When it comes to names like Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger being available at the trade deadline, the caveat has consistently been "... if the Anaheim Ducks have fallen out of playoff contention."
The Ducks are one point out of the eight seed, but they've also played more games (61) than any other team in the Western Conference. To hear Anaheim GM Bob Murray explain it, they might as well be 20 points out.
He's either a stunning realist or attempting some very harsh late-season motivation through the media; because it sounds like Murray is all but sticking a fork in this year's Ducks.
The top sports headlines of the day
Even if the Ducks were to sneak into the playoffs, they would appear likely to be seeded seventh or eighth and face a daunting opening-round challenge against a powerhouse foe such as the defending champion Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks. The idea of making a deep post-season run, then, appears dubious at best. "I'm losing thoughts of that," Murray said.
"I thought some spark might come, some passion, some chemistry. It hasn't happened. It hasn't happened yet."
While most trade speculation involving the Ducks has focused on defenseman Chris Pronger, there is also considerable interest in captain Scott Niedermayer. A key difference between the former Norris Trophy winners is that Pronger has another year remaining on his contract, at $6.25 million next season, while Niedermayer stands to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"I'm getting a load of calls on Chris and Scotty," Murray said.
So Pronger and Nieds are being headhunted, and the Ducks lack the "spark, passion and chemistry" necessary for a playoff team. Yikes.
One thing's for certain: Coach Randy Carlyle isn't going to be scape-goated for the team's struggles. From Murray to the Register: "Our players better not be using that as an excuse, because a lot of them will be gone before he's gone. He's a good coach. It's not an issue."
That's probably not exactly music to the ears of OC Sports Geeks, which included this section on the coach in a recent post about blowing up the Ducks:
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 this past 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 it 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.
No less than 11 players are headed for unrestricted free agency on Anaheim's roster, which would seem to indicate a good number of deals heading into the deadline.
Are Ducks fans actually in a rather enviable situation? The core of the team -- Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Chris Kunitz -- are locked up long-term. So is Jean-Sebastien Giguere, whom one assumes will be able to find his game again.
But a few forwards and nearly the entire blue-line are up for renewal, giving the Ducks what many teams in the NHL saddled with veteran contracts don't have: a virtual reset button. That might be a good place to be this summer, if not in the middle of a playoff race fade.