The dust has settled on the 2015-16 Anaheim Ducks campaign, and thing aren’t exactly peachy. General manager Bob Murray relieved head coach Bruce Boudreau of his duties, while making it crystal clear that he’d be having some strong words with his players. Murray’s tone in his end of season press conference was both remorseful and caustic, much like a father whose hopes have been betrayed by his disappointing children.
“I’d like to know where the heck [the players] were in Games 1 and 2. They showed up in Game 7, but where the heck was that? They’re going to have to be held accountable too,” he proclaimed to the assembled media.
The Anaheim GM now faces an off-season filled to the brim with expiring contracts. Most importantly, he’ll have to re-sign restricted free agents Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell, Sami Vatanen, Frederik Andersen, and Brandon Pirri. The Ducks are a budget team, so there’s a real possibility that not all of their RFA’s will be back come 2016-17.
Aside from Pirri, all stand to enjoy considerable salary spikes. Lindholm has proven to be one of the league’s very best defensemen, while Rakell and Vatanen have shown an attractive offensive skillset. And then there’s Andersen, Anaheim’s under-appreciated goaltender who had a fine regular season and absolutely stood on his head in the playoffs. He’ll get a nice raise as well.
The importance of this RFA class can’t be understated. Murray’s approach in handling it will dictate Anaheim’s cap maneuverability for the foreseeable future. That alone would be enough to keep any GM busy for a summer, but Murray also has to grapple with a long list of unrestricted free agents.
Unless re-signed before July 1st, David Perron, Jamie McGinn, Chris Stewart, Mike Santorelli, and Shawn Horcoff are all set to hit the open market. Perron showed some outstanding chemistry with Ryan Getzlaf, re-invigorating the struggling captain upon his arrival in a trade from Pittsburgh. He’s worth keeping around by sheer virtue of his position, being a left winger that can mesh with Getzlaf; something that the Ducks have been seeking for years.
McGinn, Santorelli, and Stewart are worth bringing back as well. They’re solid depth forwards who can play on essentially any line, and their cap figures are fairly resonable. Horcoff had a rough first season as a Duck and, at 36, Anaheim could find more cost-efficient options for a fourth-line center.
And Then There’s The Coaching Situation
As if Murray didn’t have enough on-ice personnel decisions to deal with, he’ll also have to find a new head coach to man the Anaheim bench.
The well of “Established NHL Coaches” is slowly drying up, as popular names like Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford are now crossed off the wish-list. Boudreau was snatched up by the Minnesota Wild within days of being fired, and deservedly so. He’s considerably improved every team that he’s taken over in his career, and it’ll be difficult for Murray to find a coach of that caliber.
A number of names have been linked in the Ducks’ coaching search, including Mike Yeo, Travis Green, Luke Richardson, Trent Yawney, and Paul MacLean. Not exactly an awe-inspiring list, though AHL standouts Green and Richardson could be intriguing hires.
As noted by Orange County Register reporter extraordinaire Eric Stephens however, much of Murray’s decision will be based on what the brand of hockey he wants his club to adopt moving forward. Will he want to continue the defensive trend set by Boudreau, or adopt a more offensive style? MacLean has been credited with turning around the Anaheim power play, so he could make sense should Murray want to adopt the latter.
Murray’s summer carries immense magnitude. From locking down his young core, to finding a successor to Boudreau, all of his decisions have major long-term implications. Getzlaf and Corey Perry are slowly beginning their declines, while Ryan Kesler’s massive contract extension will kick in as he turns 32. Simply put, Murray has to maximize the value of every dollar spent from here on out. It’s the only way to go when $23.75 million is tied up on three players on the wrong side of 30.
There’s a lot of pressure on the Anaheim GM to get this right, but it must be noted that he’s made his bed with those massive contracts, as well as the questionable extension he signed Kevin Bieksa to last summer. It’s his turn to prove his worth to the franchise by nailing this off-season. His track record indicates that he’s fully capable of doing so, yet Ducks fans can only stand and watch as the fate of their franchise is molded during the next three months. Let the theater begin.