Murray: No Overhaul, Just Tuneup, in Order

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Times Staff Writer

There is only one thing left for an encore.

The Mighty Ducks had a glimpse of ecstasy, as the New Jersey Devils skated around Continental Airlines Arena, handing the Stanley Cup to one another before their rabid, and somewhat tactless, fans. All the Ducks came home with was the Conn Smythe Trophy -- given to goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere as playoff MVP, for which he was booed by Devil fans -- and hope for the future.

The Ducks answered every question, met every challenge during a two-month run, coming up just short of taking home the Cup after extending the Devils to seven games in the final.

About 30 fans greeted the team when it arrived at the Arrowhead Pond at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. A considerably larger gathering is expected today for a 10 a.m. rally at the Pond.


“This has been unbelievable,” left wing Mike Leclerc said after Monday’s loss. “I can’t believe it is over. We all came together and stepped it up. There is a lot of respect for each other in this room. It’s going to take some time before this all sinks in, what we did.”

Time brings questions and one jumps out at the Ducks.

Are they a flash in the pan or are they a team that is ready to step into the elite field? In other words, are they New Jersey or Carolina?

The Devils built a foundation in the early 1990s that led to winning the Stanley Cup in 1995. They have sustained that through the years, winning two more Cups, to tie Detroit for the most since the Edmonton dynasty breathed its last gasp in 1990.

Carolina rocketed to the top, or near the top, in 2002, reaching the Stanley Cup finals and gave it a good go before losing to Detroit in five games. The descent, though, was even more rapid. The Hurricanes were little more than a weak storm front this season, finishing last in the Eastern Conference.

Extending the Devils to seven games would indicate non-Hurricane warnings.

“You never know what is going to happen,” Giguere said. “There could be injuries. We just want to try to position ourselves for the playoffs and go from there.”

That single-minded focus served the Ducks well through the playoffs. Their playoff success caught many NHL observers off guard, but the Ducks were confident of their abilities.


The Ducks finished 25 points out of the playoffs last season. This time around, they rallied to make the playoffs in the waning months of the regular season, then made the most of their opportunity. They swept Detroit, the defending champion, in the first round, then took out Dallas, the Western Conference’s top-seeded team, in six games to reach the conference final. The Ducks swept Minnesota to reach the Cup final.

The turnaround gradually won back fans and, even more gradually, brought some respect from hockey hubs in the East and Canada.

“We have had a special year,” General Manager Bryan Murray said. “We were just an OK team the first half. The second half, we were among the best teams in the league.”

It was a continuing process. Off-season maneuvers, signing center Adam Oates and trading for winger Petr Sykora, were followed by in-season trades, for defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, forward Rob Niedermayer and forward Steve Thomas, which launched the Ducks into that rarified air.

“We had a little better depth and our scoring was better this season,” said Murray. “We have a variety of guys who can score. Our goaltender is young and talented. We know we’re going to get good goaltending year after year. I think we have a good foundation there.”

To continue on that path, Murray has more off-season decisions to make.

A year ago, he went through a major overhaul, which in the end meant bringing in 12 players who were not on the roster last season.


The changes will not be so drastic this summer, but Murray does expect some moves.

“We need to find more scoring,” Murray said.

The quest would lead most Duck fans to immediately think about Teemu Selanne, a favorite who was traded to San Jose late in the 2000-01 season. However, the Ducks’ success in the playoffs works against the Selanne scenario. He made $6.5 million with the Sharks last season and, even if he would take a pay cut, it would seem a hefty price for the Ducks to pay.

A more viable option would seem to be re-signing Thomas. He was considered a rent-a-player when he was acquired on March 11 but performed so well that Murray is now considering re-signing him. Thomas scored 10 goals in 12 regular-season games with the Ducks and four more in the playoffs.

Thomas, 39, made $1 million this season and is an unrestricted free agent.

The Ducks hold an option on Oates, 40. He had a player option that would have paid $3.5 million, but it was tied to incentives he did not reach because of a broken hand early in the season. He said he would like to return.

Re-signing Giguere with no-fuss negotiations is among the top priorities for Murray. Giguere made $900,000 this season and certainly will get a significant pay bump. Montreal goalie Jose Theodore, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2001-02, signed a three-year, $16.5-million deal last summer.

Paul Kariya is a restricted free agent but will probably be given a qualifying offer at $10 million for next season. Sykora, who made $3.53 million last season, is also a restricted free agent.

Those are among the financial hoops that Duck management will go through this summer.

The Ducks had a variety of injuries that need to heal. None are considered serious.

Kariya suffered a slightly separated shoulder in Game 2, after being checked into the boards by New Jersey’s Scott Stevens. Sykora played with a chipped bone in his right wrist. Oates played with a broken finger. Leclerc will undergo off-season surgery on his left knee.




*--* What’s the Deal? Contract status for Mighty Duck players: GOALIES Martin Gerber Team option J.S. Giguere Restricted free agent DEFENSEMEN Keith Carney Signed through 2003-04 Niclas Havelid Restricted free agent Fredrik Olausson Unrestricted free agent Sandis Ozolinsh Signed through 2004-05 Ruslan Salei Signed through 2003-04 Kurt Sauer Signed through 2004-05 Lance Ward Restricted free agent Vitaly Vishnevski Restricted free agent FORWARDS Dan Bylsma Club option Rob Niedermayer Player option Petr Sykora Restricted free agent Steve Thomas Unrestricted free agent Stanislav Chistov Signed through 2004-05 Marc Chouinard Restricted free agent Paul Kariya Restricted free agent Mike Leclerc Restricted free agent Alexei Smirnov Signed through 2004-05 Jason Krog Restricted free agent Samuel Pahlsson Restricted free agent Adam Oates Club option Steve Rucchin Signed through 2005-06