Another day, another hot rumor.
Pierre Gauthier, Duck president and general manager, is said to be set to hand over his GM duties to Neil Smith. Neither Gauthier nor Smith could be reached for comment Friday, but an Ottawa newspaper quoted an unnamed NHL executive as saying the "move makes sense."
Gauthier's off-season deals to bolster the club, including the signing of veteran center German Titov, have failed to pay dividends and the Ducks reached the All-Star break last in the Western Conference standings. A 4-2 victory Thursday over the Phoenix Coyotes ended a season-high six-game losing streak, but was only the team's third victory in 20 games.
To be sure, injuries to standouts such as all-star winger Paul Kariya have played a key role in the Ducks' demise. But Titov, who signed a three-season deal worth $4.6-million last summer, has only six goals and 14 points in 48 games. Expected to center the Ducks' second line, Titov has fallen so far down the team's depth chart that he played between enforcers Kevin Sawyer and Jim Cummins in Thursday's game against the Coyotes.
Gauthier would retain his title of team president, but promote Smith from special consultant to general manager. Or so goes the latest gossip surrounding the Ducks. The two are longtime friends. Smith was general manager of the New York Rangers from 1989 to 2000, when he was replaced by Glen Sather.
Gauthier is believed to be under pressure from the Walt Disney Co. to produce a winner in Anaheim. The team's payroll of about $36 million is the eighth highest in the NHL. Gauthier left his job as general manager of the Ottawa Senators to join the Ducks in 1998 because he and his family enjoy Southern California, and it stands to reason that he would be willing to give up one part of his job in order to save the other.
"He's got to do something, and the talk about the league is he could just give it to Neil Smith and move on," an NHL executive told the Ottawa Sun. "That's his best friend, and the move makes sense."
In addition to a management shake-up, there have been numerous rumors recently that Gauthier will trade right wing Teemu Selanne. Gauthier, through a team spokesman, refused last week to address the subject. Selanne, who leads the Ducks with 20 goals and 44 points, says he does not wish to be dealt.
The Ducks sent Sawyer and Bob Wren to Cincinnati of the American Hockey League. Sawyer had one assist in nine games. Wren was scoreless in one game.