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Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Ducks leading league in deft moves, too

By Scott Burnside



Is there an NHL GM who goes about his business more quietly than Anaheim's Bob Murray?

The architect of the NHL's top team at the quarter pole this season was at it again Tuesday, sending big winger Dustin Penner to Washington for a fourth-round pick, which the Ducks then turned around and sent to Dallas in exchange for veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas. (The pick sent to Dallas could become a third-rounder if Robidas plays 50 percent of the team's playoff games and the Ducks reach the Western Conference finals.)

The Ducks are awash in forwards but were in need of some defensive depth.

Robidas is a calculated risk.

The veteran defender broke his leg in a grisly incident in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks in late November and is just now back taking full practice. But assuming Robidas, who turned 37 on Monday, can stay healthy, he adds a nice element to a blue line that features emerging young stars Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm, along with veterans Francois Beauchemin and solid Ben Lovejoy.

The Ducks began play Tuesday with the best record in the NHL. If there was a perceived weaknesses in terms of being able to translate their regular-season success into a long playoff run in the spring, it was in terms of their experience and defensive depth.

With Sheldon Souray gone for the season with a wrist injury, Robidas has the potential to be a difference-maker as the playoffs move along.

Originally a Montreal draft pick, Robidas has been the poster boy for perseverance. He is among the NHL's toughest players and has routinely played through significant injuries. Since coming to Dallas in 2005-06, Robidas has been one of the most popular players in the Stars' dressing room. Robidas will skate with the team in Anaheim on Thursday and is expected to play within one or two weeks.

He will no doubt fit seamlessly into the Ducks' locker room.

The Ducks were a busy team Tuesday, as they also alleviated some of the logjam that had developed at the goaltender position by sending Viktor Fasth to the Edmonton Oilers for a fifth-round pick in 2014 and a third-round pick in 2015, which is an excellent return for a goaltender who has played little this season due to injury.

On the other side of the Robidas trade is Dallas GM Jim Nill, who is in his first year behind the helm of the Stars. His squad has played extremely well of late and as of Tuesday afternoon occupied the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

A playoff spot is by no means secure, however, and Nill's decision to move Robidas, who can become an unrestricted free agent in July, suggests that as much as making the playoffs is a priority for Nill so, too, is making sure the team is well-positioned moving forward.

The Stars have missed the playoffs five straight seasons. In some of those seasons, the Stars have come achingly close to qualifying for the postseason, only to fall out of it in the final days of the regular season. In 2011, for instance, they lost their final regular-season game, which cost them a playoff berth. A year later, they slumped down the stretch and lost control of the Pacific Division and a playoff spot. In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, they were winless in their final five games of the season to see any shot at a postseason berth disappear.

Could the same thing happen this season?

Sure.

Would Robidas have helped secure a postseason spot? Sure. But it seems clear Nill does not want to find himself on the outside of the playoff bubble and then watch as assets walk out the door.

Does this suggest then that Nill be looking to move Ray Whitney or Vernon Fiddler, both of whom can become unrestricted free agents this summer?

Perhaps, especially if Nill might be able to land a player with some term on his contract in exchange or in a separate deal.