Hockey fans owe a debt of gratitude to Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray. Weeks before the trade deadline, his everything-must-go-but-not-you-Saku-or-Teemu stance ignited a cottage industry of speculation. On the venerable HF Boards, there's a thread dedicated to Ducks proposals that's crossing 30 pages this morning.
Maybe we exhausted all the Bobby Ryan scenarios back in November, even though he's the most likely to move. Maybe we all don't really want Corey Perry on our rosters until we can find a suitable clothespin for our noses. Whatever the case, when Murray floated the notion of trading core players form his roster, the saliva from NHL fans dripped directly onto Ryan Getzlaf.
Getzlaf is having, statistically, his worst offensive season as a pro. His goals and assists per game are his lowest since his rookie season with the then-Mighty Ducks. Assuming he plays at least 80 games, he's on pace to score 53 points. Ouch.
But he's also a 26-year-old Stanley Cup and gold medal winner, and one of the biggest bodies that can also dominate offensively in the NHL. To say he's coveted would be an insult to longing; there aren't many fans in this league that wouldn't take Getzlaf on the roster yesterday.
Including those in Toronto.
Before Murray made his public announcement of a potential Ducks yard sale, columnist Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register made the case that it's time to trade Getzlaf and reload with the package of players his move would yield.
After Murray's announcement, Getzlaf — signed through 2013 with a $5.325 million cap hit and without a no-trade clause — indicated that he doesn't want to leave Anaheim:
Getzlaf said that he wants to remain one of the essential pieces to lead the Ducks back to respectability as Murray turns one eye toward next season. "I want to be part of it more than anything," he said. "In junior, I played for the same team my whole career and I kind of imagined the same things when I came here and still do. I don't want to put Murph in a situation where he has to do something like that.
"The guys in here don't want to do that either. Murph showed a lot of faith in us. Unfortunately he had to fire Randy [Carlyle] and I think that we need to start rewarding him for that. I take that on my shoulders as well. I've got to be better. I've got to produce."
("We need to start rewarding him for that?" Never let it be said the players didn't want Randy Carlyle fired.)
Immediately, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brian Burke were mentioned as possible suitors. Getzlaf fills the most significant hole up front of the Leafs, and gives them the offensive star with a ring they wanted in chasing Brad Richards. Burke is an unabashed fan of Getzlaf's: His long-term deal with the forward back in 2007 was seen as a hefty financial investment at the time but proved to be a genius move.
The most prominent conclusion I came to was that this is exactly the type of contract Burke likes to deal for when acquiring or just outright negotiating terms himself with a marquee player. Should Getzlaf be legitimately available, you can be sure Burke will make a strong if not the strongest run at the Ducks' #1 centerman; after all, he was the one who signed Getzlaf to his current contract.
What it would take to acquire him is an entirely different discussion in its own right; nonetheless, the value is there, and with these statistics in mind, one can assume the Leafs will get their money's worth either way.
Damien Cox set the package at Luke Schenn, Tyler Bozak, potentially Nazem Kadri, probably Joe Colborne, maybe Carl Gunnarson and a firm handshake from Brian Burke to his old trading partner Murray. But does that give a "core player" back to the Ducks?
Unconfirmed reports suggest that, outside Toronto, there are other cities that also operate NHL teams. Some of those teams might also covet a large, skilled centre such as Getzlaf with one year left on a contract carrying a cap hit of US$5.325-million. Brad Richards was the only marquee centre available when free agency opened last July, and he signed a nine-year contract worth US$60-million with the New York Rangers after months of speculation — speculation that included interest from the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Leafs, among other teams.
Now that his lament over the loss of fourth-line enforcers in the NHL has been chronicled, Burke can get back to the business of making the playoffs for the first time since 2004. They're right on the bubble, with six teams within four points of each other in the final four spots in the East. Acquiring a big center like Getzlaf would transform the Leafs from a contender for the playoffs to a contender in the playoffs in the East.
There are three positions in the NHL where the acquisition of a single impact player can dramatically alter your fortunes. The first is goaltender, obviously. The second is on defense, where a 27-minute-a-night rock can affect every facet of the game. The third is a top-line center, and look no further than the New York Rangers to see how that trickle-down works.
The Leafs have Dion Phaneuf in Norris form. The goaltender … well, that's a work in progress. But Burke knows he needs a star pivot. He made it a priority last summer ... and ended up with Tim Connolly.
Getzlaf doesn't want to leave. All signs point to Ryan going first if Murray breaks up the RPG Line for good. (And please, no Ville Leino "let's make Ryan a center!" chatter; he's not.)
But if circumstances change, if his departure after next summer becomes too threatening … if Ryan Getzlaf is available, then overpay for him, Mr. Burke. Get him to Toronto.