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Armchair GM: Facing Forward

Now that the Ducks season has come to an end, the explanations for the loss are rolling in along with optimism for next year.  Unfortunately, there isn't a lot to be excited about for next year. The Ducks don't have the pieces in their system to make Carlyle's system work, and Murray has demonstrated an inability to make the bold moves that are necessary to complete blockbuster transactions. 

I recently told Arthur that Bob Murray reminds me of that scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts comes back to Hector Elizondo after a failed shopping trip, crying and simply thrusts money at him.  Murray is an ugly Julia Roberts [Editor's Note: redundant] who keeps thrusting spare parts onto Carlyle and insisting that they work.  The man has no plan.  This isn't NHL 11, where your ability can make any player fit onto any roster. After the jump, you'll find my assessment of why the Ducks failed this year and what Murray needs to do this offseason.

The Ducks failed this postseason because they have no defensive-minded forwards.  They have forwards who can be defensively responsible. Saku Koivu comes to mind.  However, it takes a player whose pride and identity are linked to shutting other guys down to get you through the playoffs.  When we won the Cup, our checking line was devoted heart and soul to making other teams' top lines fail.  Right now, the Ducks don't have anything like that on the roster, and all of our best forward prospects tend to have offensive upside.  Yes, the Defense needs upgrades, but that  will either be less necessary with forward upgrades, or acquired through trading forward depth.

The Ducks are pretty much set on D.  They have 5 of 6 spots established, and 7 defensemen signed for next season.  Personally, I'd love to see Murray go get a number 1 guy.  Visnovsky and Lydman formed a fantastic top pair out of necessity.  I'd also love to see Beauchemin put with a top guy next season, and let Fowler and Sbisa work on developing chemistry together. They are the pairing of the future, after all. 

I also think the Ducks need to explore moving Bobby Ryan.  With the forward depth in the organization, and the players on the free agent market, he can be replaced.  Murray needs to channel his inner Burke and trade a 30-goal scorer for a defenseman who can permanently shore up the D. Sorry Robby, it's a smart deal any way you look at it.

Next, Murray needs to decide if Carlyle is really his coach.  He thinks Carlyle is his coach, but as he continues to ignore the glaring need for defensive forwards, I wonder if he's committed to getting Carlyle the players he needs.  Carlyle likes to sit on leads, and that's not a problem if the forwards are willing to fight the puck over the blue line.  The Ducks forwards aren't. 

Nashville ran an effective forechecking scheme where they pressured the D to move the puck towards the forechecking help. They forced turnovers when lazy forwards refused to fight the puck over, or in the case of Bobby and Getzlaf, made a break for the offensive zone instead of guaranteeing the puck cleared.  There are free agent options to upgrade that tenacity, Brooks Laich, Ben Eager, Zenon Konopka, who would also improve our faceoff numbers, come to mind.  Murray could even go back to the Burke era (if he insists) and pursue Rob Niedermayer, or bring back Ryan Carter. Both of them could shore up a 4th line and give Carlyle the Checking line he covets.  Laich could bring more defensive responsibility to a scoring line and balance out the D.  Personally, I think Brooks Laich should be the Ducks number one goal this off season.

The Ducks have scoring depth.  Bonino, McMillan, Beleskey, Sexton, Holland, Etem, Smith-Pelley, Pamieri, and Deschamps. I'm not saying all of them can step in right away, but I am saying that's 3 scoring lines of prospects, and something's gotta give.  If Carlyle can just commit to a third scoring line, the talent will gel and give him the results that he wants.  More importantly, the team has the players to fill gaps of more established forwards (read Bobby Ryan and Jason Blake) are used as trade bait.  McMillan has shown he can be defensively responsible, at times, but not really a shutdown forward.  Maybe there is one to be had in the system, but I haven't noticed anyone. 

The Ducks need to solve their forward problems.  They have depth in the system, and need defensive forwards on the roster, not just guys with size and tenacity.  They need legitimate shutdown forwards.  The scoring will be fine.  The Ducks will still have one of the best power plays in the league next year.  Selanne staying or going shouldn't be a major hindrance to offseason plans.  The Ducks will still need the defensive forwards, and if he goes, then let a young kid step in and grow into a scorer. Sexton has demonstrated chemistry with Koivu before. Right now, the Ducks are a team full of forwards with no idea what to do with them. Not all of these players are going to enjoy long careers with the Ducks; there's simply too many of them around the same age. 

What Murray will actually do is anybody's guess.  He should move Blake to at least make a little room for some youth, or a free agent upgrade.  If he can find the right top pair guy, then he should move Bobby Ryan. Getting rid of both Ryan and Blake would open up a little cap space for the top defender as well as the 1-2M a defensive forward would cost. The Ducks don't need to find Manny Malhotra, just an upgrade from what's here. 

In the end, leaving a jumble up front will prevent this team from forming the cohesive unit necessary to go deep into the playoffs.  I'll finish up by starting trade speculation: Bobby Ryan, Jason Blake, a first rounder this year, a second rounder next year and a conditional first rounder for next year that becomes a third round pick if we don't make it past the second round.  Discuss.