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Ducks Gameday—Who's coming home from the road trip?

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Anaheim Ducks (31-28-5, t-7th in west) at Chicago Blackhawks (35-17-9, 4th in west)
There's nothing sloppy about Second City Hockey

Now I'm not an insider, but I have been following at least some of the trade chatter around these Anaheim Ducks.  I've put together a short list of potential trade candidates from Anaheim, plus a guess as to whether they are staying (the remainder of the season) or going to another team by tomorrow's trade deadline.

Scott Niedermayer (UFA) -- Staying.  What happens next summer is anyone's guess, but the captain isn't being dealt anytime soon.

Rob Niedermayer (UFA) -- Staying.  It'd be tough for me to imagine keeping Scott but dealing Rob -- for better or worse, they've become a package deal.

Chris Pronger (signed another year) -- Staying, I think.  Seemingly nobody will pony up the asking price, which is fine by me.  The Ducks can keep him or do a proper auction in the summer.  This may be the most encouraging thing I've heard GM Murray say since being hired:

Teams have interest but there has to be something to it that makes sense to us....You’d listen to anything, but nothing has been thrown at me that’s exciting.
Even if he's just posturing for a better offer, I like that he's utilizing his position of strength -- Pronger doesn't have to move.

Brendan Morrison (UFA) -- Staying, I think.  There's been some loose trade chatter, but I don't know if anyone's going to put any serious offer on B-Mo.  Then again, it might not take much...

Sammy Pahlsson (UFA) -- Staying, I hope.  I think the month-plus bout with mono has probably taken him off the trade radar, and I'm still hoping for a multi-year extension.

Travis Moen (UFA) -- Staying, I think.  His name was brought up a lot, but between his new baby and his upcoming next chapter with Steve Ott on Friday, he may stay.  Besides, finding a fill-in body for the Omen is possible, but it wouldn't represent a lot of savings.

Todd Marchant (UFA) -- Staying, I assume.  He has a no-trade clause and I haven't heard anything about the possibility of it being waived.

Steve Montador (UFA) -- Staying, I guess.  Montador would be a useful deadline pickup, but I haven't heard too much about him being offered, and I think generally Anaheim has been happy with his play.  Similar to Moen, he comes cheap, and may be in line for a contract extension himself.

Brett Hedican (UFA) -- Staying, I'd assume.  If anybody makes an offer to Mr. Yamaguchi, it'll be because they haven't read enough BoC to know better.

Francois Beauchemin (UFA) -- Staying, probably.  His injury probably takes him off the market.

Kent Huskins (UFA) -- Staying, assumedly.  See Beauchemin.

So eleven possibilities, and on a case-by-case basis, I can see reasons why they'll all make it home intact from the road trip.  Of course, I can't be right about everybody, can I?  Who do you see as the one most likely to go?  Where has my optimism blinded me to the truth?

I've seen some criticism of yesterday's hockey schedule: only one game on Versus betweeen the 15th-ranked teams from each conference. I understand why this game isn't important from a standings perspective, but rather than a failure in scheduling, I think last night was a failure of NHL marketing. Two guaranteed trade deadline sellers playing the only game of the night? Why not convince them to  feature their hottest trade commodities (instead of scratching them) and have a promotion "Somebody gets traded before the game is over" -- you could have rival GMs submit online offers, and all of a sudden what was the worst game on the annual schedule could get a lot of pre-deadline intrigue. Logistics may be tough, but it could be a nice way to build some hype for what may end up being an underwhelming trade deadline.

* * *

Lastly, I really don't know as much about this as I should, but apparently there is some sort of publication that Hawks fans produce for every home game called the Committed Indian (you can see back-issues from this season here).  Anyways, as part of it they put together a set of questions for me and SK Eleven to answer as representative Ducks bloggers.  Here's my set of answers for today's issue:

Your season has seemed like a bout of drunken sex, hard, tiring, and not all that productive. Why has this been?

Yeah, it's been a year largely filled with unfulfilled promise -- at times the Ducks can be world-beaters, but they've found some ways to lose a lot of games, too. The obvious problem is penalties, a habit that's plagued the team since Brian Burke rebuilt the roster. But that's not exactly new. I think this season, the Ducks have suffered a drop-off in talent with their depth defensemen -- losing Sean O'Donnell, Francois Beauchemin, and Mathieu Schneider from last year's squad has made Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger shoulder even more of the workload, and the overall defensive scheme has been flimsier as a result.

The end result is a bit of a head-scratcher. Anaheim has become a team that is capable of beating the league's best team one night and then losing to the worst the next -- seemingly every opponent, no matter their record, turns into a coin flip for the Ducks.

Are you really gonna move Pronger? Who else might go?

