ANAHEIM, Calif. – Centre Saku Koivu and goalie Jonas Hiller are done with the Anaheim Ducks.
Koivu, Hiller and forward Daniel Winnik won’t be offered contracts by the Ducks for next season, general manager Bob Murray confirmed Thursday.
The Pacific Division champion Ducks are cutting ties with several dependable veterans after the best regular season in franchise history and a second-round playoff exit.
Along with Teemu Selanne’s retirement, the departures of Koivu and Hiller will allow the Ducks’ young talent to assume bigger roles next season. Anaheim also is in the trade market for an elite centre.
“We’ve got younger players coming along that we had to move into the lineup,” Murray said. “I thought it was best for this organization that we move forward a little bit. It was just time.”
The 39-year-old Koivu became a fan favourite during five seasons with the Ducks, even while his scoring production dwindled. The four-time Finnish Olympian was the longtime captain of the Montreal Canadiens.
Murray said the Ducks’ decision on Koivu was “the hardest of the three. He had a great career.”
Murray isn’t certain what Koivu will do next, but wouldn’t be surprised if he decides to play in Finland. Koivu said last month he was contemplating retirement.
The Ducks’ decision to part ways with Hiller means they’ll head into next season with a new starting goalie for the first time since 2009.
Hiller made an All-Star team, won a playoff series and consistently backstopped the Ducks through several seasons of frequently terrible defensive play in front of him, going 162-110-32 over seven years.
But the Swiss netminder lost his starting job late in the regular season to Danish backup Frederik Andersen, and he played infrequently in the post-season while the Ducks went with Andersen and 20-year-old John Gibson, widely considered the top goaltending prospect in hockey.
“Jonas did so much for us,” Murray said. “But we’ve got pretty good kids there, so the writing was kind of on the wall.”
The 32-year-old Hiller had hoped to stay in Anaheim, but he joins Ryan Miller as the top goalies available in free agency.
Anaheim signed the undrafted Hiller out of Switzerland’s top league in May 2007. He beat out Ilya Bryzgalov for a roster spot and swiftly seized the starting job from Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the Stanley Cup-winning starter and franchise’s winningest goalie.
“It’s funny how it comes full circle,” Murray said.
Hiller won 14 consecutive decisions during his final season with the Ducks, and he shut out the Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium in January.
Andersen and Gibson both struggled at times in the playoffs, but confirmed he wasn’t in the Ducks’ plans when he got just two post-season starts even after Andersen struggled and eventually got injured. Gibson was mediocre in the Ducks’ final two losses to the Kings, but Anaheim stuck with its youth over Hiller’s experience.
Winnik spent the past two years with the Ducks, scoring 30 points in 76 games last season.
Murray emerged from his post-season meetings eager to retool the Ducks, who finished atop the Western Conference and won their second straight division title at 54-20-8.
Anaheim beat Dallas in the first round of the post-season, but blew a 3-2 lead in the second round against the rival Kings, losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in seven games.
The Ducks also are in the market for a veteran centre after failing to land Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler at last spring’s trade deadline. Anaheim has been linked in discussions for Kesler, Ottawa’s Jason Spezza and San Jose’s Joe Thornton.
Anaheim has a wealth of assets for a deal, including four draft picks in the first two rounds and an impressive collection of prospects in one of the NHL’s best farm systems.
“I think we’re in good shape if the right deal is there,” Murray said. “You try to make a good hockey deal, and we obviously have some things that people want.”