Ducks, Coyotes face big questions

June, 17, 2010

Two Pacific Division clubs have a lot of balls up in the air these days.

The Anaheim Ducks are awaiting Scott Niedermayer's decision next week, which will have a huge impact on how they proceed this offseason. They're also waiting on Teemu Selanne. The Phoenix Coyotes, meanwhile, have about a dozen free agents to attend to and not a huge budget to work with.

The Ducks

The Ducks have patiently waited for their captain to decide whether he's coming back for another season. That's certainly not a first.

"We'll probably talk on Monday, and we should have a decision by then, hopefully," Ducks GM Bob Murray told on Wednesday.

Murray also spoke with Selanne earlier this week, and the Ducks await a decision on his return for the 2010-11 campaign.

"He's still undecided," Murray said. "We'll talk again early next week."

While no one involved wants to say it, my guess is Selanne will base his decision largely on what Niedermayer does. Both are unrestricted free agents, and despite being linked to other teams in cyberspace rumors, it would appear it's the Ducks or retirement for both players.

"It's probably Anaheim or nothing," Niedermayer's agent, Kevin Epp of Titan Sports Management, told "Anaheim is where he calls home now, and that's where his family is comfortable."

Murray has a Plan A and Plan B depending on Niedermayer's decision, but obviously Plan A is more appealing.

"He's still one of the best players in the game, and he showed that in the Olympics and he showed that at the end of the year with our hockey team," Murray said of Niedermayer, who turns 37 on Aug. 31. "But besides that, when you're bringing younger players in your organization, there are fewer greater role models in the game than Scotty."

Just like Nicklas Lidstrom and the way he fosters a certain culture and work ethic in Detroit, that's what Niedermayer brings to Anaheim. It's hard to replace a player like that.

Saku Koivu, Selanne's good friend, also is UFA. The Ducks have spoken to his agent, Don Baizley (who also represents Selanne), but there is nothing concrete at this point.

"He had a real good second half for us," Murray said of Koivu. "He's another good role model for the young guys, but we'll see what happens."

In the meantime, Murray said he continues to negotiate with Don Meehan and his Newport Sports firm regarding star top-six winger Bobby Ryan, a restricted free agent. That negotiation doesn't appear to be close to concluding at this point, although neither side would confirm that this week.

"The negotiations continue," Meehan told on Wednesday night, not wanting to say more. Keep an eye on that one.

The Coyotes

The Coyotes, who were the NHL's feel-good story in 2009-10, now need to work if there's going to be any sequel.

Phoenix has about half its roster eligible for free agency. The UFAs include top-four defenseman Zbynek Michalek and top-six forward Matthew Lombardi, as well as veteran blueliners Adrian Aucoin, Derek Morris and Mathieu Schneider, and forwards Lee Stempniak, Taylor Pyatt, Robert Lang and Joel Perrault. The RFAs include top-six forwards Martin Hanzal and Wojtek Wolski, as well as forward Daniel Winnik and defenseman Sami Lepisto.

[Updated: Aucoin signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Coyotes late Thursday.]

Time to earn that GM award, right, Don Maloney?

"Literally, I've got seven or eight conversations going at once right now," Maloney told on Wednesday.

Maloney is doing this while still working without an owner, but the uncertainty is old hat for him at this point. For now, the NHL still has to green-light Maloney's financial decisions.

"I worked out a budget with [NHL deputy commissioner] Bill Daly, I want to say about 10 days ago," Maloney said.

Neither Maloney nor Daly would tell us what that figure was, but one can guess it's nowhere close to whatever the salary-cap limit will be. Money will be tight again this season, and you can forget the Coyotes being big players come July 1 because of it.

"It's a little better than last year," Maloney said of his budget. "It's enough to put a team on the ice that can win and get to the playoffs. … "It's no different from the other 29 teams; now it's working within that budget to put a winner on the ice. That's the challenge. We had relative success last season, and now it's paying for that success and re-signing the players we'd like to re-sign. It's no different than most teams."

While appreciating their contributions, Maloney said Lang and Schneider will not return. There's interest in the rest of the free-agent gang, but Maloney won't be able to bring them all back.

"We're just getting a sense of where they're at and see what we have to spend and see how many we can re-sign," Maloney said. "We'd like to re-sign most, but in all candor, we won't be able to do that."

So far, he's re-signed top-six forward Scottie Upshall, who was RFA, to a one-year deal worth $2.25 million. In my mind, that's a bargain for a player who led the team in goals before he got hurt this past season. Maloney also re-signed checker Ryan Hollweg, really just a depth move since it was a two-way deal.

There's lot of work to be done with the clock ticking toward July 1, when his free agents will be able to explore other avenues.

"The way the mix and chemistry was on this team, in large part thanks to [coach] Dave Tippett, everyone wants to return," Maloney said. "But what kind of discount can we get? For example, we won't be able to pay Michalek what he can get on the open market, without a question. So what would he take to stay here? And certainly Lombardi is in the same boat.

"I've acknowledged that with them -- 'I know there's more available if you go that route [free agency]. However, you're in a great spot with a great coaching staff; what can we do.' So that's really been the dance the last 10 days or so to try and really come down to a number that makes sense."

When I was in Phoenix during the first round of the playoffs, many players told me how much they loved being in Phoenix and enjoyed each other's company in that dressing room. It was a tight-knit team. But how much is that worth in terms of leaving money on the table?

"We're not going to be able to pay market for most of these players; that's the bottom line," Maloney said. "But there's an attraction to playing here. The players enjoyed it here, I think. We'll find out how much, I guess. Everybody likes to get paid, you know."

We'll find out over the next few weeks just how similar or different the Cinderella Coyotes of 2009-10 will look next season.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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