Ducks’ Only Option Is to Swing for the Fences

As the National Hockey League’s trade deadline approaches, Anaheim Ducks‘ general manager Bob Murray faces a potentially franchise-altering fork in the road.

June’s expansion draft threatens to strip the Ducks of a quality defenseman, leaving them with nothing to show for it. That reality has hung like a black cloud over management’s head all season, but the time to act is nigh. Murray has two options: get creative and find a way to protect all expansion-eligible defenseman, or flip one of them to address other needs.

Make no mistake: Murray would much rather find a way to hoard all of his assets. Factor in his latest comments on the matter and the chances that the Ducks move a quality blueliner by the deadline seem to be getting slimmer and slimmer.

Yet, being prudent won’t get a team with a closing championship window anywhere. As mediocre as the Ducks have looked at times this season, their path to the Stanley Cup Finals looks a lot less daunting than it has in years past thanks to a weakened Western Conference.

Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf haven’t been nearly as bad as some would have you believe. Even so, it’s obvious that they can’t carry an entire team offensively anymore. Ryan Kesler, who’s having a good season, can’t bear the offensive burden on his own either. That logic should be obvious to anyone who understands age curves in professional hockey.

The Ducks have over $20 million tied up between the three. They need to make good on their investment before the three really don’t have anything left. Adding a complementary piece in Patrick Eaves won’t be enough to get them over the hump.

Ducks’ Fast Closing Championship Window

The Washington Capitals, a team facing serious cap constraints in the near future and a closing Stanley Cup window, acted boldly by adding Kevin Shattenkirk on Monday night. Washington’s GM Brian MacLellan could have justified standing pat. His team might be the best in the league thanks to a star-studded roster and would have contended even without Shattenkirk. The public outcry would have been minimal at most.

Championship windows are fickle. For many teams, they close almost as fast as they open. MacLellan seems to understand that. Does Murray?

After yet another Game 7 loss at home last season, Murray responded by adding Antoine Vermette, Jared Boll, Mason Raymond and Jonathan Bernier. Outside of winning faceoffs, Vermette has done little to justify his contract. Boll has been useless. Raymond is no longer on the team. Bernier has a .901 save percentage.

That’s before mentioning the fact that head coach Randy Carlyle doesn’t have this team playing any better than it did last year (worse, in fact), while Bruce Boudreau is having a Jack Adams-worthy season.

Even with that laundry list of blunders, Murray still has a chance (and the assets) to put his club back on the fast track to contention. Anaheim probably still isn’t a clear-cut Stanley Cup favorite if they land a Matt Duchene or a Gabriel Landeskog, but their odds improve dramatically.

Eaves, though not the goal-scorer some think him to be, was objectively a very nice add. Add in another star forward, and you have the makings of a forward group that can compete with just about any team in the West. Murray has to act. If he doesn’t, he may not get another chance to.