Ducks general Bob Murray said he wasn’t sure that Jean-Sebastien Giguere was headed for Toronto until 12:30 a.m. Sunday.
That’s how much of a whirlwind deal Sunday’s blockbuster was — mainly, according to Murray, because he was willing to trade his veteran goalie before Brian Burke was.
“I talked with (Toronto assistant) David Nonis and Burkie early in the year about this,” Murray said. “They didn’t feel it was the right time. All of a sudden, (Jonas) Hiller’s signed and I’ve got (Nonis) saying he’s interested in something. They had a much bigger deal going somewhere else (for Dion Phaneuf) and they wanted to tie everything together.
“It’s a good fit for Toronto. I think that Jiggy’s a perfect guy to be with The Monster (Jonas Gustavsson) and (goaltending consultant) Frankie Allaire. It’s a good fit for them and a good fit for us. It came together all in the last 24 hours.”
Along with netminder Vesa Toskala, Burke dangled several throw-in options for Murray — none of which involved draft picks — and Murray preferred the veteran forward Jason Blake. This, despite the fact that Blake, who turns 37 in September, has a contract that will pay $3 million each of the next two seasons. His cap hit is $4 million each year.
Blake signed a front-loaded, $40 million deal with Toronto in July 2007, coming off a career (40-goal) season for the New York Islanders. But Blake slumped to 15 and 25 goals each of the next two seasons, and had just 10 goals through 56 games at the time of Sunday’s trade.
“He earned that contract,” Murray said. “Some are criticizing Jiggy – these guys earned their contracts. I think what happens is when people get big contracts, especially in certain markets, and it doesn’t go right for them off the bat, there’s pressure all the time. These guys have to be very aware there’s pressure for getting these contracts. He’s a good hockey player.”
Burke told reporters in Toronto that “we’re trading away a guy who’s arguably our hardest worker in the weight room, our hardest worker on the ice, and a character guy.”
“I was happy to have Jason Blake as a player,” Burke added. “He didn’t get as much done on the ice as people wanted to, but you get a guy who works that hard and cares that much, I’ll take guys like that anytime. I’m not happy to put a guy like that on an airplane.”
Though the final decision goes to head coach Randy Carlyle, Murray said he imagines Blake complementing the Ducks as a penalty killer and as a top-six forward — which is why Dan Sexton was assigned to AHL Manitoba on Sunday. Murray said he preferred to see Sexton get the extra playing time at a lower level, and told the 22-year-old he will be back in the NHL at some point.
Toskala’s role is more clear-cut as the backup to Hiller. The only thing that isn’t clear is when he will arrive. Because the Finnish-born goaltender has previously been employed in the United States (with San Jose), processing the necessary immigration papers isn’t expected to take the week it takes some players who have never played for a U.S.-based team before. But he is questionable to be ready in time for tomorrow’s Ducks game against the Florida Panthers, and Justin Pogge was recalled to be the backup.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the trade to Murray was the savings toward next year’s payroll. Toskala becomes an unrestricted free agent at year’s end, and Blake represents a net $4 million salary savings over Giguere. The GM said he expects to have enough money to re-sign Bobby Ryan — and then some.
“I didn’t think we were in trouble signing Bobby (Ryan) anyway,” Murray said. “We had the money to do that. Money’s been put away to do that. You don’t think there’s going to be offer sheets, but we were prepared for that. We were in good shape to sign Bobby.”
Murray also sounded optimistic that injured forward Joffrey Lupul could be back this season.
“There was definitely some concern there with Joffrey, although the last few days things have improved dramatically once they got that blood disease in order,” he said. “Who knows, we might get to see all of our forwards this year.”