In the NHL's summer season of hard-edged business decisions, for Ducks General Manager Bob Murray none was more difficult than the one involving center Saku Koivu.
Murray did not offer contracts to a trio of Ducks — longtime goaltender Jonas Hiller, forward Daniel Winnik and Koivu — and said the latter call involved a lot "of soul-searching."
And so, Koivu may have played his final NHL game, along with legendary Finnish countryman Teemu Selanne, who retired after the Ducks' second-round loss to the Kings in the playoffs.
Koivu is a much-beloved figure in the NHL. The 39-year-old once was the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, the first European to hold that position with the storied franchise. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the fall of 2001 and returned at the end of the regular season and played in the playoffs.
He joined the Ducks and Selanne in the 2009-10 season and played five seasons in Anaheim. Koivu appeared in the Olympics four times for Finland — winning three bronze medals and one silver — and declined to play in Sochi this year, putting forth his efforts toward one more big playoff push.
"I don't know if he's going to retire or not, but I know he went home to think about it," Murray said in a conference call Thursday. "I just felt we had younger players coming along that we had to move into the lineup. I thought it was best for this organization that we move forward a little bit."
He also praised the contributions of Hiller and Winnik, who was with the Ducks for two seasons. Hiller became expendable after the rapid progression of goalies John Gibson and Frederik Andersen.
"Those are not easy decisions," Murray said. "Jonas has been our No. 1 goalie for five years around here and done a great job for us.
"It's ironic, with my meeting with him, he said, 'It's kind of funny how it comes full circle.' Years ago, it was him taking over for Jiggy [Jean-Sebastien Giguere] and now you have two young guys. He knows that. But it's still tough."
Anaheim has two first-round picks — 10th and 24th overall — in next week's NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia, and free agency opens July 1. The Ducks, coming off a 116-point regular season, now have more questions at center. Koivu won't be back and it is unclear what the plan is for center Mathieu Perreault, a restricted free agent.
The Ducks made a big play for Canucks center Ryan Kesler at the trade deadline in March, and it is expected they will be involved in talks for Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators, their frequent trade partners.
"We're very aware of what the rumors are out there and who might and might not be available," said Murray. "Let's just say: I've talked to lots of teams.
"We had to get back to a position where we had assets to use. We are pretty close to there right now. We have good young assets and we have draft picks. And I'm not afraid to use them … but I'm not going to put ourselves behind the 8-ball again, either. So it's a process we're going through — and seeing who really is available and who really isn't."
He mused about one of his general manager counterparts, Stanley Cup winner Dean Lombardi of the Kings, saying: "I think Dean's much happier than I am at the moment."
Murray acknowledged that they are not just chasing the Kings but also other organizations.
"We're still behind a bunch of teams in my eyes — and that's why decisions have to be made," he said. "Where are we, really? Every year, the Stanley Cup Final is the one game I do watch, when I think it's going to happen — because it's what we all want. It's what we all strive to get."
Murray was asked what he considered the key missing assets.
"You watch the Kings, for example and you watch how Drew Doughty has emerged as a superstar," Murray said. "Do we have a defenseman that can be that way? When we won the Stanley Cup, we had Scotty [Niedermayer] and Chris [Pronger]. That's in the back of my mind all the time: Where is that guy? And can you find that guy? And can you afford that guy, if you find him?
"At center ice, we have some really nice players coming along … but is that now? That's a huge decision you have to make. "
The Kings and Ducks released their preseason schedules. They both open on Sept. 22 with split-squad games — the Kings against the Arizona Coyotes at Staples Center and Glendale, Ariz., and the Ducks versus the Colorado Avalanche, at Honda Center and Denver.
Anaheim and the Kings play each other twice — at Staples Center on Sept. 25 and Honda Center on Sept. 28. The Kings also play the Avalanche at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs on Oct. 2 and again at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Oct. 4.