The Big Four
Anaheim’s top four will look dramatically different depending on if Scott Niedermayer decides to retire or not. Niedermayer has already said he will not be in training camp, but has not ruled out playing this season. Yet.
Ducks GM Brian Burke, unsure of what his captain is going to do, signed Mathieu Schneider as a free agent on the first day the market opened, providing Anaheim with either a nice insurance policy if Niedermayer calls it quits, or a heck of a nice No. 3 if he decides to return.
Schneider, a veteran of 1,132 NHL games, is a skilled puck mover and is a responsible defender who should fit in nicely on the Ducks’ blue line. He’ll join veterans like Chris Pronger, one of the more intimidating skaters in the NHL, and Francois Beauchemin, as Anaheim’s primary minute-munchers.
Beauchemin had a breakout season last year and became a regular on the power play and penalty kill, and stands to get even better this season. With Niedermayer in the fold, that’s your top four. If he retires, Sean O’Donnell, a plus-9 in 79 games last season mostly paired with Pronger, is your fourth.
Veterans like Kent Huskins and Joe DiPenta were also valuable during the playoffs last season in limited roles, while Shane Hnidy should also be a regular contributor.
Get the point
Once again, this is an area that will be heavily upgraded and counted among the League’s elite with Niedermayer blasting away on the power play. Pronger is another cannon from up top who seems to never have one of his shots blocked. Everything hits the net when he lets it fly.
Adding Schneider to this group only makes them better. A poised power-play quarterback who was a regular on Detroit’s vaunted extra-man unit, he’ll see significant time there again this year.
In the Wings
Maxim Kondratiev -- Acquired two years ago in the trade that sent Petr Sykora to the Rangers, he could be Anaheim’s secret weapon on defense this season, a player the organization hopes can contribute in its title defense. Played in Russia last season, scoring three goals and 20 points in 51 games with Tolyatti Lada.
Brendan Mikkelson -- Anaheim’s second-round pick in 2005, the Regina native was a force for the Vancouver Giants the last two years. Last season, the 6-foot-3 bruiser potted six goals and 29 points in the regular season and another 10 points in 21 playoff games for the Memorial Cup champs.
Brian Salcido -- Ducks’ fifth-round pick in 2005 and a Los Angeles native. … Appeared in 76 games with Portland (AHL) in his professional rookie season last season. … Second on team in scoring (27 points) among defensemen and tied for second on the team in plus/minus (plus-15).
Scott Niedermayer -- While the Ducks could survive just fine without him, only Niedermayer knew whether he’d return this season. He was still wrestling with the life decision a week prior to training camp. It’s simple. If Niedermayer does not return, the Ducks will have an above-average defense corps. If he returns, his presence vaults this unit into the stratosphere.
Niedermayer’s decision may not make or break the Ducks’ season, but if he does return, that decision will certainly make Burke’s day.