ANAHEIM, Calif. -- There was a plan for the Ducks after last season's disaster, General Manager Bob Murray insisted, even as everything seemed to crumble around him.
As the saga involving highly touted prospect Justin Schultz came to a bitter end, another headache arose when high-scoring winger Bobby Ryan went public with his displeasure over being part of the trade rumor mill and openly questioned whether there was a future for him in Anaheim.
Murray pushed on with his plan to reshape the Ducks and keep them competitive even as upcoming contract negotiations with stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry loomed like potential storm clouds and put the franchise's direction at a crossroads.
Fast forward eight months and the Ducks not only haven't waved the white flag but are one of the NHL's surprise stories with their 13-2-1 start that sits them only behind Chicago for the best mark in the league.
Murray's plan is not only looking pretty good these days, but he may have struck gold with a number of moves.
Enticing impressive Swedish goalie Viktor Fasth with a one-way NHL contract could become a masterstroke. Free-agent signings Sheldon Souray, Daniel Winnik and Bryan Allen look like perfect fits. Even the recent pickup of defenseman Ben Lovejoy for a low-round draft pick has paid dividends with Cam Fowler sidelined.
Just don't count on the behind-the-scenes Murray to pat his back.
"You never know," he said. "Some years, you think you've done some things right and there's no chemistry. It's apparent so far. This group, they like each other. And there's been chemistry from the beginning.
"You never know, especially with no exhibition games. This group seems to be playing together. They're playing as a team."
The additions are a big part of this sudden uprising.
Fasth has been more than a competent backup, going 8-0 in his first eight NHL starts and challenging Jonas Hiller for the No. 1 goalie job. Souray is playing his best hockey in years and with Allen have given the defensive corps needed size and grit. Winnik's five goals early were a bonus but the big, versatile winger plays with tenacity.
"Maybe we've addressed a need that the team has had," said Souray, who has four goals and a plus-13 rating. "We're not competing with other guys for jobs necessarily. There's healthy competition among us obviously to stay in the lineup and make the team better. All that kind of stuff.
"But we're different players in our own right. And I think we each bring a different something here. Maybe that's made it a little easier, the transition of coming in."
The Ducks hoped to get a bounce-back season from Getzlaf and bank on the usual production from Perry, Ryan and Teemu Selanne. But 38-year-old Saku Koivu has also turned back the clock, and the play of youngsters like Nick Bonino and Kyle Palmieri have helped deepen a lineup that has nine players with four goals or more.
But the new pieces have made an unmistakable difference. Take Fasth, whom Murray said the team's longtime European scout Jan-Ake Danielson stayed after him about this netminder who rose to the top of the Swedish Elite League.
"Jan kept pushing me," Murray sad. "He was a full believer. He's got to get a lot of credit for that. He didn't stop. He didn't relent."
For less than the lockout pro-rated $12 million that Minnesota is paying Zach Parise, the Ducks deepened their forward ranks, re-tooled their blue line and added a "backup" goalie that some other teams might take as their starter right now.
"It's pretty impressive on the GM's part when all those guys come in and make an impression," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "And because they're not all $6 million players that we got. Not demeaning them in any way. They were depth guys. Role players.
"They've come in and been fabulous. Again, everything's up to this date. I might be in (in the room) Tuesday morning swearing at the world. But right now, the guys have played pretty well."
Big things do remain. Getzlaf and Perry are still not signed to long-term extensions, and all parties are remaining quiet on the matter as to whether any progress is being made. Talks with both camps do appear to be ongoing.
Murray would only say that there's "nothing new to report." But while the future of their two cornerstones remains uncertain, the former NHL defenseman-turned-executive is impressed with their commitment to putting the team first.
"They're being total professionals about this," Murray said. "I respect their play and their dedication tremendously. They're handling it like true professionals."
The fact is the best-case scenario for the Ducks has occurred and, if they remain in the same position a month from now, the chances that Getzlaf and Perry stay beyond the April 3 trade deadline increase if negotiations toward new deals remain on track.
Murray likes their position, particularly in this 48-game season, but regularly cautions that they're one-third of the way through and said "it's way too early" to entertain thoughts of a potential Stanley Cup run.
But there are victories like their last two in Nashville to end a long road trip and at home against Columbus to end a tough stretch in their schedule that offer up thoughts of something becoming special with this group.
"I think they've done a very good job, and the most impressive thing is their will to win on nights when there's nothing in the tank," Murray said. "Because that's going to happen a lot in the season like this. Every team's going to be put in situations where their schedule just isn't good.
"A perfect example was the last two games. There was not much in the tank.
The team's will to win was very, very good. I was impressed with how much they wanted to win.
"That's the most exciting thing for us -- their determination and their will to work their way through it."
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