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RFA-Hunting We Will Go

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Barring a Giguere trade or Rob Niedermayer signing, Anaheim's offseason activity has concluded. By shipping Chris Pronger to Philadelphia and signing a handful of key and affordable free agents, Bob Murray has rebuilt his playoff team at (or slightly over) budget. However, the General Manager has most impressed hockey analysts with the enviable position he has secured for his team NEXT season.

Anaheim has less than 30M committed to payroll for 2010-11, a year in which many anticipate the Salary Cap will decrease. Key players are signed and key players named Bobby Ryan will need to be re-signed, but (budget permitting) the Ducks will be buyers, both at the trade deadline and offseason, in a buyer's market.

Daniel, you and I have discussed, at length, the salary cap headache that awaits Chicago next June, but other teams will be struggling to balance the checkbook. Who are you hoping the Ducks will poach, and how do you see them doing it?

First, let me start by saying this was a very difficult question to answer. I started with a short list to organize my thoughts, and it was ten players long. However, Chicago is in the most trouble, and they have the player that would be the best fit for us in Duncan Keith. He is the player the Ducks need to go after.

He's the closest thing I've seen to Scott Niedermayer. Keith skates like everyone else is standing still. He weaves through traffic, finds pockets in the defense, joins the rush and can get back on D. Watching replays of the CAL-CHI series on NHL Network makes me think he's a little turnover prone, but I'm sure Carlyle will teach him better habits and make him a stronger defender. He might even become Norris Trophy material. With Scotty's retirement imminent, it's time to start thinking about getting a Number 1 blueliner, and Keith could be it. He's going to want 5-6 million, and there's no way Chicago squeezes that when Toews and Kane will want the same money. They'd have to add almost $10 million more in salary to make it happen.

Ideally, we'd be able to trade for Keith during the season, so we can hold on to his rights and negotiate an extension. Bowman will have to trade someone on his team that's making $3 million in a stone cold salary dump. With the space we still have under the cap, we can take on one of those contracts. As a result, I see a trade a lot like the one you and I have been discussing, where Anaheim takes Keith and either a Byfuglien or Bolland in exchange for Wisniewski and an expiring RFA that can play depth like Drew Miller or Andrew Ebbett. Byfuglien is the top choice, since there's only one year left on his contract, but also because he'd look great camped out in front of the net, being force-fed by Perry and Getzlaf. He's Dustin Penner 2.0. Wisnieski showed last year that he can handle playoff pressure, so at least the Hawks get a capable defender with offensive upside who knows their system. It isn't a fair trade, but salary dumps rarely are. Chicago gets two expiring contracts without completely derailing their Cup aspirations-- after all Huet can do that on his own.

That trade makes the most sense. Especially because Murray is an old Chicago boy, and he should be there to lend a helping hand. I'm sorry, but Chicago isn't going to re-sign all three of these guys and be able to put a whole team on the ice. No one is going to take Huet or Campbell unless someone puts a gun to their head. If Chicago has to move someone, it should be Keith, because they still have Campbell, who is still really good, and Cam Barker. I'm not saying Keith's superfluous, just that they won't feel the pain as bad as losing Kane or worse, their Captain. If Murray can't convince Bowman that this trade is good, he might have to sweeten it with one of our extra First Round picks, but then there's always the off season. We can burn the extra First Round pick to sign Keith to an offer sheet if he makes it to July 1st. When Bowman realizes he doesn't have a choice, I'm sure he'll return Bob Murray's phone call.

I've been vocal about the possibility of acquiring Keith. Much more vocal than I was about Koivu. But I really think that Murph is the linchpin of this deal, not logic. His first trade deadline on the job for Anaheim, he reaches out to Chicago and his old Hawk teammate, Doug Wilson, in San Jose. Murray has clearly kept the respect of his friends through the years, and I have to believe that he still has friends at the United Center, even with Bowman officially in power.

But the logic really is overwhelming, here. Last time we talked about this, I told you that Bowman's best bet is to try what we did with Perry. If the Blackhawks can somehow hoodwink Toews into an affordable contract, they can present identical terms to Kane and guilt him into taking it, lest he ask for more money than the captain. But they can't play that game with Keith, who has to calculate that he's worth at least 5M when Barker is making 3M, Seabrook is making 3.5M and Campbell is making 7M. They can't ask him to take a one-year deal when Barker just got three. They have to find his 5M/yr. for 3 years or let him go. And the latter makes the most sense for a team that has four defensemen making 2.33M or more (not to mention one who takes home three times that much).

Byfuglien/Bolland and Keith for Wisniewski and Miller. I see it happening at the trade deadline, when the slight increase in salary will affect only a handful of game checks. If it doesn't happen, I don't see how Murray passes on the chance to offer sheet Keith, maybe with a tacit agreement it won't be matched.

Alternatively, I like the idea of getting Setoguchi and/or Pavelski. I like the idea of getting Lucic, too, but as much as Boston loves trading with Southern California, Chiarelli didn't play on the blueline with Bob Murray. Doug Wilson did. I see Murph talking him into this deal because Doug will be looking to re-sign Nabokov and replace Marleau next offseason. That and the 4.33M they're paying Michalek may put a strain on negotiations with Setoguchi and Pavelski. To get both, we'd probably have to trade a forward, and sadly, all we have is Lupul. As such, I see Doug gifting us one of the forwards for some picks, or using one as a ribbon around Cheechoo's salary at the deadline.

We'll likely be losing Selanne and Niedermayer after this season (for good this time). And while Murray can't do anything to stop it, he'll have plenty of options to help him address it.