ANAHEIM, Calif. -- After Friday afternoon's press conference, Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray appeared to have more questions than answers.
Not the least of those being who will coach the team next year after he relieved Bruce Boudreau of his head coaching duties in the morning.
There will be plenty of time to address the head coaching vacancy, as Murray said, "There’s a bunch of guys out there. This is a huge choice for us. We’re going to take our time; do all our homework."
Instead, we're going to focus the other point of contention Murray brought up often when speaking with the media - the players.
Murray did not hold back when it came to addressing his team's performance in the playoffs outside of what the coaching can impact: "I’d like to know where the heck they were in Games 1 and 2. The players are going to have to answer that in the next four or five days. Where were they? They showed up in Game 7, but where was that passion? That controlled emotion? Where the heck was that? They’re going to have to be held accountable, too."
It gets better.
Murray was asked pointedly about his two best players, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry's, performances in the past Games 6 and 7 over the last three years. (To describe them as 'absent' would be putting it mildly.)
"There are definite concerns in that area," said Murray. "The core has to be held responsible. They have to be better. Maybe I haven’t been hard enough in the last few years, but they’re going to hear some different words this time."
Whatever those words are, they're probably NSFW.
'The core' Murray refers to is more or less the contracts he is going to have to live with because of the players' no-move and/or no-trade clauses. Leading the GM to quash the idea of moving Getzlaf and/or Perry right out the gate, "They’ve got no trade, no moves [contract clauses]. We have four players with that situation ... that’s one of those things I’ve said: long-term, no trade, no move [contracts] will get yourself in trouble."
Which is somewhat ironic considering he agreed to the four core contracts in question: Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, and Kevin Bieska. (Andrew Cogliano and his limited no trade clause could be added to the list, too.)
According to Murray, he was keeping up with the market around the NHL, "It’s what we get forced into. If you follow, and to some degree that’s what happens, a couple big contracts get signed, that what you end up getting pushed into. They expect it, and we all are guilty of [providing] that, but sometimes you’re going to have to push back."
"We may have to adopt a little different philosophy on some of those things going forward, but [the players are] going to want [long-term deals with contract clauses] ... I think I’m at the point where that’s enough of some of those things."
"I can say that now it’s going to be difficult. Some of my younger players are not going to want to hear that," said Murray. "It ends up being not good for the player and the team at some point. I’m not talking about us right now, but when you look at what’s happened in other places, where players get to this point, at certain points, it doesn’t work out good for anybody."
Those young players likely include a bevy of key restricted free agents: Rickard Rakell, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, and Frederik Andersen. All of whom played integral roles on Anaheim's second half success. Also on the RFA short list are Brandon Pirri and prospect Stefan Noesen (acquired in the Bobby Ryan trade).
It appears as if the RFAs will be guiding the general manager's decisions this offseason: "We’ve got a sort of strategy here going about the contracts. Our RFAs ... they’re all important."
"We’re going to attempt to answer a few questions right away," said Murray. "It’s never easy because [the player are] never in a hurry to do things, but we’ve got to find out what some people are thinking as far as dollar wise. That will dictate which directions we go."
The goal appears to be to sign all the RFAs they can, but that won't be easy and could lead to more personnel turnover.
"To change some things, some people are going to get moved," said Murray, ripping the band-aid off right away. "You’re going to have to change money around, it what you’re going to do."
"My budget is my budget. As I’ve said before, I have no problem with that. Our revenues were up a little bit this year, so I get a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I don’t think the [salary] cap is going to move [much], which could be very favorable to us, except we’ve got a bunch of guys to sign. It’s going to take a lot of work and decisions on who to keep and who not to keep."
Anaheim's budget tends to be between $8-10 million under the salary cap ceiling. An incremental increase puts pressure on big spenders who might have to let go of assets the Ducks can capitalize on during free agency (for the right price). There is no indication ownership is going to open up the money bags to allow the Ducks to spend to the cap.
Instead, Murray has to look at preserving players that his organization has invested time and money into, and most importantly, see a role in the organization's future. Anyone else outside of that plan is fair game.
"The asset management of our players going forward is everything," Murray said.
"We have to prioritize as a group. It's all I’ve had on my mind since we got beat ... We haven't sat down [as a group]. I have in my mind what I think should happen, but I’ve got people that work for me that are going to want to voice their opinion."
Aside from the RFAs, the team appears to be on the search again for a top line left-winger - at a reasonable price - to play alongside Getzlaf and Perry. Murray laughed as the question was posed to him, "I answer this question every year."
He's not kidding. Ever since the trade of Bobby Ryan to Ottawa, Getzlaf and Perry have cycled through an entire team's worth of forwards attempting to find the right fit.
