If it's summer, it's time for Brian Burke to shake up the Anaheim Ducks -- and the rest of the hockey world while he's at it.
2007-08 SEASON STATS
||92 (9th East/16th NHL)
|Change from 2006-07
||52 (4th East/8th NHL)
||40 (10th East/22th NHL)
Bold moves backed up with bold words have defined Burke's offseasons as Anaheim’s general manager. Signing Scott Niedermayer and bringing back fan favorite Teemu Selanne. Trading for Chris Pronger. Adding veterans Mathieu Schneider and Todd Bertuzzi when Niedermayer and Selanne strongly considered retirement.
Burke also has signed young All-Stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to long-term extensions. Most of those moves made by the no-nonsense executive have helped lift the franchise to its greatest success.
With his team spilling over the salary cap, Burke ended the Todd Bertuzzi experiment and signed center Brendan Morrison. Always one to make news wherever he goes, Burke said "our goal is to make one major announcement per week if we have one to make."
But weren't there enough distractions to deal with throughout last season?
"From my perspective, these are things that I don't think have been a distraction to our team," said Burke, who's in the final year of his contract and is believed to be sitting on a lucrative extension offer from ownership. "I've talked to our leadership. The fact is I've got some family issues that not yet have been resolved to this point."
The bigger question with the Ducks is whether they can remain among the NHL's elite. They've surpassed 40 victories three years running, had consecutive 100-point seasons and have played in eight playoff rounds during those three years. But their first-round loss to the Dallas Stars last spring was labeled a "profound disappointment."
And with 14 expiring contracts on a veteran-laden team with as much as $26.5 million that could come off the books next season, there are those who believe the window for another Cup run is closing. But Burke isn't one of those people.
"I'm not prepared to say that at all," said Burke, with an air of defiance. "It's easy to look back on last spring and see how we lost to Dallas. We still feel we have one of the greatest pressure goalies of this generation. With Brendan Morrison, we've put together two forward lines. We're not conceding anything.
"It's too easy to write a postmortem now."
"We hold ourselves to a higher expectation now. Anything less than winning the Stanley Cup isn't acceptable." -- Todd Marchant
But with at least 10 players either 30 years of age or older on the presumptive roster, those in the dressing room don't deny that the feeling that the 2008-09 season might be the last hurrah for the current group.
"It's simple arithmetic that we're not all going to be able to stay together," defenseman Sean O'Donnell said. "I think the nucleus knows there's a good chance this is going to be our last run at it as a group. After this year, the landscape could be very different."
It should make for an intense training camp that'll be much more normal than a year ago. The Cup hangover is long gone and there'll be no rush to prepare for a season-opening game across the Atlantic. The focus can simply be on the ice.
"From the first day of training camp now, we're pretty much going to have our own team," said O'Donnell, alluding to Niedermayer's commitment this season. "In all fairness, there were a lot of questions last year. Are we going to repeat? What about going to London? What about opening with five games on the road?
"We were getting asked all those things. All those are gone this year."
The rested Ducks see a silver lining at the longer-than-expected offseason. O'Donnell, 36, said it's the best he's felt in years and he thinks others will feel the same way. Another 30-something, center Todd Marchant, said no one is satisfied with last season and he expects to see a return of the drive that powered them to the 2007 title.
"We hold ourselves to a higher expectation now," Marchant said. "Anything less than winning the Stanley Cup isn't acceptable."
Meanwhile, Burke still has work to do as camp approaches.
Selanne, who strongly contemplated hanging up his skates until he returned to the team last February, has yet to announce his official plans for 2008-09 but it's believed he wants one more chance at a Cup and he has been skating. The Ducks, however, are nearly $2 million above the league's $56.7 million salary cap and can't bring back the popular high-scoring wing until they cut loose a player or two.
How will the Ducks do that? Of all people, Mats Sundin may hold the key to that answer. The long-time Toronto Maple Leafs' captain is pondering his own decision to retire and his uncertainty is holding up several teams wishing to have the Swedish star's services. Anaheim, which took a long look at Sundin at the trade deadline last season, isn't one of those teams this time, but is looking to move some salary.
"There's no question that the Mats Sundin situation is holding up a number of teams," Burke said. "Whether it's affecting anything we're talking about, I wouldn't say, but it's definitely holding up a lot of activity around the National Hockey League. … This is a high-quality player who's had an excellent career."
Changes have already taken place. Morrison, whom Burke knows very well from their years together in Vancouver, is coming off knee surgery, and the Ducks have high hopes that he's the answer to center the second line. Young power forward Bobby Ryan, the second pick in 2005 behind Sidney Crosby, will be counted on to stick for good.
"I look at the time from when I came to this team," Marchant said. "There's always been something surrounding this team. Whether it was our owner or whether Brian was going to Toronto. Whether Scotty was going to come back? What's going on with this guy or that guy?
"The thing is this team puts all that aside and focuses on what it had to do on the ice."