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Ducks bid farewell to former playoff hero

by Josh Brewster
Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray saw the writing on the wall during last spring's Stanley Cup Playoffs. As the Ducks advanced to a Game 7 appearance against Detroit in the second round, it became clear that Jonas Hiller had supplanted Jean-Sebastian Giguere as the Ducks" starter. 

It took Murray 55 games into this season to pull the trigger. When it happened, it happened rapidly.

"It all came together in the last 24 hours," Murray said Sunday during a conference call.

"We had obviously talked with (Senior Vice President) Dave Nonis and Burke (GM Brian Burke) earlier in the year about this, and they didn"t feel that it was the right time," Murray said. "All of a sudden, Hiller is signed, and (Nonis) said ‘Are you interested in something?"

"(Toronto) had a much bigger deal (for Calgary's Dion Phaneuf) going somewhere else, and they wanted to tie everything together. All along, I thought this was a good fit for Toronto. It's not my job to worry about them, but I think that Jiggy's a perfect guy to be with the Monster (netminder Jonas Gustavsson) and Frankie Allaire (Toronto goaltending coach). I think it's a good fit for them and a good time for us."

It would be difficult for any GM to deal fan favorite Giguere, whose number could conceivably hang from the Honda Center rafters when the Ducks get around to retiring them in coming years. Murray acknowledged the longtime Anaheim starter, and thanked him for his years of service.

"He single-handedly took a team to the Stanley Cup Final in '03, won a Cup in '07, and besides that he was a leader on and off the ice in the community," Murray said. "He was just a wonderful player and person for our organization for a number of years, and we wish him nothing but the best."

To the end, the goaltending competition in Anaheim remained fierce. Hiller went 9-3 in his last 12 starts and was named second star of the week earlier in January. Giguere's last performance in the Ducks' net featured 44 saves in a losing effort at Washington.

"I think Randy (Carlyle) did a heckuva job this year being fair to both goaltenders and playing them to sort out who would win the job," Murray said of his coach. "I thought it was very fair how it was done."

An added benefit to the Ducks is that Giguere's $7 million salary comes off next season"s books. Blake will earn $3 million next season, while Toskala will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

"We free up $4 million dollars under our cap next year, which is important," Murray said. "There are some things we"d like to get done and get fixed."

Murray also stated that the presumed contract extension of Bobby Ryan, who becomes a restricted free agent on July 1, was within the club's sights regardless of whether Sunday's deal had been made.

"Money has been put away to do that (sign Ryan)," Murray said. "You don"t think that there's going to be offer sheets, but we are prepared for that. We're in good shape when it comes to Bobby. 

In Blake, the Ducks receive a former 40-goal scorer who seeks to regain his touch after three up-and-down seasons in Toronto, during which he was diagnosed with a rare but treatable form of cancer. Blake, who slipped to 15 and 25 goals in his two previous seasons with the Leafs, has just 10 goals in 56 games this season. After signing a 5-year, $20 million deal in July 2007, the spotlight was intense in Toronto.

"When people get big contracts, and especially in certain markets, (if) it doesn't go exactly right for them off the bat, there's pressure all the time," Murray said. "(Blake has) earned his contract after his play with the Islanders. He earned it. It just didn"t work in Toronto."

Blake relishes the opportunity in Orange County.

"I'm definitely very excited," Blake said. "It's a great opportunity to go to a team that has so many great players. Obviously, anytime you get traded, your life kind of goes into a whirlwind a little bit. I'm just glad I get to play tomorrow night (at Florida) right off the bat."

Blake sees an opportunity to make a playoff push with the Ducks.

"It's a great team and they've got phenomenal players, one of the best to ever play the game in Scott Niedermayer," he said. "As of yesterday I was on a team that was not in the playoff chase. To go to a team that's only a few points out, hopefully we can put together quite a few wins."

Blake adds that his health is solid. After having been diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in October 2007, he didn't miss a game, winning the Masterton Trophy for his dedication to the game following the 2007-08 season.

"It's basically forgotten about now," Blake said. "I take a pill as someone would take a vitamin every day. I don't think twice about it. It's just an everyday thing. I'm very fortunate to have the medication I take for what I have. At the end of the day, I never think about it and it doesn't affect me one bit."

Murray said Toskala would join the Ducks as soon as his immigration paperwork is processed. The club has recalled goaltender Justin Pogge from San Antonio of the AHL to back up Hiller in the meanwhile. 

With the Leafs this season, the 32-year-old Toskala went 7-12-3 with a 3.66 goals against average and .874 save percentage.

Rookie Dan Sexton, who provided a spark to the Ducks' offense, scoring nine goals and 18 points in 28 games with the team, was sent down to AHL Manitoba.

"We have a few too many forwards," Murray said. "Dan Sexton will be back and I told him so."

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