ANAHEIM -- Bob Murray
wasn't a happy camper when the final seconds ticked off on the Anaheim Ducks
' season after Dan Cleary
's late third-period goal in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals allowed the Detroit Red Wings
to escape an intense back-and-forth battle of the last two Stanley Cup champions.
Once he was able to cool off and take an objective look at his team's Jekyll-and-Hyde season, the Ducks' general manager came to a conclusion that should send a signal to the rest of the conference and, for that matter, the League.
No matter what big decisions loom for the 54-year-old executive or some of his stars this summer, the Ducks intend to challenge for another Cup and remain a fixture in the postseason.
"This group, since we've been here, has hard three decent runs in the playoffs in four years," Murray said. "I see no reason not to try to continue that. I think we can do it. That's what I'm going to work on."
A series of trades around the deadline by Murray in his first big moves since taking over for the departed Brian Burke
in November not only shook an aging, underachieving team out of its slumber but made it younger and quashed any notion that the Ducks would be in a full-fledged rebuilding mode for next season.
Anaheim will at least take into 2009-10 a young core led by the top line of Ryan Getzlaf
, Corey Perry
and Bobby Ryan
, puck-moving defensemen Chris Pronger
and Ryan Whitney
, checking forwards Drew Miller
and Ryan Carter
, and playoff revelation Jonas Hiller
as the possible No. 1 goalie. The Ducks also still have former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jean-Sebsastien Giguere, a four-time 30-game winner, under contract for two more seasons.
"Rebuilding is not in our vocabulary right now," Murray said.
Whether the Ducks enter next season as a potential playoff team or a bonafide Stanley Cup contender again rests with what captain Scott Niedermayer
decides to do over the next few weeks.
"Will he or won't he play?" will be the question that again surrounds the organization as Niedermayer, who had a serious flirtation with retirement after the Ducks' 2007 Cup triumph, intends to make a decision on whether he'll come back for a 17th season or hang the skates up for good.
"There's not really much to figure out," Niedermayer said. "I've been through it before. I kind of know where I stand. I know why I'd like to keep playing. I know maybe why I'd like to take a step back. Ultimately, I'll just have to make a decision on which way to go."
Murray didn't hold back when he expressed how the former Norris Trophy winner's call will affect the moves he has in mind this summer along with Anaheim's immediate future.
"We're not that far away," he said. "We can have another run again. It all depends on Scotty. He's irreplaceable. He's everything to this group. I'm going to have to see where he goes before I decide where I go."
Expect that decision to come prior to the Entry Draft in June. Murray wants an answer because whether Niedermayer returns figures to affect how much the executive has to further change a roster he started reshaping ahead of and on the March 4 trade deadline.
The Ducks did relieve themselves of some major cap problems they faced at the start of 2008-09, but they would be hard-pressed to retain a formidable defense corps if Niedermayer does come back. Whitney is in the fold for four more seasons, but Chris Pronger
has a year and $6.25 million left on his deal and Francois Beauchemin
, an unrestricted free agent as of July 1, is expect to get a major pay raise even though he missed most of the regular season because of a torn ACL in his left knee.
There is also James Wisniewski
, a deadline-day acquisition whose gritty play and surprising offensive contributions quickly made him a fan favorite. Wisniewski is a restricted free agent and Murray said he intends to match any offer sheet the defenseman might receive.
Despite dealing seven potential unrestricted free agents, Murray may be faced with letting Beauchemin walk if they can't come to an agreement and, if Niedermayer comes back, may need to move Pronger to free up cap room. Speculation has been that the big rearguard could most likely be moved at the time of the draft, held June 26-27 in Montreal.
"I don't think you can keep them all," Murray said, when asked about holding his blue line together.
Beauchemin said he hasn't talked about a contract since he got injured in December but wants to see what happens "in the next couple of weeks."
"I've had four great seasons here," he said. "We like the city, we like the team. They have decisions to make and we'll live with it. We'll see what they want to do and then we'll go from there."
As he did when his name came up often in trade speculation at the deadline, Pronger said he won't fret much about his future until something actually happens.
"Who knows what comes up in the next two or three months," he said. "There's a lot of time between now and next training camp. I'm sure there'll be a lot of questions from you guys in September and maybe even sooner. We'll see how things play out and go from there."
Niedermayer's decision could also impact 38-year-old Teemu Selanne
. Selanne is signed for next season at $2 million with a cap hit of $2.625 million, but wants to see what his teammate does, along with Murray, before he makes a commitment.
"I want to see what's going on here," Selanne said. "Talking with (Murray), he's got a pretty good picture of what's going to happen. He's very positive about it. That's always a good sign."
The Ducks would also like to bring back character veterans Todd Marchant
and Rob Niedermayer
, though Murray clearly indicated that they would have to take pay cuts in order to stay in the fold. Marchant and Niedermayer sounded open to the idea.
"We had a group of guys that played their heart out. It just didn't work out quite right. A bounce here and a bounce there and we could have been in Chicago, but we're not. Now we start working on next year."
-- Anaheim GM Bob Murray
"I understand where I am at my career," Marchant said. "I know what it is that I bring to the table and bring to this organization and this city. I'm not in the same situation I was six years ago when I was unrestricted. I understand that. They understand that. Hopefully we can get it done quickly."
Said Rob Niedermayer
: "My first priority would definitely be to come back here."
After a late-season tear that culminated in a stunning upset of top-seeded and Presidents' Trophy-winning San Jose in the first round and a near ousting of the defending champion Red Wings, the Ducks believe that they're back on a championship path.
"We had a group of guys that played their heart out," Murray said. "It just didn't work out quite right. A bounce here and a bounce there and we could have been in Chicago, but we're not. Now we start working on next year."