Anaheim Ducks playoffs postmortem: No standing pat
Bob Murray is a patient man.
The general manager of the Anaheim Ducks has proved time and again that he won't let small samples of play alter his view of the big picture. It's a quality that helps define him as one of the best, and smartest, men in the business.
But even he might be in the mood to go nuclear after the team he built to contend for the Stanley Cup was upset in the first round by the Nashville Predators.
He won't, of course. But Murray can't afford to stand pat this summer. He made the first of several tough decisions on Friday, firing coach Bruce Boudreau.
Boudreau had experienced his share of success in Anaheim. He led the team to four consecutive Pacific Division titles and his .648 winning percentage is by far the best in franchise history. But he wasn't able to get it done in the playoffs, despite icing a progressively stronger roster.
That the season ended at home with a Game 7 loss for the fourth consecutive year makes for a great narrative, but ultimately it's the failure itself, not the circumstances, that guided Murray's decision. With tickets to sell and the window closing on this core group, there was no way to argue that Boudreau was still the best man for the job.
No word yet on a potential replacement, although it appears assistants Trent Yawney and Paul MacLean are still with the club. Considering the regular season success the Ducks enjoyed under this group, it's possible that one of them could be elevated to the top job.
While Murray sorts that out, he's likely weighing changes to the roster as well.
The Ducks have five key restricted free agents to address and only so much money to spend under the team's internal salary cap of approximately $65 million. Promising centers Rickard Rakell and Brandon Pirri could play key roles moving forward. Both bring the kind of skill and creativity that this team needs in the top nine. Defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen are in for hefty raises. It's possible that one of the blueliners could be dealt to save money and clear a path for Shea Theodore, but it's more likely that both will be re-signed. They looked great together in Game 7.
The most interesting situation though involves goalie Frederik Andersen. The veteran turned the series around with his arrival in Game 3—who knows what might have happened if he'd been between the pipes from the start?—and has established himself as a solid second-tier netminder. Under normal circumstances he'd be signed without a second thought. But there are two complications: the emergence of John Gibson, and the near certainty that Andersen will be lost in an expansion draft next summer if the NHL, as expected, grants a franchise to Las Vegas. With at least two teams (Calgary and Carolina) looking for a new starter, it might make more sense to shop Andersen now while his value is at its highest.
There are also decisions coming on UFAs who were picked up for a playoff run. David Perron was a solid fit after coming over from Pittsburgh and could fill a top-six role moving forward. Shawn Horcoff was revered as a dressing room presence. If he's willing to accept something close to league minimum, he might stick around for one more year. Ryan Garbutt, Jamie McGinn, Mike Santorelli and Chris Stewart though are likely to move on, making room for low-cost youngsters like Nick Ritchie, Chris Wagner and Stefan Noesen.
And it won't be just free agents who'll be sacrificed. There's a better than zero chance that Murray will want to shake up his core after this. There have been rumors that Corey Perry might be available if this season went south, but it's hard to see that happening. The veteran winger struggled in the playoffs (zero goals and a team-worst –7 rating) but he's still one of the top snipers in the game, averaging 40 goals over his past five full seasons. Add in his salary ($8.625 million through 2020-21) and a no-movement clause and it's tough to see him being the one sacrificed to change up the mojo.
More likely to be moved: defenseman Cam Fowler. The U.S. Olympian has been used as Anaheim's all-purpose defender, averaging better than 25 minutes a night in the playoffs. But his limits were exposed this season (he's an iffy proposition in his own end, especially in front of the net, and struggled at times in transition) and Vatanen/Lindholm are ready to elevate their games to the top pairing. Moving Fowler and his $4 million hit would allow the Ducks to re-sign the two youngsters and change up the dynamic of their D corps. And since there's a clear need for skill and speed on the back end, Murray might also look into trading a veteran like Kevin Bieksa or Clayton Stoner (deals that would involved salary retention) in order to clear a spot for promising prospect Brandon Montour.
Murray may be a patient man, but surely he's seen enough of this group. Changes are coming to Anaheim. Expect them sooner than later.