ANAHEIM, California — Although the Anaheim Ducks have been near the top of the NHL standings for most of the past three seasons, general manager Bob Murray still didn't believe they could consistently beat hockey's top teams.
After a flurry of trades over the past week, Murray believes they're better equipped to beat anybody in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Anaheim acquired defensemen James Wisniewski, Simon Despres and Korbinian Holzer and center Michael Sgarbossa in four separate deadline deals Monday, dramatically revamping the Pacific Division leaders' defense just 18 games before the postseason.
"Hopefully we're capable now to compete against most of the teams in our conference," Murray said.
Anaheim is cruising toward its third straight Pacific Division title with a 12-point lead, and is just two points shy of the NHL's best record. That meant nothing to Murray, who has watched his regular-season powerhouses win just one playoff round in the past two seasons combined.
Murray wanted more speed and more skill while still maintaining the Ducks' bad-tempered toughness. He believes the deals made it happen.
"It was very apparent to us that we had to change a few things and be capable of playing different types of games against different teams," Murray said. "We addressed in the last week. You build to compete and beat certain teams. L.A. is a prime candidate. ... I just didn't feel we had enough skill and speed to compete against them all."
The biggest deadline pickup was Wisniewski, the Columbus Blue Jackets' high-scoring veteran blueliner. Wisniewski played 86 regular-season games and 12 playoff contests for the Ducks over two seasons from 2009-10, impressing fans with his toughness before getting traded to the Islanders.
"It's a dream come true for anybody that's never won a Stanley Cup ... to be able to go to a legit, top-contending team, a team that has very high hopes of winning the Cup, and anything less is unacceptable," said Wisniewski, who hopes to play next week after recovering from a bone bruise.
Despres was a surprising addition in a straight-up deal for Lovejoy, who was shipped back to Pittsburgh after revitalizing his career in Anaheim. The 23-year-old Despres, who has two goals and 15 assists this season, is a rugged addition to an already youthful group of blueliners.
"That big, strong, young hockey player that's only going to get better at his age, we were really excited that he became available," Murray said.
Brewer and Bourque were midseason acquisitions who didn't work out in Anaheim. The Ducks' biggest loss was the promising Karlsson, who went to Columbus after scoring two goals in 18 inconsistent games this season.
"We paid a good price," Murray said. "We gave up assets to get Wiz, there's no doubt, but we felt that was a move that had to be made."
Murray also made an important decision when he declined to move forward Matt Beleskey, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Beleskey, who is currently injured, is the Ducks' second-leading goal scorer with 21 this season, but Anaheim will risk losing him for nothing in July to contend for a Cup in June.
"Right now, it was more important to keep Matt and take our chances in the future," Murray said. "We'll see what happens in the summer with him, but he's been an important part of our team. We got asked, but I just wasn't going to do it."
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