"So, yeah, a left hand shot, considering our team. It’s amazing. You’re always trying to find a right handed defenseman, and now I’m looking for a left hand shot. That’s kind of different."
Although, the scoring problem is not limited to the pairing of the high paid stars. "We didn’t get enough secondary scoring when we needed it," said Murray.
"We’ve basically got three second [lines] right now. I do not mind playing with three second [lines], if I could get them. For a while it looked like we had it, but it wasn’t there when it counted."
One of the key pieces in that secondary scoring puzzle is Rakell; who was mentioned frequently by Murray as one of the solutions to the scoring crisis. The soon-to-be 23-year-old center/winger and restricted free agent, was fourth on the team in scoring in the regular season with a career high 43 points (20G, 23A).
He was flying until about two weeks before the season ended when his appendix ruptured. Murray acknowledged the loss of a healthy Rakell hurt the team "big time," and the player "never got back to himself" when he returned to the lineup during the playoffs, earning only 2 points in 7 games.
Without saying it outright, Rakell is probably the No. 1 RFA target of the Ducks to get signed early.
Another area of strength appears to be the young defensive corps. "I thought our defense, for a young defense - [Josh] Manson’s injury obviously hurt us big time - did well," said Murray. For the first time since the Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger days, Anaheim was a strong puck possession team.
Bieksa is lumped in with the "core" group of players due to the inescapability of his contract; however, looking at the big picture, the true core of the defense is Cam Fowler. The 24-year-old is signed with the team through the 2017-18 season, and has no restrictive clauses on his contract.
Another player who appeared to join Fowler as a part of the defensive core structure was Simon Despres. He earned himself a five year, $18.5 million extension (with no clauses) set to kick in next season. However, Despres took several hits to the head during the season that caused him to miss a significant amount of time. He never returned to the form of the player that earned that contract.
Murray acknowledged as much and is concerned for his future, "... medical [examinations] are tomorrow. [Despres is] one of the ones I’m going to make sure he hangs around a bit and sees the right people. He got too many shots to the head that were - you saw some of them..." The GM shuddered and shook his head.
As stated earlier, Murray wants sign all RFAs which include two integral defensemen: 22-year-old Hampus Lindholm and 24-year-old Sami Vatanen. The thought of acquiring the rights either defenseman is enough to make other GMs salivate.
The other looming player question for Murray comes in net.
When questioned why John Gibson was not sent down to play for the San Diego Gulls in their quest for the Calder Cup, it appeared to be a management oversight: "That was one where the trade deadline, we had to do the down and up [to ensure players could play on playoff rosters]. We made a decision, and this, right now, looks like it was another one we should have thought of."
Gibson was awarded a three year contract extension ($2.3-million AAV) set to kick in next year. He struggled in Games 1 and 2 against the Nashville Predators before getting the hook in favor of soon-to-be RFA Frederik Andersen.
The two worked well as a tandem in the Ducks post-Christmas emergence. A tandem is certainly something Murray is willing to consider, "[Assistant GM] David McNabb and I discussed that yesterday before we went in our meeting with the ownership; could we possibly work out those numbers? We’re going to see."
"The opposite side to that question is: do they want that? I mean, they’re No. 1 goalies. Any good No. 1 goalie I’ve known in my life wants the bloody net. So, do they want that? That’s an issue. But, they’re a pretty good team. It would be nice, but we’ll see."
From what Murray said earlier, it's highly doubtful he'll keep both goalies as all costs, vis a vis the Dallas Stars pricey goaltending model.
One thing Murray kept reminding reporters of is the possibility of an expansion draft next summer. He said repeatedly he doesn't know all the rules (which there aren't any official rules yet), but he has to factor that into his decisions. Reminding us also that there is no official announcement on expansion, as well.
There are a few things we know for sure ahead of player exit interviews on Saturday.
First, Murray is fine with Getzlaf keeping the captain's "C," at least, for now.
"I think he’s doing as best he can in that role. I think there’s a lot of things in that room he has to deal with," said Murray. "I think there are some different personalities in that room, and I’m not to the point of doing anything crazy in that direction."
"But when new coaches come in you have to have discussions with them about what they want to do and what they see in the room, so that discussion will happen."
Second, the GM spoke with the press at the Christmas break when the Ducks were in their major swoon, and just ripped the players for their lack of preparation for the season (i.e. out of shape in camp).
When asked if that was a concern for this upcoming year he said, "Don’t worry about that ... I already met with my strength and conditioning guy. Our guys did not prepare very well from last year to this year and the best teams always do."
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