During his 12-year tenure as Anaheim Ducks general manager, Bob Murray has made his fair share of good trades and his fair share of questionable ones.
No GM bats 1.000 and Murray is no exception. At times, he’s been hesitant to make the move necessary to push the Ducks over the top. Other times, he’s made a trade that doesn’t jive with the future direction of the team. And to his credit, he’s occasionally made trades that were exactly what the team needed.
With the 2020 trade deadline fast approaching, a crucial moment in Murray’s tenure with the Ducks is on the horizon. Anaheim is likely to miss the playoffs for the second straight year, and many of the prospects Murray hoped would be productive contributors this season have fallen short of expectations.
The Ducks are not a good team, but do possess some interesting assets. It’ll be on Murray, should he decide to sell, to retrieve the biggest return possible. If he doesn’t, more losing seasons and his dismissal could occur.
What can we learn from his trade history? There’s plenty to like, and plenty not. Here are the five most consequential trades of Bob Murray’s tenure as Ducks GM:
June 26, 2009: Anaheim acquires Luca Sbisa, Joffrey Lupul, a 2010 first-round pick (used to select Emerson Etem) and a 2009 first-round pick from Philadelphia for Chris Pronger and Ryan Dingle
The reasoning: Taking over for GM duties from Brian Burke the previous November, this was Murray’s first true major trade. The Ducks were on the heels of a Western Conference semifinal appearance in 2008-09, bowing out to defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit in seven games. With Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry just entering their primes, Bobby Ryan emerging as a legitimate threat, and Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne still producing at their advanced ages, there was no reason to think the Ducks couldn’t go on another postseason run in 2009-10.
Murray has never given a firm indication why it was time to move on from Pronger. The Hall of Fame defenseman was turning 35 and entering the final year of his contract, and Murray also had to consider his budget with Niedermayer returning for another year. So he decided to reload, dealing for Lupul (25 goals the previous year), Sbisa (a promising defensive prospect) and some picks.
In hindsight: In the first year without Pronger, 2009-10 was a difficult season for the Ducks in many ways. Getzlaf and Selanne missed a combined 44 games, while Lupul was limited to 23 games due to back surgery and a subsequent blood infection. Anaheim finished the season 39-32-11, a respectable performance considering all the injuries, but missed the playoffs by six points.
Pronger signed a seven-year, $34 million extension with the Flyers following his trade from Anaheim, and in his first season led Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup Final. Lupul only played 26 more games for the Ducks before being dealt to Toronto, while Sbisa never lived up to his billing as a top prospect and was later traded to Vancouver. Murray used one of the first-round picks acquired in the trade to select Emerson Etem, but Etem never found a permanent home in the NHL.
By trading Pronger, the Ducks got a head start in preparing for life without two Hall of Fame defensemen, but it’s fair to wonder if Murray cost his Anaheim a chance at another postseason run in 2009-10. Does a full season of Pronger earn the Ducks another six points to qualify for the postseason? Most likely. And as Anaheim learned the year before as a No. 8 seed, anything is possible once a team with multiple Hall of Famers qualifies for the dance.
July 5, 2013: Anaheim acquires Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a 2014 first-round pick (used to select Nick Ritchie) from Ottawa for Bobby Ryan
The reasoning: In a sense, Bobby Ryan had outgrown his role with the Ducks. Often considered the third fiddle behind Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Ryan was a four-time 30-goal scorer who wanted to be the guy somewhere, and that was never going to happen in Anaheim.
Anaheim also had Ryan’s next contract to consider. That March, the Ducks committed $135 million to new deals for Getzlaf and Perry. At the time of the trade, Ryan had two years remaining with an AAV of $5.1 million; with unrestricted free agency looming, Ryan would likely command a salary similar to his former linemates.
Unwilling to commit so much money to three forwards, Murray shipped Ryan off to Ottawa for prospects and a pick. It was a gamble by Murray — Silfverberg had only one season (the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season) under his belt, Noesen hadn’t yet made his NHL debut, and there was no guarantee that first-rounder would be a meaningful one.
In hindsight: Despite trading away the best player in both instances, this trade worked for the Ducks in every way the Pronger trade did not. In Year 1 with Ryan, the Senators took a step backward, and that first-rounder sent to the Ducks landed at 10th overall. With that pick, the Ducks took Nick Ritchie, a controversial but certainly serviceable NHL player. Even though Noesen never panned out with the Ducks, it was a worthwhile addition to bring in a former first-round pick.
Setting aside Ritchie and Noesen, the Ducks still win this trade because Silfverberg has been arguably a better player and clearly a much better value than Ryan since swapping teams. Since the trade, Silfverberg has scored 123 goals and 264 points in 493 games for the Ducks, while Ryan has 103 goals and 262 points in 447 games with Ottawa. It’s almost statistical wash, but Anaheim has paid only $16.75 million total to Silfverberg for that production, while Ottawa’s paid Ryan almost $47 million.
Are the Ducks a better team in 2013-14 with Ryan and without Silfverberg? Certainly. But in this case, Murray wisely took one step backward to take two steps forward.
June 27, 2014: Anaheim acquires Ryan Kesler and a 2015 third-round pick from Vancouver for Luca Sbisa, Nick Bonino, a 2014 first-round pick (24th overall) and a 2014 third-round pick
The reasoning: This one’s pretty simple. After bowing out to the Los Angeles Kings in the second round in 2013-14, it was clear the Ducks needed an upgrade down the middle after No. 1 center Ryan Getzlaf. With its contending window slamming shut, Vancouver decided it was time to move on from Kesler, and the longtime Canucks center would only accept a trade to one of two locations: Anaheim or Chicago.
