Defensively speaking, last week was a pretty solid one for new Mighty Ducks General Manager Brian Burke. On Monday, August 1, he announced the selection of his new Head Coach, former Norris Trophy winning defenseman Randy Carlyle. He followed that up on Thursday, August 4, with the announcement that he had signed current Norris Trophy holder Scott Niedermayer as a free agent.
Now, while it’s not common to add two Norris Trophy winners to your hockey club in the same week, it also may not carry the same message as it would have in the past. The hardware still represents the recognition of the best defenseman in the NHL, but these two additions do not necessarily signal a more defensive posture for the Ducks.
The hiring of Carlyle simply continued a style change that Burke refers to as “Mighty Ducks Hockey.” “Hiring a coach is the single most important decision a General Manager makes,” he said. In fact, Burke gave up a third round draft choice in the 2006 NHL Entry draft for him. Regardless of the NHL rule changes set to go into effect this season, Carlyle’s appointment is just the first step for the Ducks on ice product to take it up a notch. Both the General Manager and his coach preach an up-tempo approach that features aggressive forechecking and puck pursuit while also paying attention to defensive detail.
As a player, Carlyle was intense and productive, both on and off the ice. A leader among teammates and a point machine on the ice, he epitomized the term offensive defenseman. In his Norris Trophy season of 1981 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he posted career highs with 16 goals, 67 assists and 82 points, numbers unheard of in the most recent days of the NHL. All told, Carlyle’s career numbers averaged out to over 50 points per season based on an 82 game year, something only seven blueliners in the entire league accomplished in the 2003-04 season.
Enter Scott Niedermayer, one of those seven NHL defensemen in 2003-04. The latest addition to the Mighty Ducks was only the most sought after NHL free agent of this abbreviated off season, just ask his new General Manager. “We identified him as the top player that was available in this summer’s crop of free agents,” said Burke. “He was the best player available from the whole list.”
Strong words, but once again Burke got his man. And who could really take issue with his opinion. Niedermayer has averaged 44 points a year over twelve full seasons with the New Jersey Devils in an admittedly down time for offense in the NHL, not to mention offense from defensemen. “He’s a great skater, he moves the puck well, he can lug it when he needs to, he’s a proven winner, he can quarterback a power play and he’s got character,” continued Burke. “This was a no-brainer to go after Scott Niedermayer.”
A no-brainer indeed! One doesn’t need to listen to gushing comments from his new boss to believe in Niedermayer. His accomplishments should do that for you. As winner of a Memorial Cup and a World Junior Championship in his early days, the soon to be 32 year old has gone on to capture three Stanley Cups, an Olympic Gold Medal, World Championship and World Cup Title as a pro. He is the ONLY player in the game’s history to be a member of all six team titles.
Coupled with the recent re-signing of fellow Mighty Ducks defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, Niedermayer will lead a blueline corp for Anaheim that is primed and ready for the new, free flow and more open NHL. Together they should be able set the tone for new coach Randy Carlyle’s style of play. Up-tempo, puck moving offense led by the defense that feeds bigger forwards with an added emphasis on skating and speed.
“The best offense is a good defense.” In Anaheim, truer words could not be spoken. Because after all, last week was a very offensive, defensively speaking, that is.