The Anaheim Ducks arrive in Vancouver Thursday to begin the NHL regular season against the Vancouver Canucks and from the moment they touch down, the questions about their respective futures will come in waves for Ryan Getzlaf and for Corey Perry.
Getzlaf and Perry are the twin towers of the Ducks' forward lines, Perry the NHL's most valuable player in 2011, Getzlaf the sort of centre with size that is prized around the league.
Both players are on expiring contracts and the fact that the Ducks couldn't get either of them signed to extensions last summer is a giant red flag, waving over the NHL right now. Any NHL general manager who doesn't have the Ducks' Bob Murray on his speed dial right now is doing a disservice to his current employer.
No one will say exactly why, despite Murray's best efforts, the Ducks couldn't get either player to sign on the dotted line. As a place to play, Anaheim is about as good as it gets – a decent building, smack in the middle of Orange County, moderate weather, not an excessive amount of pressure and a franchise that has a history of success, having won the Stanley Cup as recently as 2007.
But if you're in the business of tea-leaf reading, you can understand why these in-their-prime players would be hugely attractive if they ever did hit the open market.
Perry is from Peterborough but spent most of the lockout in London, where he played his junior hockey for the Knights. You'd have to think - if home is where the heart is – Perry's desire to spend so much time in southern Ontario would give the Toronto Maple Leafs an enormous leg up in any bidding war that might occur for his services next summer.
What is that the former GM in Toronto always said he wanted in a player – truculence, belligerence, testosterone, all that sort of good stuff? Well, Perry has all those qualities – plus he scored 87 goals in the last two NHL seasons combined.
If there was ever a good reason for one team to hoard salary-cap space going into next summer, Perry is it.
And then, there's the additional intriguing possibility that Perry and Getzlaf could move together as a package. It's a little like what the Minnesota Wild pulled off last summer – albeit with two players from different teams, Ryan Suter (formerly of the Nashville Predators) and Zach Parise (formerly of the New Jersey Devils). Both Suter and Parise were highly sought after free agents and the Wild ultimately won the deal, in large part because of personal off-ice considerations. Parise grew up in the Twin Cities and Suter's wife is from there. Getzlaf has no real ties to the East – he is from Regina and played his junior hockey in Calgary - but you can well imagine that any decision Perry makes as far as relocation goes would greatly influence Getzlaf's as well.
If Perry were to stay with the Ducks, Getzlaf would have someone to pass the puck. If Perry left, then what would the future in Anaheim look like? Grim, you'd have to say, especially since two-thirds of the second line – Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu – are both getting up there in age and aren't going to be around much longer.
Under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Leafs could offer identical seven-year contracts to both players and then worry about making the salary cap numbers work after the fact.
If the Leafs could also land a goaltender of Roberto Luongo's stature in the meantime, it would also enhance their chances of attracting free agents in the future.
New CBA or old CBA, the one thing that doesn't change among high-end players is they usually want it all – the cash, of course, also a reasonable chance for success as well.
So that's a discussion that should captivate Leaf Nation for the rest of the shortened season – not necessarily to see how the current edition of the team looks in the short term, but how, in the context of possible player availability next summer, they can get the payroll in order to spend big if the opportunity to do so arises.
Meanwhile, Perry and Getzlaf are already parrying any questions about their futures, with the usual 'we'll see about it when we get there' answers.
It leaves Murray, the Ducks' GM in a tight spot though, and not a lot of time before the NHL trading deadline, to evaluate his options. Facing a similar dilemma last spring, the Predators David Poile gambled - and lost – by retaining Suter. They kept Suter for the playoff push rather than trade him, thinking they had a decent chance of convincing him to stay.
In the end, he didn't – and now probably Nashville GM David Poile regrets the assets he left on the table. Murray will need to make a hard assessment when the time comes for him to possibly shop Perry and Getzlaf as well. If he doesn't like his chances of getting them to re-up, then he'll try to maximize a return for one or both at the deadline. If he thinks he can convince them to stay, then it postpones any decision until the playoffs end.
Either way, it is a scenario worth monitoring. Nine months from now, if the Leafs' starting lineup for the 2013-14 season includes Luongo in goal and Perry and Getzlaf as two-thirds of the No. 1 line, then you can give David Nonis general manager of the years honours right then and there.
Of course, it's a tall, tricky order to pull off in real life, but you can be sure of one thing. If we're talking about it, they're thinking about it, even if they could never acknowledge it in a public forum.