Ryan Whitney could help replace either Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer on the Anaheim blueline. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
There sure wasn’t too much to get excited about on what was a fairly dreary deadline day.
One team, however, took a vibrant position that should stand to other teams as a lesson in spine. That club is the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks, in the midst of a playoff race, didn’t do anything that increases their chances for success right now, with the exception of not trading Chris Pronger. But kudos to GM Bob Murray for showing an incredible sense of organizational self-awareness as he attempts to re-tool this team on the fly.
Most GMs don’t have the courage – or in some cases, the option – of stripping down a team before it’s entirely past prime. What Murray has done is essentially address the critical flaws of his aging vehicle before he finds himself on the side of the road with a broken down lemon.
He ignored the fact Anaheim has a legitimate playoff shot in favor of focusing on the hard reality that his team is not a Cup contender this year. With that in mind, he turned three players – Travis Moen, Samuel Pahlsson and Kent Huskins – who could walk this summer as unrestricted free agents into organizational assets.
Murray was senior vice-president of hockey operations in Anaheim before taking over for Brian Burke as GM last November. He indicated his deadline day actions represented a necessary change in the organization’s recent approach.
“Over the last few years here, chasing another Cup, we’ve let assets get away from us and got nothing for them,” Murray said. “That had to stop now.”
I understand Ducks fans are upset to see favorites like Pahlsson and Moen go, but being GM of a team is as much about knowing when it’s time to cut ties as it is knowing when to bring guys in.
Pahlsson was a very useful player on a Cup-winning team, but replacing somebody of his cut is quite feasible. He’s the kind of guy you find once you’ve built the pillars of your championship team. Kris Draper is an awesome hockey player, but like Pahlsson, he’s at his most valuable while filling a defined niche on a contending team. Do you think the Red Wings would have kept Draper around year after year if they weren’t always in a position to win the Cup?
Take a look at the Anaheim roster and you’ll see it’s not far from returning to elite status. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are high-impact forwards who won’t turn 24 until March. Bobby Ryan is two years younger than those guys and he’s threatening to become the third member of a deadly forward trio.
Offense-minded blueliner Ryan Whitney, acquired last week from Pittsburgh, gets a fresh start and a chance to apprentice under Scott Niedermayer.
Should Niedermayer opt to retire after this season, the Ducks can hang onto Pronger for another year. If Niedermayer wants back in, Anaheim can flip Pronger at the draft for a first round selection and two prospects with legitimate potential to become forceful NHLers.
Throw in a return to form from Jean-Sebastien Giguere at the ever-finicky goalie position and you’ve got a flock that’s right back in the thick of things before too long.
That’s because instead of being blinded by past glory and the ever-dangerous ‘anything can happen’ mentality, Murray took a cold, hard look at his team and made moves designed at turning a middling club into a contender without being a bottom feeder in between.
That kind of vision and execution deserves recognition.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.