Trade Gibson, truly rebuild: What Ducks should do after Murray

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Amid a wave of changes in the NHL, Bob Murray is no longer Anaheim Ducks general manager. If reports are true, it’s already a victory to remove a possibly toxic presence. Interestingly, though, this could also benefit the team on the ice — eventually. The silver lining to all things Murray-related is that maybe the Ducks can finally truly embrace a rebuild.

Here’s how the Ducks should go about a full-fledged rebuild, from the obvious to bolder ideas like a John Gibson trade.

Ducks shouldn’t let permanent GM search slow rebuild efforts

With Murray out, Jeff Solomon serves as interim GM. In their statement, Ducks ownership promised an “extensive” search for a permanent GM, with a deadline of no later than next summer.

There was no word for or against Solomon having a shot as permanent GM. The Ducks also didn’t mention a rebuild, or lack thereof.

So here’s where the advice starts. Whether Solomon is (ahem) a lame-duck GM or not, ownership should empower him to accelerate the rebuild.

As it became increasingly clear (at least to everyone outside the organization) that the Ducks’ contending window closed, they’ve made conflicting gestures to and from a rebuild.

  • Every now and then, they’d do something smart. Selling high in an Ondrej Kase trade may be the best example.
  • That said, they’d also resist pulling off the Band-Aid. Instead of moving Jakob Silfverberg like they did with Kase, they gave the 31-year-old a contract that runs through 2023-24. Maybe it’s understandable to keep Cam Fowler around, but signing Kevin Shattenkirk in 2020 was a real head-scratcher.
  • On the bright side, the Ducks have generally drafted well, with Trevor Zegras being an especially strong value at ninth overall in 2019. You can see a path forward, especially with the emergence of someone like Troy Terry.
  • That said, it’s not always clear if the Ducks are doing their rebuild right when it comes to development paths. For all the praise the Ducks receive with defensemen, there are some disturbing signs with Jamie Drysdale.

While that may be cause for caution, it’s not fuel for panic. Drysdale’s merely 19.

[More on Troy Terry’s surprising scoring season]

Really, though, the point is that the Ducks should give themselves more shots at premium prospects such as Drysdale and Zegras.

Under Murray, the Ducks balked when trading the likes of Silfverberg and Josh Manson. While it stings to realize they might have missed some chances to sell high, there are plenty of opportunities.

So Ducks ownership should give Solomon every opportunity to weaponize cap space, hoard draft picks, and put that rebuild into high gear. Even if it means making a franchise-changing trade.

The big question: trade John Gibson?

The question of trading (or keeping) John Gibson is part of a larger debate about a Ducks rebuild. That said, it’s a situation that’s thorny, fascinating, and important enough to earn its own section.

Ask different people about Gibson, and you’ll receive a wide array of answers.

When Gibson quietly ranked among the NHL’s best from 2015-16 and 2018-19, there were still people who saw “certain parts of his game” they “didn’t trust.”

Then, in 2019-20 and 2020-21, Gibson’s numbers tumbled — but it was hard to separate his play from the lousy Ducks team in front of him. So far, in 2021-22, Gibson’s been splendid, but he’s sputtered after strong starts before.

Perhaps the truth about Gibson is somewhere in the middle. Either way, the Ducks should consider this in their rebuild: whether Gibson is elite or not, he’s most likely to serve the team best in a well-timed, sell-high trade.

Gibson’s 28, with a $6.4 million cap hit that runs through 2026-27. If you (understandably) believe Gibson is elite, then that’s a heck of a bargain.

Yet, with every failed season, you risk conventional wisdom souring on Gibson. And, by the time the Ducks are truly ready to contend, Gibson may really start to decline. (Or all of that losing might shake his confidence.)

Now, it’s true that we rarely see prominent goalies traded in-season. Especially someone with serious term, and a significant (though probably team-friendly) $6.4M cap hit.

But what if the Ducks were aggressive and creative in pushing their rebuild?

Ducks should weaponize cap space, get creative in rebuild

If you look at the Ducks’ salary structure, you’ll notice quite a few significant expiring contracts. Some highlights:

  • Rickard Rakell, 28, $3.8 million cap hit.
  • Hampus Lindholm, 27, $5.205 million AAV
  • Josh Manson, 30, $4.1 million AAV
  • Perhaps even Ryan Getzlaf? The 36-year-old has a no-movement clause, but maybe he’d accept a trade to a contender?

Entrenched and arguably stubborn, it’s plausible that Murray would want to extend the likes of Rakell and Lindholm. Bringing back Getzlaf at $3 million was extravagant enough.

Ideally, Solomon will view those above players (and Gibson) as value chips at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline and beyond (if he remains). Plenty of contenders would clamor for a cheap forward like Rakell, and affordable, experienced defensemen.

Solomon should already be sniffing around for teams hoping to unload contracts. What would the possibly cap-strapped Golden Knights cough up to get rid of some money, especially if the Ducks retain salary to send someone like Rakell back? The Ducks could charge a premium to take on problem contracts with term.

The possibilities are nearly limitless if the Ducks rebuild is barely limited.

None of this means a Ducks rebuild will be easy, but overall, Murray’s departure could be a blessing in disguise. And not just for people who wanted to work in a harmonious NHL front office.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.

Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

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FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

“I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

“It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

“We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

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Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

“We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

“It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

NEW COACHES

The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

“Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

CAMP TRYOUTS

Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

“They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

EARLY START

Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

“We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

“I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”