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Anaheim's defense boasts considerable quality, quantity

Wednesday, 02.20.2008 / 11:00 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Anaheim Ducks' GM Brian Burke says he is quite
fortunate to have two defensemen the caliber of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger on his team.
Ducks vs Flames game highlights
Even though he's the mastermind behind bringing both to Southern California, Anaheim GM Brian Burke still considers it a "gift" to have Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger at the top of the Ducks' defensive depth chart.

"You can be a GM in this League for 20 years and not have a defenseman as good as either one of them," Burke noted to NHL.com.

If you don't add complementary pieces, you can also be a GM in this League for 20 years and never win a Stanley Cup. Burke knew that when the Ducks hired him to be their post-lockout GM on June 20, 2005. Since then, Burke has completely overhauled the Ducks defense, turning it into one of the deepest and most diverse championship groups in the NHL.

These Ducks epitomize the cliche that defense indeed wins championships. Just ask the Ottawa Senators, who were dispatched in five games by the Ducks in last season's Stanley Cup Final.

"We all bring something a little different to the table and that's why it works," Pronger told NHL.com. "We're not all the same player. We're complementary to one another with different strengths and weaknesses. That's what makes a good team."

The Ducks didn't come by this group by mistake. As Burke noted, no team in the League spends more on defense than the Ducks, who shell out roughly $20.3 million when you factor in Joe DiPenta, the team's seventh defenseman.

"You can't win without it," Burke said.

The key, though, is spending wisely.

"You have to have interchangeable parts," Sean O'Donnell told NHL.com.

The Ducks have plenty, especially now that Niedermayer is back from his mini-hiatus to solidify the group.

In the two future Hall of Famers, the Ducks have one of the greatest skaters and offensive-defenseman of this generation (Niedermayer) and someone (Pronger) who offers unique size at 6-foot-6, leadership, and an excellent first pass.

"On the first pass you're out of the zone," All-Star forward Corey Perry told NHL.com. "That definitely helps."

Burke went out and signed 20-year veteran Mathieu Schneider this summer on the first day of the free agency frenzy. Schneider not only brought more experience to the Ducks back end, his vision in the offensive zone is still some of the best around. He has 29 points and is a plus-19 this season.

"We're very comfortable with our defense, and we think it has an intimidation factor," said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, a former Norris Trophy winner. "Teams are going to look and say; 'Well, Pronger is out there and than they come back with Niedermayer. Holy crow, there is Schneider still to come.' "

Amazingly, though, Carlyle has them each on a different pairing. It's a luxury Burke afforded to him by also bringing Francois Beauchemin, Sean O'Donnell and Kent Huskins to Anaheim.

"We're very comfortable with our defense, and we think it has an intimidation factor." -- Ducks coach Randy Carlyle

"You need complementary guys," Burke stressed.

With these three, the Ducks have important qualities any defense needs: Physical play (Beauchemin), experience (O'Donnell), and puck handling (Huskins). Beauchemin also moves the puck well to generate some offense, and more than 1,500 career penalty minutes in his 14 NHL seasons suggest O'Donnell isn't shy of the rough stuff either.

Huskins, who spent nearly six years in the AHL, is blossoming into a two-way threat. He leads Anaheim defenseman with a plus-20 rating and also has 14 points, including an end-to-end goal he scored Feb. 10 at Detroit that had many pundits thinking of Bobby Orr.

"As a coach you kind of get spoiled when you can throw the Pronger-O'Donnell pairing over the boards and come back with Beauchemin and Niedermayer," Carlyle said. "Mathieu Schneider and Kent Huskins are no slouches either."

This kind of depth means on a shift-by-shift basis there is never a drop off in talent or experience. It also relieves some pressure off the Ducks' forwards, who don't have to worry about scoring four or five goals a game because the defense is so strong.

The Ducks would like to improve on their 2.41 goals per game, but with Jean-Sebastien Giguere backstopping this defensive six-pack, they're giving up just 2.40, third best in the League.

"They're unbelievable," All-Star center Ryan Getzlaf said. "They're kind of the heart (of our group). They're veterans on the back end and they start a lot of the stuff that comes with our offense as well."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.


Quote of the Day

There was a lot of talk off the ice. From a player's standpoint, that's not the talk in the room. GMs make decisions, coaches make decisions, but as a team you have to come together and be ready to go, and we are.

— San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels on his team's approach entering training camp