Vancouver was stuck in a no-win situation, and Murray took advantage with likely the best trade of his career.
In hindsight: With Kesler in tow, the Ducks elevated from playoff contender to genuine Stanley Cup contender in 2014-15, falling one game short of appearing in the Final. Kesler was also a major contributor to division titles in 2015-16 and 2016-17. His presence allowed the Ducks to lighten Getzlaf’s load, which shouldn’t go unnoticed as long as Getzlaf remains a productive NHLer.
Sbisa lasted three seasons in Vancouver and was let go during the expansion draft. Bonino played one forgettable season in Vancouver and was traded to Pittsburgh, where he became an important player for two Stanley Cup champions.
The shine from this trade has dulled in recent years. The Ducks signed Kesler to an expensive extension prior to to the 2015-16 season, and two years into that deal serious hip issues led to a dip in Kesler’s play. He struggled in 2017-18 and 2018-19, isn’t playing this season, and might never play again (even though he still has two years remaining on that deal).
But for his first three years with the organization, Kesler was exactly what the Ducks needed.
June 21, 2017: Anaheim acquires expansion draft considerations from Vegas for Shea Theodore; Vegas agrees to select Clayton Stoner in the expansion draft
The reasoning: As expansion loomed over the entire league, few teams were stuck between a rock and a hard place quite like the Ducks. Anaheim, like every team, was afforded two options: Protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or protect eight skaters and one goaltender.
Anaheim’s situation was more complicated than most. Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler and Kevin Bieksa all owned no-movement clauses, and players with NMCs required protection from the draft. Because Anaheim had to protect those four, there was no avoiding exposure of a young, cheap, and talented player.
Instead of letting Vegas grab a more proven (and expensive) commodity like Josh Manson or Sami Vatanen, the Ducks sent Theodore (who hadn’t accrued enough NHL time to require protection) to Vegas on the condition that the Golden Knights select Stoner.
In hindsight: At the time, the decision to let Theodore go was viewed as the best case of a no-win scenario. Theodore was a first-round pick and had shown flashes of brilliance with the Ducks, but without him Anaheim still boasted a defensive unit of Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Manson, Vatanen and Brandon Montour. And the departure of Stoner meant an $3.25 million off the books for 2017-18.
But Murray could’ve handled expansion so much better. No-movement clauses given to Bieksa and Kesler were unnecessary. Not even bothering to ask Bieksa (no shot Vegas was selecting him anyway), Kesler (32 years old and recovering from hip surgery) or Perry (who Murray bought out two seasons later) to waive their NMCs was GM malpractice.
In an alternate universe where Bieksa and Kesler either A) Don’t have NMCs or B) Agree to waive them due to the unlikelihood Vegas selects either, the Ducks could’ve protected eight skaters (Getzlaf, Perry, Rakell, Silfverberg, Lindholm, Fowler, Manson and Vatanen) and one goalie (John Gibson), kept Theodore and Montour (neither needed to be protected due to lack of accrued NHL time), and ultimately lost a replaceable player like Andrew Cogliano (who the Ducks traded last season anyway).
Instead, Murray was content to let go of a young, promising player, and that player developed into one of Vegas’ best defensemen. Meanwhile, five of the 11 players the Ducks protected are either on long-term injured reserve, retired, or no longer with the team.
Nov. 30, 2017: Anaheim acquires Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 third-round pick (Blake McLaughlin) from New Jersey for Sami Vatanen and a 2019 conditional draft pick
The reasoning: Twenty-five games into the 2017-18 season, an injury-riddled Ducks team sat sixth in the Pacific Division with an 11-10-4 record. Hampus Lindholm (eight games) and Vatanen (10 games) both missed the start of the season recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Cam Fowler missed an entire month with a knee injury. Ryan Getzlaf missed a month recovering from a broken cheekbone. And Ryan Kesler hadn’t made his season debut due to offseason hip surgery.
The situation was so dire that in a few November games, the Ducks rolled out four lines centered by Derek Grant, Chris Wagner, Antoine Vermette and Kalle Kossila. Fearful of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12, the Ducks acquired Henrique to fortify the middle of the ice until Getzlaf and Kesler returned. With him in the fold and the other two healthy, in theory the Ducks would possess the deepest group of centers in the West.
In hindsight: It’s impossible to separate Bob Murray’s decision to move on from Vatanen less than six months after allowing Theodore to go to Vegas. By trading both, Murray took what was the Ducks’ greatest strength during the contending window — their enviable group of defensemen — and diminished it to such an extent that now average play is a reason for celebration.
In a vacuum, the difference in value between Henrique and Vatanen was minimal. Both are very solid players, neither a blue-chipper. Including 2017-18, Henrique had two more years on his deal with a $4 million AAV, while Vatanen had three more seasons at $4.875 million. There’s less than a year-and-a-half difference in age.
But as a puck-moving defenseman, Vatanen was more important to the Ducks than a middle-six center like Henrique, especially considering who the Ducks let go earlier that year.
It’s not as if Henrique has been bad during his Ducks tenure. He’ll consistently score 15-20 goals, 40-50 points and play responsibly in both ends of the ice. But at the time of the trade, Henrique was a temporary fix to a solution that would’ve resolved itself in a few weeks. By trading Vatanen months after trading Theodore, Bob Murray created a problem larger than the one he fixed.
If Murray is to turn this ship around, he’ll need to return to solving problems instead of creating them.
Statistics courtesy of nhl.com and hockey-reference.com; salary figures courtesy of capfriendly.com