Today we take a journey into the dark and sometimes frightening territory that is the mind of Ducks' General Manager Bob Murray. For the past couple of days, we've been bringing you news, notes and quotes from the annual Select-A-Seat panel. So far, COO Tim Ryan talked about upgrades to the arena, while Bruce Boudreau and Bob Murray discussed a whole litany of on ice topics, but nothing Earth shattering. But we've saved the best, or at least most thought provoking, for last.
It didn't start so bad. Here's what Murray had to say about the young center icemen the Ducks will have vying for a place in the squad this fall:
"Rickard Rakell, Peter Holland, Nick Bonino we're going to have a dog fight here for center ice positions, which again we're getting to that point where whatever position you look at on the hockey team we have young guys fighting for spots. And that's how you get better. The competition for jobs and Rickard will be right there fighting for one."
The only thing controversial there is the implication that two of those three will likely make the team, and we'll be subjected to another year without an established number two NHL center. Same old, same old until he was asked about Sami Vatanen.
"I'm sort of forcing Bruce into a situation here this year," Murray said "And ... um ... I've made sure we're not too deep on defense so that this young man gets a real good shot."
Wait, what? "Forcing" ... "made sure" ... "not too deep"... WHAT!?
Ok, ok let's get the rest of the context of the quote before jumping off a bridge:
"Again, a power play right hand shot, he's an exciting young player. For two years he was the best defenseman in the Finnish Elite League. Came over here last year, up and down a little bit with Trent in Norfolk he felt he was too good to play there. It's safe to say, [he] probably was. I think he was first or second All-Star in that league this year. He's going to get a real good look this year and he's an exciting hockey player."
So, I'm not sure that makes anything better. So let's summarize. Vatanen doesn't make the team. He isn't happy about it, complains to management, and in turn the GM forces the coach to play him by refusing to improve the depth of his blueline. And all this, after he establishes that the only way for the team and young players to get better is through competition for jobs. Does that sound crazy to anyone else?
At first it sounded like an outright contradiction, but these comments almost started to make sense when he moved on to the topic of trading Bobby Ryan.
"It was no fun, but they never are," Murray said. "What you do is you go through the analysis after the year; Ok, we've lost two of the last three years in the first round. As I say that, that has no reflection upon Bobby. That is just the facts. And I'm sitting there looking at that and talking to my hockey people, we've got to change something. And then as we just talked about you've got Kyle, you've got Emerson, you've got young players coming along and you've got to make space for them and for them to grow."
When he puts it like that, I can see giving him the benefit of the doubt to an extent. It almost seems as if he's walking a very fine line between paving the way for a youth movement to take over the team and allowing those young players to compete amongst themselves for a few coveted roster spots and more playing time.
Throughout our series of player report cards earlier in the off season, I came back to the same conclusion over and over again: The Ducks are likely to rely on several younger players (Holland, Bonino, Rakell, Palmieri maybe even Patrick Maroon) to provide secondary scoring while on relatively affordable contracts due to the long term, big money deals Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry just signed.
Lending some credence to that theory, Murray admitted that Bobby's contract status (UFA in the summer of 2015) and the fact that he would always be slotted in behind Perry at his natural right wing position were huge factors in the move.
"You had Bobby coming to contract in two years, just like Getzy and Corey just went through," Murray said. "That was a big concern going forward I have to be honest. Four 30 goal years, this year was probably a 30 goal year; it would have been very difficult going forward."
"If Corey was gone that wouldn't have happened," he continued. "He was always going to be behind Corey and that just wasn't settling in properly anymore. As you could see the chemistry on that line wasn't there anymore, that chemistry that left after that San Jose series, I don't know when it was, a few years ago  it hasn't been the same."
The problem with that statement is that it came five days before Murray signed Dustin Penner. If the chemistry between Ryan, Getzlaf and Perry had never been rekindled since 2009, what makes him think that Penner (a player who is objectively worse at playing hockey than Bobby Ryan) will be able to recapture the spark from 2007?
Granted, there are many, many more variables to the situation than simply Penner replacing Bobby. Penner is in no way married to that first line left wing spot. His $2 million price tag makes it easy for Boudreau to shuttle him up and down or even out of the lineup, which he most certainly will at some point. Plus Penner is a natural left wing and he may be given new life by playing under a true players coach for the first time in his NHL career (aside from Tom Renney).
You'd have to assume Penner will get the first shot at playing on the top line this year based on his history with Getzlaf and Perry. However, the presence of two potential top six players in Penner and Jacob Silfverberg, rather than a guaranteed top six forward in Bobby Ryan simultaneously creates opportunity for other players to step up into that role and competition for it. So, I guess might just be crazy enough to work. But of course this all involves a lot of speculation, conjecture and reading between the lines.
Speaking of which, Murray also touched on goaltending depth, one of the great strengths of the organization right now, and his comments left me with the distinct feeling that he may not be done with trades for the summer.
Murray began his response to Steve Carroll's question on depth in the crease by saying "It definitely gives you a lot of options. We haven't been deep in goal in a while and now we are and I'm very comfortable where we are going forward. I can see starting with Jonas [Hiller] and Viktor [Fasth], we're in good shape."
He went on to temper expectations about John Gibson, pointing out that while he had a great season, including World Junior gold and silver in the World Championships, he's still only 19 and needs to be brought along at the right pace. He also gave a tip of the cap to Frederik Andersen in Norfolk.
But I can't emphasize enough how awkwardly he ended the statement by saying "So, we're deep, it's an asset area for ... future ... things."
And if that wasn't enough to fuel my paranoia that a goalie may be on the move before the season is over, the last thing Murray said before leaving the floor was "We're not done yet."
Technically he was telling the whole truth because this was before the Penner signing. That may in fact be the last piece of the puzzle, but I think it's fair to say the final addition to the roster won't be a free agent signing on July 15.