Calling Anaheim Calling on Andy Sutton, Jason Blake, the Bob Murray Experience

Update: This was a tit-for-tat thing, so my answers to Arthur's questions are up over there at Anaheim Calling.

It's August. You've probably had enough of me rambling about salaries and depth charts and talent ceilings. And we still have over a month to ponder chemistry issues like how well Butch Goring and Howie Rose will work as a booth tag team.

So today, something a little different: All of the SBN hockey sites are pairing off to exchange Q&A's. Here's Arthur from Anaheim Calling's responses to my questions about the ex-Island-- er, I mean the Ducks. Topics include former Islanders Jason Blake and Andy Sutton, the Bob Murray regime, some old-time college hockey (you know Blake, Sutton, Paul Kariya) and what it's like to see your team win a Stanley Cup when you're old enough to enter a bar.

Lighthouse Hockey: We'll start Islanders-centric: Jason Blake was quite popular among some Islanders fans (the underdog mystique and hustling your way to 40 goals will do that), but overall I'd say his post-Islanders life has been predictable: His walk year screamed of a peak year, and now he "suffers" the fate of being paid more than his natural production would command. What did you know of him before he arrived from Toronto as human salary relief, and did he do anything at the end of last season to change your mind? What do you suspect his role will be with the Ducks?

Arthur from Anaheim Calling: Ducks fans are pretty familiar with Blake, as he came up with the Kings. I also remember him from his time with NoDak before that. He was good back then, but I don't think anyone expects consistency out of him, certainly not the level of consistency that a cash team (i.e. not a cap team) expects from a guy they're paying $3 million.

He played well after a slow start, but I think the minimum expectation is that he'll put the puck on net. The Ducks tend to pass too much, so I think they were really hoping for that out of forwards like Lupul and Blake. If Lupul isn't healthy out of the gate this year and the Ducks don't sign anyone else, then obviously that expectation becomes more important, but I doubt the team would come to expect more of a contribution from him.

 

LHH: Similarly, what did you know about Andy Sutton before the Ducks signed him? Was he on your radar as a free agent target -- or were you just trying to decipher what Bob Murray's grand plan for the post-Niedermayer blueline was?

Arthur from Anaheim Calling: Funnily enough, Sutton also got his start in the WCHA and the Pacific Divison, but I didn't remember him as well as Blake.  He was on my radar at the trade deadline, and I think he found his way onto everyone's radar after he smoked Jordan Leopold into the penalty box in the playoffs, but I think he just happens to be exactly what the Ducks need to round out the corps.

Bob Murray might still make a play for a top tier defenseman via trade this season, but in terms of creating working pairings, Sutton's basement value replaces what the Ducks got from Aaron Ward last year: size, sandpaper and shotblocking (perhaps all potentially limited by injury).  I think he makes life easier on a small guy like Visnovsky or he gives us some much needed PK minutes alongside Lydman. Anaheim's working with a very thin blueline this year and really didn't bring much to the table in terms of grit last year, so in many ways, Sutton was a significant acquisition.

 

LHH: You gave us thoughts on James Wisniewski at the time of the trade, so I'll just ask this: Do you see it as a wise asset shuffle to bring in Sutton for two years at $2.125 million per + a 3rd round pick while discarding Wis at 1 year, $3.25 million (and his inevitable departure as a UFA)?

Arthur from Anaheim Calling: It's tough for me to see Wisniewski in terms of his on-paper value. I tend to think of him as a player that other GM's knew Murray wanted to take to arbitration a year ago and was trying to move for Cam Barker in February. He was also a player whose ceiling value to the team grew increasingly evident last season. He drew the following quote from Ducks' beat writer Eric Stephens:

"It’s likely that the Ducks don’t view [Wisniewski] as [a number 2 defenseman] and had to play him so much more out of necessity than desire."

In those terms, I would have taken a bus pass and a pack of Newports for Wisniewski and called it a shrewd deal.

But just looking at the assets in context, Wisniewski wasn't an Anaheim draft pick.  He was acquired in a deal for an expiring contract, and there was no reason to search desperately for a way to keep a guy you can't use.  It was a question of fit.  And if one guy needs a pair of chopsticks and the other guy needs a Slurpee straw, then I think it's a good deal for both of them regardless of the on-paper value of the chopsticks when compared to the Slurpee straw. In that sense, I think it was proper asset management.

 

LHH: If I understand it right, you were drawn to the Ducks first via your college hockey fandom. How did you get into college hockey and hockey in general? (As an evangelist for hockey in new markets and as someone from a "traditional market" who grew up with hockey from the crib, I'm always curious how this great game hooks people who weren't spoon-fed it as children.)

Arthur from Anaheim Calling:  When I moved to Las Vegas in the early 90s, I bought a pair of inline skates, and I started playing street hockey with some neighbors who were transplants from more traditional hockey areas. They were die-hards for the college game, and they introduced me to the sport. Before that, I had been to a Kings game and watched hockey movies like Youngblood (repeatedly) and Slapshot, but I grew up in San Francisco during the Sportschannel America era, so I hadn't seen much in terms of NHL action.

I'm definitely a college hockey fan first, and I think spreading the college game can really benefit the pro fan bases.  I'm probably an example of that; I don't know if I would have become a Ducks fan if I didn't watch Paul Kariya and Maine take down Brian Rolston and Lake Superior.

 

LHH: For a fanbase increasingly made up of people who either a) weren't alive for the Islanders Cup wins or b) mostly remember it through an Atari-blurred haze, do tell us: What is it like to see your team win it all as an adult? Has reaching the ultimate prize altered how you experience "normal" seasons that inevitably end, more often than not, well short of a Cup win? What I'm getting at is: Winning it all changes a fan, doesn't it?

Arthur from Anaheim Calling:  I think when you see your team win it as an adult, you understand how rare it is. You need special players who are also the right players, it has to be the right season, etc. Being able to understand those things makes the victory sweeter, but it also makes it impossible to harbor the expectation that it will happen again. I think you have to watch your team win multiple Cups, sometimes against all odds, before you start "expecting" anything. And I definitely haven't lost my tolerance for the "normal" season yet. The Ducks climbed high, but it wasn't all that long ago that they crawled out of the cellar.

 

LHH: So much can change in three seasons, which is how much remains on Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry's contracts: With them, Ryan (presumably), Hiller, Lupul, and Visnovsky all locked up through 2012-13, do you think the ingredients are there for Murray to build another legit Cup contender? How much does having a potential star in Cam Fowler dropped into your lap affect that equation?

Arthur from Anaheim Calling: Since you included Murray in the question, I have to say that I don't know if Murray can build a legitimate Cup contender.  His vision for last year's team was a gross miscalculation. Luckily, he's shown an aptitude for trading his way out of a jam, but if you're fixing last summer's mistakes every March, then you're probably not a playoff team. Also, assuming there isn't another lockout, I think the Salary Cap for 2012-13 may be determinative, but you're right that the pieces are in place.

In terms of Fowler, there's actually a lot of talent in the cupboard surrounding him, such that I wonder if the Ducks couldn't keep Getzlaf and Hiller and make a run with a completely different crew. The Ducks may send Cam down this year, even if he has a really good 9 games.  I think it's going to be a situation where having a player that good dropped into your lap motivates you to get seven of his best years out of him.

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