ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The conversations started in April. They continued in May. Then extended into June and July.
Ducks GM Bob Murray and Nashville GM David Poile have commiserated often over the course of the last year because no two general managers in the league can quite relate to each other as well as those two. Poile spent most of last season simultaneously trying to construct a team that could win a Stanley Cup and at the same time keep its three franchise potential free agents -- Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber -- from leaving.
The results were mixed. They did get Rinne signed but the Predators lost in the second round of the playoffs, lost Suter in free agency and then had to pay a huge price to match Shea Weber's offer sheet with the Flyers.
This year, it's Murray's turn.
The Ducks GM quietly addressed a big need on defense this summer by adding size and toughness with the signings of Bryan Allen and Sheldon Souray. Goalie Jonas Hiller looks fantastic this week and is ready to pick up where he left off last year. Bruce Boudreau called Bobby Ryan one of the best-looking players in camp, the distractions of last year's trade rumors behind him. These are all nice stories.
But like Nashville, the focus in Anaheim this season will be on the stars who can hit free agency in July. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry both had negotiations this summer with the Ducks and couldn't strike a deal. Murray expects the agents for both to visit Anaheim in the near future to meet with their clients and evaluate where things stand.
It's a situation that will linger early in the season and grow in intensity if the April 3 trade deadline approaches without new contracts for Getzlaf and Perry.
Nashville had to deal with it, and one comment from Poile during their many conversations stands out to Murray.
"You're going to have some tough decisions to make," Poile told Murray.
Without a doubt.
Ever-present in those tough decisions is the experience the Ducks went through last season with prized prospect Justin Schultz. Just bringing his name up in the Ducks practice facility seems to raise the temperature.
Schultz was the player who made the talented Jake Gardiner expendable when the Ducks added Francois Beauchemin in 2011. At that point, there was no sign that Schultz would wait out a loophole in the CBA (which still exists) and test free agency. He did, and left last summer for the Oilers.
The Ducks lost a valuable asset for nothing, one that could have brought a big return had they opted to trade him early last season. That absolutely factors into the decision-making that will eventually face Murray if Perry and Getzlaf aren't signed near the deadline. Losing Schultz for nothing still stings.
"It's in the back of my mind at all times," Murray said. "That's all I'm going to say."
By waiting until after the lockout to continue negotiations, all sides involved now have the advantage of doing it with full awareness of what the new CBA looks like. If the Travis Zajac deal is any indication, the starting point for each is an eight-year contract. And it's going to be for more than the $5.75 million per season Zajac earned from the Devils.
That's where the Ducks have an advantage, even if it's a slight one. They can go eight years in a deal with Perry or Getzlaf, something other teams can't do in free agency unless they work out a sign and trade with Anaheim.
It's an advantage, although not a huge one.
"I liked it better when it was five and seven," Murray joked of the NHL's original offer for contract length restrictions. "I didn't think it was going to last but I really liked that. That would have been much better for me. I was doing cartwheels over that one."
The Ducks have been plagued by slow starts for the last several seasons, and avoiding that has become a focus of this quick training camp. If this team struggles early, especially heading into a healthy six-game road trip in early February that takes Anaheim on a tour of the Central Division, it will only ratchet up the pressure to deal one of the big forwards.
But this group is well aware of the necessity to avoid a slow start. This is the first camp for the Ducks under Boudreau and the players like the pace. Especially compared to Randy Carlyle.
"Randy was great to me and I was with him for a long time. At times, I think Randy had trouble adapting to the newer game and the fact that guys come in in shape," Getzlaf said. "You don't have to spend all of training camp beating guys up so they're in shape. I think at times we got a little carried away with some of those things."
Boudreau's teams historically start well, and the biggest difference he has now compared to when he took over the Ducks in early December of last season is a healthy Hiller. Anaheim's success started when Hiller recovered completely from vertigo and regained his confidence.
That appears to have carried over to this season.
"He's been looking really good," Boudreau said.
The other key to a fast start will be the return to form of Getzlaf. He played all 82 games last year for the first time since 2006-07 but his production plunged. He had just 11 goals, the lowest of his career. His 57 points were the lowest total since his rookie season. For the first time in his career he was a minus player (minus-11).
That kind of production doesn't help the cause during negotiations.
"There were different situations that I've learned from -- family stuff and having new babies and stuff like that that put a lot of pressure on myself at the start of the season," Getzlaf said. "From there, I had to learn the difference between the family man and the rink and all that kind of stuff. Those are steps I've taken and learned and I feel good about the season."
Assuming the distractions that can come with contract negotiations and inevitable trade rumors don't get in the way.
"I'm going to play and hope to get a deal done here in the next little while," Getzlaf said. "I've been through it once before where we did [a contract] during the season. It didn't affect me then; it won't affect me now."
Perry sounded equally unconcerned.
"I'm not even going to worry about it," he said. "If things get handled, they get handled. We'll see what happens."