The question must be a difficult one for a GM.
Do I blow up this team that has shown no signs of turning it around this season?
Even if they do turn it around, do we have enough talent to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup we won only two years ago?
Am I making the right decisions?
Do I blame the coach (who led us to that Cup only two years ago)?
Do I ship the soon to be UFA, the grey-beards, the marquee names? (Pronger, Scott N, etc.)
Are my goaltenders THIS bad for good?
Any number of these lines of questioning probably cause new Duck General Manager Bob Murray to lose sleep at night. Worse still is the rapid decline from Cup contender to no-show, top of the heap to postseason golf pro. Many fans of the game say that GMs in hockey set the tone of the team more than any other professional sport. Brian Burke's early season departure for the bright lights of NHL in Toronto sure didn't help this team find its identity at all.
Maybe that's part of the problem, too.
Under Burke, the team was charged with being rough and tumbled. Taking the ice, never falling into the trap of playing another team's game, the 2007 Ducks forced their way to the Cup skating, banging, and playing rough hockey. Many longtime supporters of the NHL cited the Ducks as goons, and players such as Chris Pronger have been marked men by the league ever since.
The Ducks made an early exit in last year's playoffs to the Dallas Stars, a team that didn't get much farther than the Ducks, and a team that Anaheim had considerable problems with all season last (and this) year.
Then there's this year. Sure, the Ducks brand of bringing the body is constantly met by league officials with penalties. All season long they continued to take the body and get called for it. Once they started spending more time in the box than on the ice, you'd think something would click for a team only two seasons removed from being Stanley Cup champs. Instead, last week's game against the Kings marked the Ducks giving up two power play goals during 5-on-3 man advantages.
One of which was to Scotty Niedermayer, serving his second box break of the night, both of which resulted in Kings goals.
Maybe it's not the lack of identity under Bob Murray.
Maybe it's the coach.
Randy Carlyle brought the Ducks their first Cup and is among their all-time leaders for coaching wins. He's no doubt responsible for the brand of hockey it took to win the Cup, but he's also the captain of the ship that lost, 8-4, at home last Sunday night to the lowly Atlanta Thrashers. His line combinations have been a downright awful mess.
Trying new things only gets you so far, and trying to spark something with a new line has limited potential even when it clicks and works. Making new lines and mixing up your M.O. just outright screams of desperation. From there, the players feel it. Opponents feed on it. Everyone suddenly is looking at each game as an uphill battle, and things start to fall apart.
The reason Chris Kunitz, Andy MacDonald, and Teemu Selanne had success as a line three years ago wasn't just their speed and skill: It was their familiarity with one another, having been line mates for a considerable amount of time, and having the built-in comfort level that comes with knowing what to expect of your line mates.
Maybe the players stopped listening to their coach, also.
If that's the case, the emotional leaders of this team, like Captain Scotty Niedermayer, need to deliver a good swift kick in the pants to every member of the group. Sure, we've had moments of individual brilliance recently: Bobby Ryan's been a rookie stud, Corey Perry came back from suspension and provided immediate consistent offense, and Getzlaf has been the best player on the ice night in and night out.
It's clearly not enough.
This team is playing as if they should win every game by virtue of their talent on paper.
They make stupid decisions with the puck.
They pass like flat-out crap.
They get drawn into taking stupid penalties night in and and night out.
Potential NHL poster child Corey Perry takes EVERY freakin' hit against him personally, retaliates, then whines about getting called on it.
All of it happens ALL the @#()$* TIME.
In past stretches like these, (which were much shorter than, say, entire seasons?) they could rely on their goaltending to win them a couple here and there, and suddenly that option is gone, too.
Stalwart J.S. Giguere, another emotional leader of this squad, has been completely lost since the unfortunate death of his father. Even the goaltender himself has admitted to feeling lost and lacking confidence out there, unable to get anything going in any positive light. Backup Jonas Hiller has faltered too, allowing easy goals in his past few starts, despite his previous flashes of excellence. His game was back this past game against Buffalo, and let's hope it's a sign of him righting the ship a bit. He literally preserved the game for the Ducks, who once again came out flat to open a game and got a few lucky bounces.
Maybe it's something to build on.
This all makes for the perfect storm for a rookie GM trying to take the reigns of a hockey team in a southern California market where even the lowly Clippers draw increased market share. The Ducks were almost relevant in this town when they won the Cup, and a slip in the standings this drastic stands to undo all the steps made by all of his predecessors in establishing the team, and the sport, as a strong local entity.
The Ducks are halfway through a brutal six-game road trip that started in Detroit (L, 5-2), Columbus (W, 5-2), and Buffalo (W, 3-2, thanks to Giguere).
Boston, Dallas, and Chicago remain, beginning tonight at 7:30 p.m., EST.
Some Ducks players might not return home from the trip as Ducks, with the NHL trade deadline looming (Mar. 4) and the Ducks ending their trip Mar. 3 in Chicago. Should the team decide to blow it up, and they've got every reason to do so, many players, such as Pronger and Scotty N., might be valuable trade commodities to teams facing playoff potential.
Rumors already swirled regarding Pronger, with (former Ducks GM) Brian Burke in Toronto desperate for a tone-setting marquee name for his storied franchise. Niedermayer is also being rumored with some regard by his former team, the New Jersey Devils.
Ducks Giguere, Perry, and Getzlaf have no-trade clauses, but it's fair to assume everyone else is fair game on a team crashing and burning like this one.
Breaking news: Today has the Ducks sending Chris Kunitz to center the Pittsburgh Crosby/Malkin line for defenceman Ryan Whitney, 26. With all of 28 NHL games under his 6'4", 230-pound frame, the youngster is more than a trade deadline deal: He's a statement.
Duck, we're blowing it up.
It's fairly accurate to say that this six-game road trip had better be an epic success for this Ducks team, or it won't be "this Ducks team" much longer.
It will be up to these Ducks to show what they're capable of, because if they've already done that, the only place you'll see these Ducks come playoffs is at the country club.