If former Montreal Canadiens’ captain Saku Koivu decides to play another season, it won’t be with the Anaheim Ducks.
After organizational meetings last week, the Ducks informed Koivu, goaltender Jonas Hiller and forward Daniel Winnik that they wouldn’t be offered new contracts, making them all unrestricted free agents.
General manager Bob Murray called the decision to let Koivu go the most difficult of the three, but determined that it had to be done to make room for some of the players coming through the team’s system who are ready to step into an NHL lineup.
“I had to do a lot of soul-searching on that one,” said Murray.
With Koivu gone and uncertainty about whether Mathieu Perrault returns, the Ducks will have openings at centre, which will only heighten the speculation that they are among the teams interested in bidding for Ryan Kesler, Jason Spezza and any other big-name centres who might be available via the trade route between now and next Friday’s NHL entry draft.
The Ducks are uniquely positioned because they have so much good talent in their development pipeline, which is one reason why Murray is a candidate for NHL general manager of the year honors.
And though he couldn’t get into specifics about possible trade talks because of tampering rules, Murray acknowledged: “We’re in good shape if the right thing is there – if it’s the right kind of fair hockey deal.
“You always want to try and make hockey trades, things that make sense for both teams. Obviously, we have some things that people want. It’s a matter of what we’re willing to give to get. We know if you’re going to go someplace, you’re going to have to make the right moves at the right time.”
Philosophically, Murray noted that the two best times to make deals are at the trading deadline and then again, right now, before the draft.
“We’re very aware of what the rumours are, and what might and might not be available,” said Murray. “Let’s just say, I’ve talked to lots of teams.
“We have good young assets and we have draft picks. I’m not afraid to use them in the right deal, but I’m not going to put ourselves behind the eight-ball either. So it’s a process we’re going through – and seeing who really is available and who isn’t. If things are going to happen, they tend to fall right before draft day for some reason. But there’s lots of talk going on.”
In goal, the Ducks will go with rookie John Gibson and second-year NHLer Frederik Andersen next year, both of whom are blue-chip, high-end prospects that played well for the Ducks during the 2013-14 season.
The Ducks had the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on the ropes in the second round, holding a 3-2 series lead, but ultimately lost in seven games. That, and their 116-point regular season, which topped the Western Conference, would indicate they are legitimate contenders. But Murray said he felt the Ducks were still behind the Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks in the conference pecking order and took no solace from the fact that they gave the Kings all they could handle in the playoffs.
“It’s not just L.A.,” said Murray. “We’re still behind a bunch of teams in my eyes – and that’s why decisions have to be made. Where are we really? Every year, the Stanley Cup final is the one game I do watch, when I think it’s going to happen – because it’s what we all want. It’s what we strive to get.”
Murray went on to say: “You watch the Kings, for example, and you watch how Drew Doughty has emerged as a superstar. Do we have a defenceman who can be that way? When we won the Stanley Cup, we had Scotty (Niedermayer) and Chris (Pronger). That’s in the back of my mind all the time. Where is that guy; and can you find that guy; and can you afford that guy if you find him?
“At centre ice, we have some really nice players coming along, but is that now? That’s a huge decision you have to make? Is the time now or do you have to step back and wait and see how long it takes for these kids to develop? It’s a little bit of a game right now to (determine) where you really, really are.”