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Future rests with veteran

Ducks General Manager Bob Murray probably cost himself some negotiating leverage and big bucks Friday when he called Scott Niedermayer “irreplaceable” and all but begged the smooth-skating defenseman to sign for another season.

It might be worth the elevated price.

With Niedermayer, the Ducks can retain a strong corps of veterans while easing younger legs into the lineup, a process Murray began with late-season trades that transformed them from a bottom-feeder to a playoff upstart that dismissed the top-seeded Sharks in the first round and took the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings to seven gritty games.

If Niedermayer retires, right wing Teemu Selanne could follow, despite having a year left on his contract. To a team already thin on its second line -- Murray’s other priority -- losing Selanne might trigger a step backward.

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Murray said he needs to know Niedermayer’s plans before the June 26 draft so he can formulate a strategy.

“He’s everything to this group, and I’m going to have to see where he goes before I decide where I go,” Murray said Friday during a conference call with reporters.

After Thursday’s season-ending 4-3 loss at Detroit, Niedermayer said it was “possible” he had played his last game but hadn’t thought things through and promised to decide soon.

His decision will affect whether the Ducks can keep a defense Murray had strengthened by acquiring Ryan Whitney in February and James Wisniewski in March. Wisniewski was a find and Whitney, signed through 2012-13, will someday inherit Niedermayer’s role as the primary puck-moving defenseman.

Murray said he would match any offer made to Wisniewski, who can become a restricted free agent July 1. But he’s not sure he can retain defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who missed most of the season because of a knee injury but came back to add muscle to the Ducks’ playoff run.

Murray said he expects Beauchemin to test the free-agent market. The Ducks would miss his bruising hits and booming shot but must weigh what they can do under a salary cap Murray thinks will dip slightly from this season’s $56.7 million.

“That’s a variable that’s out there, for sure,” Murray said. “I have a good relationship with him and we’ll talk again. You’ve got to admire what that guy did. I’m so impressed.”

Impressed enough to get into a bidding war in order to maintain continuity on defense?

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Again, it comes back to Niedermayer.

“Once he makes his decision I can tell you about everybody else,” Murray said. “There’s some wiggle room in there. We got ourselves out of the hole a little bit here. We’re in better shape that way than we have been in a few years.”

Still, he said veterans Rob Niedermayer and Todd Marchant, unrestricted free agents who are strong leaders, would have to take pay cuts to fit into a salary structure headed by the $5.325 million a year being paid Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Rob Niedermayer earned $2 million this season, and Marchant earned $2,517,500.

“I’ve got to talk to them,” said Murray, who will join Coach Randy Carlyle for exit meetings with players today. “Todd Marchant is so influential in that room. He’s an important factor.”

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When Brian Burke left for Toronto in November, he left Murray an aging team so close to the cap that Bobby Ryan had to start the season in the minor leagues.

Murray dealt seven potential unrestricted free agents and got good returns for now and the future. He carved out a chunk of salary cap space while reducing the team’s average age by about two years to just over 28 and adding life to a stale locker room.

“We had that never-say-die attitude and we’ve been that way for almost two months now,” Carlyle said. “We were able to get a level of play and a commitment from our players for that long of a period of time. . . . There was a lot of will for our group in the last 2 1/2 months.”

Their run might have been longer if they had reliable secondary scoring. Doug Weight and Brendan Morrison, acquired by Burke after salary cap considerations forced him to trade Andy McDonald, were flops. Rookie Andrew Ebbett is skillful but also small and easily moved off the puck.

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“That was something that was key two years ago when we won -- that second line. We haven’t had it since,” Murray said. “We’ve tried to find a center on the second line and let’s face facts, we’re 0 for 2. I can’t go 0 for 3.”

That weakness meant Getzlaf played a lot, wearing him down and leaving him susceptible to the flu in the second round. He averaged 24 minutes 8 seconds per game, the most of any forward during the first two rounds of the playoffs.

“That’s my fault,” Murray said. “We didn’t have somebody behind him, and Getzy had to play too much for us to get where we got. You get banged up and you get tired and you get sick.”

Murray will have a few other tough decisions, such as how to handle paying Jean-Sebastien Giguere $6 million to be a backup and whether to lock up Jonas Hiller long-term. Hiller has one more year left at $1.3 million.

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Also on Murray’s list: re-signing restricted free agents Mike Brown and Erik Christensen and finding a new minor league affiliate following the termination of the Ducks’ agreement with Iowa.

“Since we’ve been here we’ve had three decent runs in the playoffs in four years. I see no reason not to try to continue that,” Murray said. “I think we can do it. And that’s what I’m going to work on.”

Not an easy task. But Niedermayer can make it less complicated.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com


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