Mighty Ducks prepare under new management

By Kevin Forbes

In the fast paced world of the NHL, a few weeks can make a world of change for an organization. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim have definitely undergone a stretch that could change the face of the team dramatically. So much has changed that even the way Anaheim drafts this coming weekend could be completely different from what was expected just a few weeks ago.

When GM Bryan Murray announced that he was leaving the team to become the head coach of the Ottawa Senators, he claimed that it was because he wanted to be closer to his family and he wanted to start coaching again. However, looking closer at some of the happenings leading up to this move and some of the things that have happened since Murray’s career change, a different story is painted.

Tim Brent wasn’t offered what he felt was fair money for what he brings to the table, four of the other 2002 draftees weren’t even given contract offers, and Martin Gerber was dealt for a prospect and a pick. All these moves seem to signal that Anaheim is tightening the purse strings. Murray was vocal at the trade deadline of keeping his core players together, but since then due to Disney’s desire to sell the team, or the impending CBA expiration or both, the mood seems to have changed.

Even transactions like the signing of Aaron Rome and receiving Tomas Malec from Carolina for Gerber could have less to do with addressing team depth problems and more to do with having players to fill spots if Keith Carney’s option isn’t picked up or if another blueliner is dealt in a trade. Mark Popovic is another blueliner who may be called upon to replace any Ducks defenseman who departs. Popovic had an impressive camp last year and although he wasn’t able to crack the top 6, the only reason he was sent to Cincinnati, was because the team wanted him to see major ice time instead of being a seventh defender in the NHL. There appears to be a desire to cut payroll significantly, and the players that Murray targeted as “core” could soon be sent elsewhere. This is all speculation, but it seems that a year after appearing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Anaheim’s focus isn’t solely on winning.

How does this affect the draft? Malec and Rome now make it appear less likely that the Ducks will draft a blueliner with this first round selection. It appears to be just as likely that the first round selection could be a forward, defenseman or even a goaltender now that Gerber is gone and there are only three goalies in the entire organization. If an injury strikes, the Ducks could be in a very desperate situation. Anaheim certainly doesn’t appear to need a netminder prospect with star potential. Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to graduate to the NHL next season after conquering the AHL and the Ducks still have Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the 2002 Conn Smythe winner as their main goalie. But it is very hard to pinpoint one thing that the Ducks truly do need. The next pressing need for Anaheim after the blueline is forwards with size and skill. College signees Curtis Glencross and Dustin Penner will help address this need, although they still are fairly unknown commodities in terms of both their potential and future in the organization. But then again, Anaheim has an overflow of forwards in their organization.

The “best player available” strategy seems more and more likely for Anaheim going into the draft as each of the team’s needs are at roughly the same level of seriousness. It still seems unlikely that they’ll draft a goalie with their first round selection, but that is more of a serious possibility now then it was before. Trading the pick or even trading down in the draft is something else the Ducks might be more likely to consider now compared to before.

These recent occurrences have made any forecasting in Anaheim rather blurry and it’s hard to speculate what the team’s next move will be or what other changes are in store for the Ducks. Even a relatively simple task like pinpointing the team’s most pressing need is challenging at present. On June 26th, when Anaheim goes to the podium for the ninth selection in the first round, at least some of these questions could be cleared up, although more will probably appear. This will definitely be one of the most interesting offseasons for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

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