Will the Ducks split up their Big 3?

Whenever the NHL lockout ends, three key Anaheim Ducks players will face a crucial season.

Winger Bobby Ryan was a fixture in the off-season rumor mill after venting his frustration in late-June over management’s seeming unwillingness to dismiss the constant speculation over his future with the club.

Ryan has since expressed regret over those comments and professed his desire to remain with the Ducks. He and Ducks management confirmed he never requested a trade.

Center Ryan Getzlaf and right winger Corey Perry, meanwhile, enter the final year of their respective contracts before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency.

This trio, along with ageless wonder Teemu Selanne, accounted for more than half of the Ducks goals last season.

It would appear foolish for management to even consider moving Ryan, Getzlaf or Perry. However, when the Ducks were floundering midway through last season, GM Bob Murray hinted at possible significant changes to his roster core.

The Ducks rallied in the second half under new coach Bruce Boudreau, but while it wasn’t enough to make the 2012 playoffs, it convinced Murray to not make any drastic changes.

If the Ducks become a playoff contender this season, Murray will likely prefer to tweak his roster to bolster their post-season hopes.

If the team gets off to a similar start as last season, however, a roster overhaul could be back on the table, with Ryan, Getzlaf and Perry possible trade candidates.

Ryan, 25, is under contract until July 2015. His June remarks aside, Ryan is two years younger than Getzlaf and Perry and while his contract is expensive, the two years remaining on it after this season would be attractive to clubs seeking more than a playoff rental player.

But it could prove difficult to find a trade partner able to absorb a $5.1 million cap hit, especially if the salary cap is significantly lowered under the new collective bargaining agreement, despite the possibility of escrow claw-backs.

Getzlaf and Perry are another matter. Both will earn $5.325 million this season and would be the best available talents in next summer’s UFA market, where they would certainly command top dollar from a number of suitors.

If it appears both intend to test the free agent market, Murray would have to shop them at the trade deadline and retain Ryan.

Getzlaf appears to be the more likely one to be dealt. Though still ranked among the league’s best centers, his numbers have been in decline since his career-best 91 points in 2008-09.

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Meanwhile, Perry won the Hart and Richard trophies in 2011. While his trade value is higher than Getzlaf’s, the Ducks might prefer to rebuild around Perry and Ryan.

The problem with moving Getzlaf is it would significantly reduce the Ducks’ already painfully thin depth at center.

If that’s a concern for the team, either Perry or Ryan would make better trade candidates and ensure the Ducks retain a strong first line center and one top winger.

Regardless of which one Murray trades, he’ll seek at least one established young NHL player plus a promising prospect in return.

There was a rumor that part of the asking price from the Philadelphia Flyers for Ryan was either Sean Couturier or Brayden Schenn in a package deal, two young centers the Flyers were justifiably reluctant to move.

That suggests Murray wanted to bolster his depth at center, either to take some of the pressure off Getzlaf, or in anticipation of his potential departure.

Promising forwards such as Kyle Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelly, Nick Bonino and Peter Holland could make significant strides in their development this season, but they’re probably at least another couple of seasons away from reaching their potential. Adding an established young player would be more beneficial in the short term by taking pressure off at least one of those players to step up.

Defense is another problem area for the Ducks. Rising star Cam Fowler and promising Luca Sbisa share the workload with ageing veterans Francois Beauchemin, Toni Lydman and free agent acquisitions Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen.

Put simply, the Ducks’ blueline must get bigger, better and younger.

Goaltending also remains something of a concern, as Jonas Hiller struggled last season to regain his all-star worthy form from ’10-11 after being sidelined by vertigo for a lengthy period.

Still, if Hiller does regain that form, it’ll go a long way toward improving the Anaheim’s playoff chances. Adding Swedish veteran Viktor Fasth could provide Hiller with a more reliable backup this season.

It’s obvious the futures of Ryan, Getzlaf and Perry depend not only on their performances this season, but also the club’s overall performance and the contract negotiations of the latter two.

Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website,, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla’s Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.