Remember the good old days of "Welcome Back Scotter"? Well the old cast is now graduated; tune in for all-new episodes this fall as Mr. Scotter teaches a whole new freshman class.
No more Chris Pronger. No more Francois Beauchemin. No more O'Donnell, no more Schneider, no more Huskins. Most every defenseman that Ducks fans have seen patrol the blueline since the "Mighty" was removed from the team name is now departed.
But fret not, Ducks fans, because Mr. Incredible is back -- once again fighting off the tempting lure of retirement to lead the blueline corps once again. Captain Scott Niedermayer's re-re-return to Anaheim has some nice trickle-down effects this time: not only did it prompt Selanne to similarly not retire -- which brought Koivu to the Ducks -- but Scott's return also enabled the Ducks to ship Pronger to Philly while his asking price was sky-high. I should reiterate one key point from this summer, though: the choice was never just "Niedermayer or Pronger" going forward for the Ducks -- that's a hard call to make. As I pointed out at the time of the Pronger trade, it's been tough to determine which Norris defenseman has been better for the team throughout their time together. Rather, Barstool Bob's choice was "Niedermayer + Sbisa + Lupul + 2 firsts or Pronger" -- that seems a much easier decision.
It also appears that Scott has removed the "Rob" clause from his contract demands this go-round; that definitely represents some cap savings, plus it enables me to stop referring to these Niedermayer dudes by their first names. From now on, Niedermayer is Niedermayer. There can be only one.
|2008 - Scott Niedermayer||82||14||45||59||-8||70||9||0||2||0||178||7.9|
However, let's look at what's left on the blueline -- essentially it has been gutted down to Niedermayer and a bunch of Ducks newbies:
|Games Played in a Ducks Uniform -- Defensemen||Points Scored in a Ducks Uniform -- Defensemen|
|(regular season plus playoffs)||(regular season plus playoffs)|
|Scott Niedermayer - 347||Scott Niedermayer - 250|
|Sheldon Brookbank - 42||Ryan Whitney - 16|
|Brett Festerling - 41||James Wisniewski - 14|
|Brendan Mikkelson - 34||Brett Festerling - 5|
|Ryan Whitney - 33||Sheldon Brookbank - 4|
|James Wisniewski - 29||Brendan Mikkelson - 2|
|Brian Salcido - 2||Brian Salcido - 1|
|Scott Niedermayer - 347||Scott Niedermayer - 250|
|Everyone Else - 181||Everyone Else - 42|
Sbisa, Boynton, Eminger, McCarthy -- these guys have yet to don a Ducks uniform. Whitney and Wisniewski have only been around since the trade deadline. Brookbank, Festerling, and Mikkelson played only partial seasons in Anaheim last year as well. Without a doubt, Captain Scott will be the veteran leader of next year's blueline crew -- the guy who knows Coach Carlyle's schemes better than anyone. By a fucking mile. In fact, here's some of that cagey veteran advice, free of charge:
"If you can stop a wrench, you can stop a hard-charging opposing forward."
I'm not sure there's going to be a more critical player to the Ducks' success next season than Scott Niedermayer -- not only will he have to play all the key minutes over the course of the season, but hopefully he can continue his tradition of babysitting a young d-man as his even-strength partner as well That really is one of the keys that has made Niedermayer's hefty salary seem a bargain over the years -- his ability to elevate dirt-cheap partners like Beauchemin and Festerling has enabled other defensemen to drop down to more logical slots.
In a lot of ways, the Ducks are going back to their 2006 form, the pre-Pronger days with only one top defensive pairing. Which isn't so bad -- that team did make it to the western conference finals after a really strong regular-season finish. But now it's three years later, can an older Captain Experience do it all again with a new supporting cast? My next "Season Review" post will take a look at the rest of the blueline hopefuls not named Niedermayer -- there are tons of question marks there, mostly because they all new to the club -- but assuming Scott can be the do-it-all defenseman Anaheim fans have grown used to, it's possible the post-Pronger transition could go as smoothly as Scott's skating stride.
But that doesn't mean I'm not losing sleep stressing about the Ducks' defense (something I don't think I've done since like 2002) -- if the Ducks do falter next season, the blueline will likely be the cause. I'll be elaborating more on that in the next post, but definitely the newbies have a lot of Pronger-plus-Beauchemin minutes to fill. Here's hoping that Captain Niedermayer can maintain his excellent play for the Ducks so that their offseason tradeoff-for-offense pays off.
Optional questions for the comments: 1. How stressed out are you about the Anaheim blueline next year, Ducks fans? (Alternatively, how much are you salivating about playing against it, opponent fans?) 2. If you were head coach of the Anaheim Ducks this coming season, who would be your first preference to play at even-strength with Scott Niedermayer and why?