It's a tricky balance for Ducks General Manager Bob Murray. He is trying to maneuver his first-place team toward a Stanley Cup as Monday's trade deadline approaches but doesn't want to discard key future players.
Murray pulled the trigger on one deal Tuesday, sending rugged, low-scoring forward Devante Smith-Pelly to the Montreal Canadiens for a more skilled scorer, forward Jiri Sekac. Both players are 22 and coming off productive postseasons.
Smith-Pelly had a team-best five playoff goals last season. Sekac — a Czech who drew NHL attention last year when he played in the Kontinental Hockey League — produced 11 points in the final 11 games as his team, Prague Nev, reached the league final.
This season, Sekac is averaging 13 minutes, 48 seconds of ice time as a left wing, and has seven goals and 16 points. Smith-Pelly, with five goals and 17 points, has scored one goal since Dec. 1.
"We needed to get a little faster, get a little more skill in our lineup … there's some good upside," Murray said. "We were a little top-heavy with the physical players. Just two teams making a change of young players. Both were stuck, 'Devo' behind the right wingers here."
Ducks forward Rene Bourque was a teammate of Sekac in Montreal, and said he's "highly skilled, strong, with a lot of tools you need to be successful in this league."
Coach Bruce Boudreau said he'll need to see Sekac practice before deciding which line the left-handed-shooter should join.
With the trade deadline looming and the Ducks within striking distance of the Western Conference top seeding, Murray will weigh if he should deal again.
"There's a lot of talking going on, but it's all about rentals, for Pete's sake," Murray said about players who could be acquired but would be free to go elsewhere next season.
The Ducks are believed to be in the market for a second-pair defenseman after experiencing a recent 3-7 rut in which they gave up four goals or more in seven of 10 games.
Murray, however, is uncomfortable to part with young talent —for instance, former first-round pick, defenseman Shea Theodore — in exchange for a "rental."
"It's gone from a third-round pick for a rental, someone you might have for three months; now it's a second- or first-rounder and a prospect," Murray said. "I'm not doing that here. … It's not my cup of tea, this rental world."
So how does he weigh pulling the trigger on a player who might contribute mightily toward his Cup ambition?
"If I felt there was somebody … especially if I thought I had a good chance to sign the guy, and there's maybe a few out there right now," Murray said. "You do have gut feelings, a sense you can sign and keep the guy, so you're not trading for a rental."
He said he expects trade talks to extend until the final minute (noon PST Monday) as general managers consider whether they're in or out of the playoff chase.
While Murray has expressed satisfaction with some players added since losing to the eventual champion Kings in last season's Western Conference semifinals — centers Ryan Kesler and Nate Thompson, and defenseman Clayton Stoner — other moves have fallen flat.
Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was waived Sunday and Tuesday accepted a demotion to minor league Norfolk, Va. Murray said he'll work to trade the veteran, who's still owed $750,000.
"Some of the things to fill holes with injuries … to be honest, we haven't been very good," Murray said. "They haven't worked."
A lower-body injury to Thompson prompted Monday's recall of rookie center William Karlsson from Norfolk. He skated on the fourth line Tuesday with Tim Jackman and Patrick Maroon. Boudreau called Thompson "questionable" for Wednesday's game against Ottawa.
Goalie Frederik Andersen, out since Feb. 8 because of a head/neck injury, said after practicing Tuesday that he's still not ready to play.
DUCKS VS. OTTAWA
On the air: TV: FS West. Radio: 830.
Etc.: Ottawa blitzed Anaheim, 6-2, on Dec. 19 to cap the Ducks' extended trip in Canada. Forward Mike Hoffman has a team-high 20 goals and former Duck Bobby Ryan 15 goals and 43 points for the Senators.