ANAHEIM, Calif. – While the Anaheim Ducks packed up for the summer, Teemu Selanne already was off enjoying his first few days of retirement.
The Ducks will have to get used to life without the Finnish Flash, and he’s probably not the only veteran departing after their second-round ouster by the Los Angeles Kings.
General manager Bob Murray vowed Monday to improve the two-time Pacific Division champions, who couldn’t extend the best regular season in franchise history into the Western Conference finals.
“We’re evaluating everything,” Murray said at Honda Center. “We’re going to take this one piece at a time, because we’re not as close as everybody thought we were.”
The Ducks won their second straight Pacific Division title and finished atop the Western Conference with 116 points before beating Dallas in the first round. Those good feelings evaporated in the first post-season Freeway Faceoff against the Kings, when Anaheim blew a 3-2 series lead for the second straight post-season, getting routed at home in Game 7.
“It was a great season, but any time you lose in the playoffs, it’s going to be heartbreaking,” said captain Ryan Getzlaf, a Hart Trophy finalist and the NHL’s second-leading scorer with 87 points. “And to lose in a Game 7 is even worse.”
While the Ducks have a wealth of young talent to add to a core built around Getzlaf, Corey Perry and defenceman Cam Fowler, several players are at a career crossroads in Anaheim.
Goalie Jonas Hiller expects he’ll have to leave as a free agent. Center Saku Koivu hasn’t decided whether to return for another season. The Ducks don’t know whether defenceman Sheldon Souray, who missed the whole year, can return from his career-threatening wrist injury.
Despite the second-round ouster, Ducks owner Henry Samueli clearly is pleased with his team’s direction. Anaheim announced a four-year contract extension through 2020 for Murray, the architect of the current roster and a farm system brimming with top prospects.
But for those prospects to play, veterans must leave.
Hiller is nearly certain he won’t be re-signed by the Ducks, who gave his job to rookies Frederik Andersen and John Gibson down the stretch of the regular season.
“There’s probably a real good chance that I’ve played my last game with the Ducks,” Hiller said. “Thinking about it kind of makes me feel sad, because (it’s been) quite a few great years here. It always feels weird when something like that comes to an end. You’re kind of always hoping, but at the same time, sometimes you have to face reality. … If it’s going to be a new challenge, I’m excited about that, too.”
Hiller has been the Ducks’ starting goalie since 2009, earning an NHL All-Star berth and playing in two Olympics for Switzerland during his tenure. He was dominant for long stretches this season, winning 14 straight decisions shortly before shutting out the Kings at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25, but ended the season as the Ducks’ third option in net.
Hiller’s agent discussed an extension with the Ducks during the season, but Hiller lost his job after a handful of mediocre starts late in the year.
“After the (trade) deadline, I felt like I wasn’t really trusted,” Hiller said. “I didn’t really play the big games against the good teams. I don’t know who made the call, what it was.”
Hiller played well in the post-season when given a chance, but the Ducks bypassed him for their final four games after Andersen’s knee injury in favour of the 20-year-old Gibson, who made mistakes that contributed to both of Anaheim’s season-ending losses.
Given the Ducks’ wealth of goaltending talent, Hiller realizes he’ll almost certainly join an NHL free-agent goalie class that includes Ryan Miller, Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson.
Koivu hasn’t decided whether to join Selanne in retirement. The 39-year-old veteran will take several weeks off to contemplate a return, but didn’t betray any leaning.
“It’s too early right now,” said Koivu, who has scored 832 points in 18 NHL seasons with Montreal and Anaheim. “Everything starts from myself and feeling whether I have the desire to push another year.”
Anaheim’s only other unrestricted free agents are forward Daniel Winnik and defenceman Stephane Robidas, a late-season trade acquisition.
The Ducks’ only major injury from their playoff push is a torn abdominal muscle for top-line forward Matt Beleskey, who might need surgery. Andersen, whose injury absence led to Gibson’s rise and fall, is almost fully recovered from a sprained ligament in his right knee.