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Ducks reshape roster in attempt to get over hump

by Arpon Basu

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Anaheim Ducks were one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

General manager Bob Murray spent Saturday at the 2015 NHL Draft reshaping the Ducks roster with a series of trades meant to rectify the one negative thing about their season.

"We didn't win," Murray said. "The object is to win, isn't it?"

It is, and Murray said he feels the moves he made Saturday improved Anaheim's goaltending and speed while increasing his financial flexibility for a looming salary-cap nightmare next summer.

All told, Murray shipped out defenseman James Wisniewski and forwards Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem and brought in goaltender Anton Khudobin, forward Carl Hagelin, two second-round draft picks that he used Saturday and a third-round pick next year.

Etem and Hagelin can become restricted free agents July 1, but Palmieri's contract will expire next summer when there could be as many as six restricted free agents coming up for Anaheim, including four of Murray's young defensemen: Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Simon Despres and Josh Manson.

"Through experience and time you learn you've got to try and stay ahead of the curve," Murray said. "So when you've got these young players all starting to add up and all their contracts are coming up at the same time, you'd better get ahead of it or else you're going to end up with a problem. So that's kind of what we're trying to do."

In addition to the player moves, Murray was active behind the bench, adding former Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean as an assistant to Bruce Boudreau and former Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins to lead the Ducks' new American Hockey League affiliate, the San Diego Gulls.

This weekend was not the first time Murray has tweaked a successful Anaheim team, so it should come as no surprise.

With the Ducks sitting atop the Western Conference standings and battling for the Presidents' Trophy in late February, Murray acquired forwards Jiri Sekac and Thomas Fleichmann and defensemen Wisniewski and Despres to shore up his roster.

He did so based on his uneasiness from watching the Ducks struggle against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year earlier, and was convinced changes needed to be made to avoid having it happen again.

It nearly worked; the Ducks reached Game 7 of the Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, but that wasn't far enough to prevent Murray from acting again.

"If you stay static, other teams go by you, so you've got to continue to try to improve," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Chicago's done it, the good teams have done it, keeping the same core together and moving parts around it and continually get better. So that's what we're trying to do."

The trade with the New York Rangers to acquire Hagelin for Etem was perhaps the most intriguing one for the Ducks.

Etem turned 23 last month and was a local kid, a former first-round draft pick from Long Beach, Calif., who was seen as perhaps becoming a homegrown star for the Ducks. Although he and Hagelin, 27, each likely will become a restricted free agent next week, Hagelin has arbitration rights and is therefore likely to command a higher salary.

The difference is the elite speed Hagelin brings to the table, and that was important to Murray.

"You see who's in the Finals and you see how we got beat," Murray said. "The speed element of the game is getting bigger and bigger, so we have to move along with the times and we got a guy who can really skate. So we're quite excited about that."

Boudreau admitted that the Ducks' lack of speed occasionally hurt them during the regular season, though he didn't feel it did in the playoffs, when he used Sekac to inject some into the lineup against the Blackhawks in the conference final after he sat out the first two rounds. With Hagelin now possibly lining up next to someone like Andrew Cogliano, Boudreau can counter some of the speedier lines in the NHL with one of his own.

"Some games, like when we play outside our division, which is a big, physical division, on the odd night speed caught up with us," Boudreau said. "I don't think it caught up with us in the playoffs, but when you're playing the fourth game in a four-game road trip and it happens to be in Tampa and they're sitting there rested, you can see how it might be a factor."

The addition of Khudobin creates what might be seen as a logjam in the Ducks net with Frederik Andersen and John Gibson already in Anaheim. But Murray prefers that to the alternative he lived through this season, when Andersen and Gibson each got injured and he was forced to turn to Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason LaBarbera to carry the load.

Murray was adamant that the arrival of Khudobin was not setting the table for a Gibson trade, because that would defeat the whole purpose of the transaction.

"Last year one guy got injured and another guy got injured, and we just weren't good enough. We have a legitimate backup now," Murray said. "[Wisniewski] didn't work out with us, so moving that contract along, this was something that came about, so I said, 'Oh, instead of going shopping in free agency this kind of works.' So we did this instead of shopping."

With all the activity over the weekend, Murray suggested he might not be done tinkering with his roster, and he said it is still a possibility that unrestricted free agent defenseman Francois Beauchemin will be back next season.

The bulk of Murray's work was done here Saturday, and the Ducks are in a much better position to win next season as a result.

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