In the world of sports, the playoffs are often referred to as the "second season." Hockey fans know that the current season never really ends until the puck is dropped for the first game of the next one. In this sense, one can look at the off-season as the "third season," which has been less exciting than the previous summer for the Anaheim Ducks (having won the greatest trophy in sports and all), yet much more stable in terms of surprising ups and downs.
For a number of reasons, the Ducks' 2007-08 season concluded much earlier than many had anticipated, but the organization as a whole wisely decided to simply learn from the experience and move on. From the moment the final buzzer rang in Dallas, the mission to assemble another Cup-caliber team began, with a foundation looking like this:
(Any combination of forwards, mainly May, Marchant, Parros and Sutherby?)
Before the free agent frenzy even began, GM Brian Burke made the surprising move of placing his friend and reclamation project, Todd Bertuzzi, on waivers, eventually buying out his contract. To both fans and detractors of Big Bert alike, it was clear that the man tried his best to regain the power forward form he displayed as a member of Vancouver's West Coast Express line, often in ways that did not show up on stat sheets. Unfortunately, those numbers could not justify paying him another $4 million in a salary cap world, and like we've seen recently with the buyouts of Mark Parrish and Glen Murray, teams can no longer afford to pay veterans salaries that may reflect their past performance more than their current capabilities.
On a brighter note, the departure of Bertuzzi reflected the Ducks' belief that the second overall pick of the 2005 draft, Bobby Ryan, is ready for a larger role amongst the club's top six forwards. Ironically, one of the main functions Todd served in his single year as a Duck was one as a mentor to the budding power forward, as Ryan details in this piece
about his progression from the player drafted after Sidney Crosby to a growing talent of his own.
Clearly, the first priority after the calendar flipped into the month of July was getting Corey Perry, an integral part of the Ducks' future, signed to long-term deal. The team did just that by locking him up to a contract mirroring the five-year pact his friend and linemate, Ryan Getzlaf, made with Anaheim earlier in the season.
By this time, Scott Niedermayer had met Burke's deadline of draft day to inform the Ducks of his intentions for the final year of his contract, which he announced he will honor to the delight of fans of both the club and hockey in general. Teemu Selanne, the other half of the "to retire or not to retire?" duo, was a different story - one for a future post.
With Niedermayer completing the defense corps and their first-line right wing cemented into the roster, the next hole to be patched was the vacancy in the second-line center spot left by fan-favorite Andy McDonald after he was traded to St. Louis in a tough-yet-necessary move to free "tagging space" for the upcoming year. With all due respect to Doug Weight, it became clear by the end of the season that he was not the answer to an offense that finished with the third lowest goals-per-game of all 30 teams.
In true Burkonian fashion, the outspoken GM once again dipped into his old Canuck cookie jar and pulled out Brendan Morrison, who figures to slide seamlessly into the top six as just the second-line pivot the Ducks were looking for (More on the Morrison signing can be found here
Although largely expected after the release of Ilya Bryzgalov that left many Duck fans scratching their heads (myself included), backup goalie Jonas Hiller's future with the club was officially cemented with a two-year contract that gives Anaheim one of the league's best one-two punches in net.
Finally, after the salary-clearing trade of Marc-Andre Bergeron to the Wild and with the expected trade of Mathieu Schneider for the same purpose, the team sought out a defenseman who could immediately step into the third pairing. They got their man in a somewhat-surprising signing of one of Florida's most popular players, Steve Montador.
Now, as the calendar flips once again (where does the time go?!), the Ducks' lineup features less question marks, yet with a salary over the new $56.7 million cap, is far from complete:
(A combination of an even greater pool of NHL-ready forwards)
I'd like to conclude this first "Duck Puck" post with a sincere thank you to those of you patient enough to read through this blog, which I promise is only a simple summary of Anaheim's off-season so far to catch up on things before the "real
" posts begin.
Look for future posts on Selanne and Schneider's future with the team, my take on the comings and goings of this summer, as well as a number of other items which I hope will become regular features of a regular blog.
Keep on quacking!