While I'll have a full breakdown (with video!) of the Skills Showdown tomorrow, I wanted to highlight the other critical piece of today's event at Honda Center. Before the actual fun began, General Manager Bob Murray and coach Bruce Boudreau spent about 30 minutes answering questions and giving an overall State of the Franchise. Murray and Boudreau covered a range of topics and made several interesting statements ranging from the state of the farm system and their goals in the draft to a not-so-subtle message that some of the team's best players need to start delivering more effort.
I did my best to take notes about everything Murray and Boudreau touched on, but I'm only one man with a legal pad. I feel that the following notes accurately summarize the high points, but please do not take any of these as direct quotations.
- When Murray and Boudreau were being introduced, the crowd went nuts for BB and there were several people yelling "Bruuuuuuuce." Carlyle never got that kind of reception at these events. The fans love Bruce.
- When asked what the Ducks did differently in January, Murray said that the Ducks finally started to play a team game and that they started to play hard. He said the Ducks wanted to play easy in the beginning of the season and that you can't expect to win in the NHL playing like that. But now that they're sacrificing for each other and playing as a team, they're finding success.
- On the same topic, Boudreau said that team defense has improved dramatically over the two months he's been head coach. He said that you can't create defense from offense, but if you play strong defense, you can create strong offense, which has been the recipe to the team's recent success. He specifically mentioned that prohibiting shots has been a goal and he was particularly proud of the special teams play in January.
- Bruce described the first month as coach of the Ducks as a transition period where he really had to get to know the players since he didn't know much about them before becoming joining the team. He believes that everyone is now on the same page and that they've really tightened up the play in the neutral zone. He said that he thinks the team just needs a few tweaks and that he believes they're very close to being a strong contender. He also said that a reason the team's play has improved so much is the chemistry that the defensive pairings have been able to develop.
- Murray reiterated the same comments he's made before regarding the Francois Beauchemin extension, especially highlighting that Frankie finds ways to contribute and continues to work hard, even if he doesn't have his "A" game on a given night. He also said that it was important to have someone with Frankie's work ethic to serve as an example for the younger players on the team.
- Murray was asked about the perceived difference between Eastern and Western teams and he said he dismisses a lot of it because most people don't stay up to watch the teams out West play. He specifically mentioned that he likes the way the Bruins play and that he believes they play the right kind of hockey. He said that the Ducks used to play like that and that he wants to get them back to that style of play. He wants a big, strong hockey team.
- Bruce said that the media bias is staggering. He never really paid much attention to it before, but now that he's coached a team on both coasts, it's unbelievable how strong the bias is. When Jonas Hiller was snubbed for a star of the week by the NHL a few weeks ago, Bruce said he texted several of his media contacts on the East Coast and said "What the hell?" There are great players in the West that the rest of the hockey media has no idea about.
- Murray was asked about some of the kids in the system, starting with Emerson Etem. He said that Etem will definitely have a shot to make the team next year and that the organization knows he can score. They need Etem to improve his play away from the puck to stick in the NHL (this is eerily familiar to the comments he made about Kyle Palmieri last year at this event).
- On the topic of Justin Schultz, Murray was very effusive and praised his intelligence and play. He said that the team hopes to see Schultz before next camp (which seems to confirm whispers that the Ducks will give up a cup of coffee this season) and that he believes Schultz will not go back to Wisconsin for his senior year, although nothing is set in stone. Murray also mentioned that Sami Vatanen continues to impress int he Swedish Elite League and that he feels the team has some very good defensive prospects on the way.
- In terms of guys at Syracuse, Murray said that they need Kyle Palmieri to stay with top-6 forwards to see what he can do. Whenever he's called up, he gets third line time, which is just sort of the way it is. They need to see if he can be the guy as a top-6 forward. Murray also mentioned that Peter Holland has made good progress this season.
- When asked about their goals for the draft, Murray said that hockey is a lot like baseball. You always try to go up the middle to improve, meaning you build from a strong goaltender, strong defense, and strong centermen. He said the coming draft is heavy on centermen and defensemen, and I'd be personally be stunned if the Ducks don't go after a stud center.
- In terms of the upcoming trade deadline, Murray said he hopes the team makes the decision tough for him by playing strong and getting themselves back in the chase. He said that while Bruce has to focus on this year, his job is to focus on this year and next year, so if he does make a trade, he won't be going after draft picks. If he trades, he wants young players that are pros, but may not have cracked their clubs' lineups yet for various reasons.
- Bruce was asked about penalties and he said he feels the team has really cleaned up their act on that front. When he took over, the team was averaging about five penalties a game and now they're down to two and a half. The team has done a good job of eliminating the lazy or needless penalties.
- Murray and Boudreau were asked what they thought it would take to make the playoffs in the West and while Murray declined, BB said he thinks it will take between 92 and 95 points. He said that the team has broken down the remaining schedule into four segments, with the upcoming 8-game road trip being an extremely important set of games. He flatly stated that they have to beat the teams in front of them and that they'll have the opportunity to do that on Monday against Calgary. He also got a raucous cheer from the crowd when he said that he wants to break Detroit's home winning streak when the face the Red Wings on the upcoming road trip.
- In terms of the struggles in the last three games, Bruce said that last night's game against Columbus was a great example. The team played hard for 50 minutes, but the periods of time when they went brain-dead killed them. He said that the team has done a good job of controlling games, but they need to take advantage of the opportunities when they do have control. He specifically mentioned the inability to score more PP goals last night and said that it's important to jump all over teams when given the chance.
- Murray and Boudreau were both asked about concussions and the job Brendan Shanahan has done, and they both had positive things to say about Shanny. Murray noted that Shanahan has a tough job, but they have got to make sure that the players respect each other when they're on the ice.
- Murray said that keeping the ice safe for the players is the biggest deterrent to a Winter Classic in California. He also said that the Ducks have aggressively lobbied for an All-Star Game over the past few years and that he expects Ducks CEO Mike Schulman to keep up the pressure.
- Murray and Boudreau both praised the overall state of youth hockey in California and mentioned that the the professional players and organizations have really done a lot of work to grow the game in the state.
- Bruce was asked about his 24/7 experience and he said he loved it until he watched it. He said he didn't realize he swore that much and that his mother let him have it after the first episode aired. Regarding the infamous diatribe where he dropped the bomb over 10 times in the span of just over a minute. Bruce said he actually had asked the cameras to leave prior to letting that loose, but they never left.
- Murray said that the overall strength of the system is strong. He mentioned that the team is currently suffering due to bad drafts in '05 [Ed. Note: Bobby Ryan drafted that year], '06, and '07, but said that they've overhauled their drafting since then and have had three strong drafts in a row. The results of those drafts are good players that can both help the team on the ice, or as attractive pieces via trade. He really emphasized the fact that the strength of the system should allow the Ducks make good trades if they see fit.
- Murray's last comment was rather ominous in my opinion. He mentioned that the guys who work hard and play the hard way will stay. He said that there are players who want to play the easy way and that this team needs more players like Corey Perry that are willing to take punishment and pay the price of going to the dirty areas. He said the Ducks need more from some of their players, which seemed like a pretty obvious message to both Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf. At this point, it wouldn't surprise me if the team traded either one. Although Murray never mentioned either by name, it was pretty obvious from his tone who he was referring to.
- Boudreau seemed to reiterate Murray's sentiments, saying that you need character guys to succeed. It doesn't matter if you miss a shot or give up a goal, what matters is how hard you work and how committed you are to the team. You have to want to win.
So some pretty interesting stuff in there, with the last comments obviously being the most important in my opinion. Whether or not this are just more empty threats remains to be seen.