and sign Gaborik, probably at the expense of allowing Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene to leave as unrestricted free agents. If you took the emotion out of it and made it strictly a financial decision, there’s no way Mike Richards returns to the Kings next year. But if you factor intangibles in, plus Lombardi’s desire to keep core pieces intact, he might just survive.

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