Ducks general manager Bob Murray is keeping one eye on the three games that remain for his team before the NHL trade deadline: tonight in Boston, Saturday in Dallas, and next Tuesday in Chicago. His other eye is on the next three years. Either way he looked at it, Murray believed that today’s trade for Ryan Whitney made too much sense not to pull the trigger.
“I remember seeing (Whitney) years ago,” Murray said. “He had just come out of college. He was playing for Pittsburgh’s farm team. I told (then-Ducks coach) Craig Hartsburg … after the second period, I said ‘wow.’ “
The hope in the Ducks’ front office is that this first impression is still valid, even after foot surgery last August cut the first 31 games out of Whitney’s season, and had limited his production for the Pittsburgh Penguins since. Murray fully expects Whitney to be part of the Ducks’ post-Pronger, post-Niedermayer future, with four years remaining on a contract that will pay the 26-year-old $4 million a year.
Over the last month, the GM said he got enough reassurances from Penguins counterpart Ray Schero, and Whitney himself, about the foot injury before he pulled the trigger on today’s deal that sent Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi to Pittsburgh. Those concerns over Whitney’s foot – which may include additional surgery once this season is over – were overriden by his talent and the paucity of available puck-moving defensemen in their mid-20s.
“It’s harder to get a top-four defenseman than it is a top-six forward,” he said.
That’s good news, because the next three games will determine how Murray shapes the Ducks’ roster going forward. Kunitz’s absence will be absorbed within the current team, and only if no suitable replacement is found will he pursue another trade. Murray did not say that he has given up on this season, but rather reiterated his mantra that if an attractive offer becomes available,”I’ve got to do the right thing for the organization.”
The GM appears at first glance to be toeing the line between rebuilding for next year and gearing up for the 2009 playoffs. That seems impossible at worst and, at best, leaves a very small window for the current roster to gain cohesion if no one steps up to replace Kunitz.
“I’d be disappointed if we don’t go on a little run,” Murray said. “These games are huge.”
In Tangradi, the Ducks have sacrificed another piece of their long-term picture for the present. The lanky 20-year had 38 goals and 87 points in 52 games for his juniors team this year; Murray said he “tried to wiggle out of (including Tangradi) every way I could and I couldn’t.”
“The reason I thought we could (trade Tangradi) is because, even in last year’s draft we got some good forward prospects — wingers, I mean — Brittain, Deschamps,” he said. “Eric would have been like Bobby (Ryan). That type of player, it’s going to be three years before he’s (in the NHL). We’re trying to turn this around quickly. We’ve got Getzy, Perry and Bobby. Who knows where we’re going to be two years from now?”
What the rest of the NHL wants to know is, where will the Ducks be a week from now? Possible trade inquires, especially surrounding Pronger and Niedermayer, have heated up in the last week. A weak next three games could change his outlook, but Murray cautioned that Thursday’s trade is unrelated to either Pronger or Niedermayer’s future in Anaheim.
“I’ve got nothing going that way with any other defenseman,” he said. “This wasn’t done for that purpose. This was done because going forward we needed to do something. I believe in building from the back end up and our back end wasn’t good enough.”