The Decision: Anaheim Ducks and Corey Perry need to figure out their future – fast

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The night before Ryan Getzlaf signed his eight-year, $66 million extension with the Anaheim Ducks, he called Corey Perry.

They had won a Stanley Cup together with the Ducks. They had won an Olympic gold medal together with Team Canada. They were tearing up the NHL again on a line with Bobby Ryan. And now it was time to talk about the future.

They had talked about it before – last summer, during the lockout – but one what-if was about to be answered. One would be left.

Getzlaf knew his contract would affect Perry, a pending unrestricted free agent. He also knew Perry’s decision would affect the Ducks, the team of which he is captain, the team to which he was making a long-term commitment. He wanted to break the news to Perry himself.

“That was a phone call that I wanted to make before I did what I did,” Getzlaf said Tuesday. “I made it clear to him what I wanted.”

Getzlaf told Perry that he wanted to stay in Anaheim – and that he wanted to stay in Anaheim with him.

And how did Perry respond?

Getzlaf would not betray Perry’s confidence, of course. But it’s clear he was unclear.

“He didn’t tell me he was staying or going,” Getzlaf said.

What do you do if you’re Perry? Do you sign a massive extension after Getzlaf, trusting that the Ducks can win for years to come with so much money tied up in two players? Do you hit the market, taking advantage of the opportunity to be a rare marquee free agent and explore all your options?

What do you do if you’re the Ducks? If you’re general manager Bob Murray and you fail to sign Perry soon, do you dare trade him before the April 3 deadline? Do you hold your breath and go for the Stanley Cup hoping he re-signs? Do you try to work out a sign-and-trade, because you can offer eight years under the new labor agreement while others can offer only seven?

It’s a dilemma, and it’s made worse by the fact the Ducks are one of the two best teams in the NHL halfway through this shortened season.

They were 18-3-3 entering Tuesday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild. They were six points behind the Chicago Blackhawks, whose 24-game point streak has finally ended, with two games in hand. They handed the ’Hawks one of their three shootout losses during the streak. They were nine points ahead of the rest of pack in the Western Conference.

“I’m not going to sit here and say it doesn’t bother me,” Perry said. “Obviously you think about it. It’s your future. But I put it behind me.”

Perry has been focused enough that he entered Tuesday night with nine goals and 24 points in 24 games – with eight goals and 18 points in his past 12 games. He had two goals, including a game-winner, and three points in two games after Getzlaf’s phone call.

“I’m not getting pressure from any of the guys in here,” he said.

* * * * *

The Ducks did the right thing in signing Getzlaf first, even at a cap hit of $8.25 million. They could not afford to approach the trade deadline with both Getzlaf and Perry as pending UFAs. If you have to choose one, you choose your captain. You choose the No. 1 centerman over the No. 1 winger, especially when you still have Ryan signed for two more seasons.

Getzlaf did not necessarily take less to stay. But his high cap hit reflects the reality of the new labor agreement – with the lengths of contracts limited, teams cannot spread out the money over more years – and he was more settled in Southern California.

“I knew that I was going to do my deal first,” Getzlaf said. “It’s just the way it was. That’s the way it was going to work out.”

Yes, Perry won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 2011. But he scored 50 goals with Getzlaf feeding him pucks, and Getzlaf is contending for the Hart this season. Getzlaf entered Tuesday night with 10 goals and 31 points, fifth in the league in scoring.

“I know Sidney gets all the ink and everything, and rightfully so,” said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, referring to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, whose 45 points led the NHL entering Tuesday’s action. “But to us, Getzy’s been every bit as good – or as valuable – as anybody in the league has been for their team. He’s been that good.”

It’s easy to say Perry should sign an extension with the Ducks before the trade deadline, and maybe he will. The Ducks have the cap space to give him many millions, and they can offer that extra year of term. Does he want to adjust to a new team and a new centerman when he knows what he can do with the Ducks and Getzlaf?

But it’s not often a 27-year-old Hart Trophy winner hits the market. Perry could make even more than Getzlaf did. And believe it or not, it might not be all about the money. He’s going to make big bucks regardless of where he goes. Only he can put a value on things like location. Does he want to be closer to his Ontario home?

Perry might want to take time to explore his options, as uncomfortable as things are right now – actually, because things are uncomfortable right now. Zach Parise captained the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup final last season, then fielded offers in the off-season and chose to play near his Minnesota home. He signed a 13-year, $98 million deal that would be illegal under the new labor agreement.

This decision is not about this season; it’s about the next seven or eight. It’s also about lifestyle and family.

“When you’re able to get away from everything, that’s when you can really do some good thinking,” said Parise, who, like Perry, is represented by the Newport Sports agency. “It’s hard because you have to look so long-term. … A lot more comes into it than just hockey. … For me, it was the best thing to wait – wait until everything was done and then really analyze it.”

* * * * *

If Perry does not sign before the trade deadline, there are two schools of thought: One, that the Ducks cannot afford to trade him. Two, that the Ducks cannot afford not to trade him.

Me? I wouldn’t trade him unless someone blew me away. I’d at least try the sign-and-trade route after the season. I’d run the risk that he’d leave for nothing. What are you really going to get for him before the trade deadline? Would that be worth more than a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup?

You get only so many legitimate shots in this league. The Ducks have one this season. Who knows what happens after this, especially if they lose Perry? They could lose veterans Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, too. Both are pending unrestricted free agents.

If you trade someone like Perry just to make sure you get some assets in return, you’re just kicking the can down the road. How would the Ducks explain to the fans – to Getzlaf, the captain they just signed – that they are trying to win? Win when? The Los Angeles Kings just won the Cup up the freeway, by the way.

But that’s easy for me to say, and I understand the other argument. The Ducks lost top defense prospect Justin Schultz to free agency after they failed to sign him. Other teams have been hurt by free-agent defections – the Devils with Parise, the Nashville Predators with Ryan Suter, the Dallas Stars with Brad Richards.

Reading too much into a hot first half could be dangerous. And even if the Ducks keep it up, even if they catch the ’Hawks and win the West, that might mean nothing in the playoffs. The Kings won the Cup as an eighth seed last season.

The Ducks must make a sober analysis of where they are and where they’re going. They have to think long-term, too.

“We’ll see,” Boudreau said. “I’m not worried about it until I find out what’s going on. I might worry about it if he leaves, but right now he’s on our team and he’ll be playing tonight, so I’m really not that worried where he is tomorrow right now.”

Getzlaf and Perry rode the elevator together after the morning skate Tuesday. They are going up together, one way or another.

“I’m not too worried about it,” Perry said. “It’s condensed [because of the lockout]. We’ve only had three months to talk instead of from September or whatever. It’s going to come fast, and hopefully it all works out.”

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