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Deal for Whitney may signal more moves for Ducks

by Eric Stephens
Bob Murray was expected to be a busy man at his first trade deadline as general manager of the Anaheim Ducks and his first major trade only reinforced the prevailing sentiment around the NHL.

With his underachieving team desperately trying to stay in the Western Conference race prior to its Thursday night game in Boston against the Bruins, Murray got the jump on the March 4 Trade Deadline by sending scoring winger Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi to Pittsburgh for defenseman Ryan Whitney.

"If you look down the road, we knew way back when that we had to do something to address this situation," Murray said via a conference call with reporters before his team dropped a 6-0 decision in Boston. "We were working on it and this became available in Pittsburgh. This is a good move for both teams.

"Let's face facts here. Pittsburgh is getting a good hockey player here. They have been looking for somebody to play with either Crosby or Malkin. It's a good fit for both teams. They have good, young defensemen there at good prices and they could afford to do this. It's definitely with an eye to the future. I think we’re as good a team, if not a better, than we were yesterday."

Murray believes that because he believes that Whitney will be key in helping Anaheim in its transition game.
"What he brings to the table is he is a big kid and can skate and move the puck," Murray said. "The game is evolving and you better get the puck out of your own zone. Since (Francois) Beauchemin's been gone, all you have is Chris (Pronger) and Scotty (Niedermayer), who are really good at moving the puck up the ice. Then, (Kent) Huskins went down.

"In the game today, you have to move that puck up the ice. We have good forwards and you have to get the puck to the forwards. Whitney can do that. He also is very good on the power play. He can shoot the puck and sees the ice very well. He’s a very good puck-moving defenseman, who sees the ice."

And, he is not overly concerned about the foot issues that caused Whitney have this season and may crop up again.

"As far as the health issues, he had one foot looked after last year," Murray said. "I talked to (Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero about that a couple of times here. I'll talk to Ryan about it when I talk to him. If he has to have the other one done, that is no problem. We'll just get it done in the beginning of the summer instead of the end of the summer this time. It’s not major. It’s correcting something instead of having to wear orthopedics. It’s something he may want to do. I have no problem with what happened there."

This may not the only move for Murray, who was promoted to GM in November after Brian Burke stepped down and ultimately left for Toronto.

With the 26-year-old Whitney signed through 2013, the deal only ramps up speculation that Anaheim will shop either Niedermayer or Pronger now that there's another top-two caliber defenseman in the fold.
"No, nothing for sure," Murray said. "I realized when we did this what the speculation would be. There has been enough speculation already on this and that. When you have a team like ours, which has good hockey players -- but for some reason is struggling mightily this year and is in 10th place -- this is going to happen.

"Our guys haven't had to face this in a few years around here. When you're in 10th place and you have good players, people are going to wonder and there is going to be speculation about lots of things. Obviously, there is going to be more now. I'm listening. I have nothing going that way right now with any other defenseman. If I can make the organization better, I will do it. Don't read anything more into it than that. This wasn't done for that purpose. This was done because going forward we needed to do something here. I'm a big believer in building from the back end out and the back end was not good enough."

Though he's been taking a multitude of calls and will be fielding more, Murray said this isn't a sign that the Ducks are waving the white flag. 
Meanwhile, the feeling persists that the Ducks could be without one or both of their most important blue-line pieces of their Cup-winning team of two years ago.

Niedermayer, the 2007 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, is in the final year of the four-year, $27-million free-agent deal he signed in 2005 and has yet to inform the club whether he plans to play in 2009-10 or retire. The former Norris Trophy winner strongly considered retirement after the Cup win against Ottawa before returning to the team midway through last season.

Among the teams rumored to be interested is Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey, with whom Niedermayer played the first 13 seasons of his career and won three Cups. Complicating Murray's decision-making during the next few days is Niedermayer's indecision to commit beyond this season.

If Niedermayer does return, he could still sign with another team. Pronger has one more season remaining on his current deal at $6.25 million and he could fetch a sizable return because of his contract status.

Whitney is the insurance in case the Ducks deal Pronger, either before the deadline or prior to the 2009 Entry Draft, and lose Niedermayer in the summer or trade Niedermayer and still have Pronger for next year.

Pronger figures to be coveted by a number of title contenders looking for the final piece to their puzzle if the Ducks, who have a number of players that can be unrestricted free agents this off-season, decide to fast-forward the rebuilding process or if Murray determines that they don't have a long playoff run in them even if the team squeezes into the postseason.

"I still believe this group can make the playoffs," Murray said. "I think we're a better team today than we were yesterday. I'll be disappointed if we don't go on a little run here. The games are huge. If the right thing for the organization comes along, then I have to do what is right for the organization and I will do that."

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