No doubt it was nice and all to hear Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews single out the Ducks as Chicago’s toughest opponent on its way to the 2015 Stanley Cup, but that did nothing to change the situation that faced Anaheim GM Bob Murray when the summer began. His team may have dominated the Western Conference during the regular season, but the Ducks weren’t good enough to get the job done when it mattered. Their playoff failure meant that Murray had a busy few months ahead of him.
Murray let forwards Matt Beleskey and Tomas Fleischmann walk, and dealt away Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem. He toughened up Anaheim’s back end with a trade for Kevin Bieksa and added some speed and finishing ability to his top six forwards by acquiring Carl Hagelin. Murray also signed Shawn Horcoff for veteran leadership and took a flyer on jumbo winger Chris Stewart.
On Monday, Murray likely finished his retooling of the Ducks when he signed 29-year-old free-agent forward Mike Santorelli. All told, his has been a dramatic but carefully considered approach to the task at hand. And it just might be enough to earn Murray a third consecutive nomination for GM of the Year.
But will it be enough to bring Anaheim the Stanley Cup?
Despite his efforts, Murray hasn’t necessarily plugged all the holes in his team. The most obvious question that remains to be answered is, Who will fill the No.1 role on the blue line? Hampus Lindholm’s play during the postseason hinted that he’ll be a cornerstone someday, but it’s probably too much to expect the 21-year-old to handle that role this season.
And do they have a winger who can step in alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and contribute at a first-line level not just during the regular season, but also during the playoffs? Maybe that guy is Stewart, the talented but frustrating forward who wore out his welcome in Buffalo and did nothing after being acquired by the Wild at the deadline. Maybe it’s Hagelin, although he might be a more natural fit on the second line alongside Ryan Kesler. Or maybe a better option will become available later in the season. If it does, the Ducks will be ready. One of Murray’s real successes has been his mastery of the salary cap. According to General Fanager, he has left himself more than $7 million with which to play. Of course, Anaheim’s internal cap may be lower than the league’s $71.4 million, but clearly the GM has left himself some wiggle room to make adjustments on the fly.
In the meantime, Murray has done an admirable job of freshening the roster with solid role players like Santorelli, who inked a one-year deal at a chance-for-the-Cup discount price of $875,000. He’s one of those quiet additions whose value won’t truly be appreciated until later in the season. The veteran forward can play either wing or center—that versatility will come in handy with fourth line pivot Nate Thompson out until December—and can comfortably slide onto any of the bottom three lines. Santorelli is at his best at even strength (he was the highest scoring player on the Maple Leafs at five-on-five last season before being traded to the Predators), but can fill in on either special-teams unit as well. He has a terrific work ethic and should be a great fit on a team that prizes tenacity and effort.
Like the rest of Murray’s summer moves, Santorelli doesn’t necessarily answer the Ducks’ biggest questions. But for a team looking to add depth, speed and scoring he’s another nice piece who could help make them an even tougher opponent next spring.
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