A Pronger trade seems like a real possibility before the deadline, though it's not a necessary move -- if the Ducks stay with Scott Niedermayer and newly-acquired Ryan Whitney, they can still wait and trade Pronger during the summer when there should be more bidders. For now, I think Pronger only moves if GM Bob Murray (remember him?) gets a "wow" offer from a desperate cup contender. The Ducks have 10 soon-to-be unrestricted free agents, though, which may be even more likely to be included in a trade this week. Scott and Rob Niedermayer may be safe, plus Todd Marchant has a no-trade clause, but there's still possibilities involving Brendan Morrison, Sammy Pahlsson, Travis Moen, Steve Montador, Brett Hedican, Francois Beauchemin, or Kent Huskins.

Pahlsson, Beauchemin, and Huskins are all currently on the IR, though -- that may hurt their trade likelihood.

Bobby Ryan has really taken off, what's been most impressive about his game?

After three and a half years of waiting for Bobby Ryan -- the kid picked one spot after Sidney Crosby -- Ducks fans finally got to see what this kid was all about, and so far he's been fantastic. He really was able to show off his offensive skills during the overlapping window this season when Teemu Selanne was injured and when Corey Perry was suspended, and hasn't fallen off too much since the two more established wingers have returned.

The most impressive part about his game is probably his stickhandling, but in a larger sense, the real impressive aspect to Bobby Ryan is how quickly he became Anaheim's best winger. This Ducks fan assumed that this season he'd stay behind Selanne and Perry on the depth chart -- after seeing this season's start to Bobby Ryan's career, now I'm not so sure.

Hiller has clearly outplayed Giguere. Giggy has a big cap number, might he hit the exit door too?

That would be tough, not only because it's tough to move large goalie contracts in this league (right, Khabibulin?), but also Giguere has a built-in no-movement clause in his Burke-negotiated deal (at the time, Giguere's infant son was under local medical care, so it made sense). So for those reasons, I think GM Murray would have a difficult time moving Giguere, even if he wanted to.

And I'm not sure that he does want to, at least not yet. Sure, Giguere has struggled this season, but there's a few distractions that may have played into it -- most notably the illness and passing of his father in Montreal. But Giguere is still a money goaltender who singlehandedly carried Anaheim to the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals and four years later won a cup, and I think he gets some leeway from those performances. Don't forget -- in postseason overtime, J.S. Giguere has a career record of 12-1. He's played over 250 minutes of sudden-death overtime, faced 115 OT shots-on-goal, and allowed only one goal. Say what you will about Giguere's mid-season struggles; if he continues to turn nearly every tie game into a postseason win, I think that's reason enough to keep him.

What did you make of the Kunitz-Whitney deal?

I'm not sure I can properly evaluate this deal until after the trade deadline, and even then I probably need to see some more games out of Whitney (nicknamed "Cotton Gin") to really understand what Anaheim acquired -- also there's supposed to be a good kid named Tangradi that the Ducks gave up that I'm not familiar with. The Ducks will miss Chris Kunitz -- that much is certain. He brought a speedy offensively-complementary game to Anaheim's top lines for the past several years, and provided energy and space for his linemates. Still, this was the first year that Chris Kunitz wasn't a salary bargain for Anaheim -- he now makes nearly $4M/yr, and there's plenty of players who could ride shotgun on the Getzlaf-Perry line for less than that.

Kunitz really fits into a theme for Anaheim -- Joffrey Lupul, Andy McDonald, Dustin Penner, Chris Kunitz -- these are all players who have moved on from Anaheim more or less at the point when they started making real NHL money. Certainly all their missing contributions have impacted the team upon their departure, but I can't really criticize a salary cap strategy that takes advantage of players when they are affordable and later distributes them when they become expensive. Even if all four players were somehow still on the Ducks, I'd still be missing the days when they played for near-league minimum.

Based on limited knowledge, though, I think I like the deal. I think that there's definitely room for Ryan Whitney to develop, and this helps set up Anaheim's blueline for next year, when either Niedermayer or Pronger (or both) might be playing for somebody else.

Are you guys gonna make the playoffs? Is there any point?

Well now, that's certainly a bit of lip from a franchise that (checks Wikipedia) has won 1 playoff game since 1997. It's tough to say about the playoff fortunes of these Ducks -- they have the talent to make the postseason, but haven't regularly demonstrated it. Right now it's neck-and-neck with quite a few teams, as you know. If the Ducks can play some decent hockey in their last stretch, they'll probably snag a low seed.

But is there a point to qualifying in a low seed? Of course there is -- the Ducks have gone to the conference finals once as the 6th seed (eliminated by the 8th-seeded Prongers) and gone to the cup finals once as the 7th seed. They've won their last five playoff rounds against western conference division winners, and generally have enjoyed better postseason results than they've probably deserved. It probably won't give the Ducks an edge in any first-round matchup, but there is one nice thing about playing most opponents to a coin flip -- with a little luck, the Ducks could certainly throw an upset or two this spring if they make it.

Prediction: Ducks 3, Hawks 2. Three goals by Pahlsson, each channeled through a different skater.

Go Ducks.