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100 Greatest Players

Scott Niedermayer: 100 Greatest NHL Players

Smooth-skating defenseman won Stanley Cup three times with Devils, once with Ducks

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Columnist

Defensemen and the green light weren't exactly synonymous in the glory years of the New Jersey Devils, an especially defensive-oriented bunch.

Occasionally, they would make an exception for Scott Niedermayer -- just because.

 

Video: Scott Niedermayer was known for his smooth skating

 

"There's no question you have to let those players do a little more because they have the ability and speed to cover up, the playmaking ability and he had that," said his former Devils teammate, defenseman Scott Stevens. "He could have a little more free rein and why not?"

Niedermayer, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013, won the Stanley Cup three times with the Devils, in 1995, 2000 and 2003, and added one more championship with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, memorably handing the Cup to his teammate and younger brother, Rob, after the Ducks defeated the Ottawa Senators.

There was plenty more.

 

SCOTT NIEDERMAYER CAREER TOTALS | View Full Stats
Games: 1,263 | Goals: 172 | Assists: 568 | Points: 740

 

He won two Olympic gold medals with Canada -- in 2002 in Salt Lake City and 2010 in Vancouver. In almost every area, Niedermayer checked the box: He won the Norris Trophy in 2004 as the NHL's best defenseman, won the World Championship with Canada in 2004, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2007 as the MVP of the playoffs and played in five NHL All-Star Games.

With the Devils, then-general manager Lou Lamoriello could sit back and watch two future Hall of Famers on the back end, Stevens and Niedermayer. The defensemen had the skill to match their passion for victory, with the three Cup championships together in New Jersey as evidence.

"Not unlike Scotty [Stevens], Scotty Niedermayer wanted to win," said Lamoriello, the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager. "He took care of himself off the ice as well as he did on the ice. He was in tremendous shape. He had tremendous skating ability, [was] probably one of the best skaters to come into the game and he could explosively do things out there."

From 1991 to 2004, Niedermayer had 112 goals and 476 points in 892 games with the defense-first Devils, and his best regular-season numbers with New Jersey came in the 1997-98 season: 14 goals and 57 points. 

His goal on a dazzling end-to-end rush against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 2 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final would most certainly be the opening clip of a Niedermayer career highlight montage.

Video: 1995 Cup Final, Gm2: Niedermayer goes end-to-end

"The biggest play that comes to mind is the goal in the playoffs in Detroit," Lamoriello said. "But he could be put in offensive situations, defensive situations, he'd be on the ice when you needed a goal or when you were killing a penalty.

"He'd be out there killing 5-on-3s. He was a leader without question. He was a core player in that era of success and when you talk about core players that means you count on them day in and day out to lead the pack." 

Not all of the times in New Jersey were easy ones. Niedermayer was often at odds with coach Jacques Lemaire's defensive-minded system and felt handcuffed. If anyone thought that Lemaire would eventually give way, well, they were in for the longest of waits. "We definitely butted heads," Niedermayer said in 2013.

"I think what Scotty had to do was learn a little bit about playing without the puck," Lamoriello said. "When he had the puck, he could make things happen, but the defensive end of it, when to go and when not to go, I think what Jacques [Lemaire] and (Devils assistant coach and later coach) Larry [Robinson] did was they made him a better defensive defenseman, but that never interrupted what he could do offensively.

"He played the game a little different where he was used to going [up the ice] at all times he could, [but] he had to have a little bit of restraint, which he accepted because of the style that we played with the discipline all over the ice." 

"There was no question we played a pretty defensive game," Stevens said, "but we could score some goals. Scott bought into the system. He was a team player and made sacrifices for the better of the team.

"When you can go and be the first guy forechecking and be the first guy back, I think you're allowed to go a little bit more. That was Scott. We'd sit on the bench and laugh, 'There he goes.'"

And could he ever go.

Niedermayer's smooth skating often made accomplished professionals look ordinary in comparison.  

 

"When I think of him, I think how smooth and great a skater he was and how easy he made everything look," Stevens said. "I was envious of him because he was so smooth and effortless and he could skate all day."

Two events helped lead to Niedermayer's departure from New Jersey to Anaheim in 2005. The first was the Devils' third Stanley Cup victory in 2003, bringing forth conflicted emotions during the series and in the handshake line because Scott's win came at the expense of Rob and the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

The brothers later represented Canada at the 2004 World Championship in the Czech Republic, where they won gold and talked about the possibility of playing together in the NHL.

"We knew our careers were coming to where we didn't have a lot of time to play, so we knew that we wanted to experience it before it ended," Rob Niedermayer told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "Everything just sort of worked out that way."

Brian Burke, then the Mighty Ducks general manager, flew to meet with Scott Niedermayer in the defenseman's hometown of Cranbrook, British Columbia, on the first day of free agency in 2005.  

"I said, 'You're going to have 30 teams after you. So tell me what your priorities are,'" Burke said. "He said, 'I want to play in the Western Conference. I want to play for a contender and I want to play with my brother.'

"I said, 'I'm the only GM that can check off all those boxes.'"

Niedermayer signed a four-year contract with the Mighty Ducks on Aug. 4, 2005, and in 2006 helped them reach the Western Conference Final, where they lost to the Edmonton Oilers. 

His quiet leadership skills were ideal for a high-spirited team.

Niedermayer intervened when Burke was on the verge of sending two players down to the minor leagues for being late for the team bus. (Burke said the players would "remain nameless.")

"Scotty grabbed me in the hotel lobby and said, 'Let me handle this,'" Burke said. "I said, 'OK, if either one of them is late again, you're missing a game.' 

"There aren't too many players who could have pulled that off, would have the guts to talk to the GM. Let alone [for the] the GM have [enough] confidence in the captain to say, 'OK.'"

Burke later said, "Your worst nightmare would be to go fishing with Scott Niedermayer. He's so quiet." 

Ducks coach Randy Carlyle was quick to provide another example of Niedermayer's grace under high-stakes pressure, recalling the Stanley Cup Final against Ottawa in 2007. 

In the closing seconds of the second period of Game 4, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson inexplicably shot the puck at Niedermayer. He eventually apologized to Niedermayer in the handshake line after the Ducks won the series in five games. Alfredsson told TSN Radio years later that he regretted the incident, saying, "I had one of those moments where it just snapped for me."

At the time, the Ducks were livid.

"Our team wanted to rip Daniel Alfredsson's head off," Carlyle said. "By the time I got to the dressing room, the players were all in and had filed off and he (Niedermayer) was in the room. 

"He had instructed all the players not to worry about that. We had a bigger task at hand. He diffused the situation and we went out and won the hockey game.

Niedermayer's arrival in Anaheim was part of a major organizational shift.

"He was The Piece … he was the main frame," Carlyle said. "You cannot underestimate his importance to the group. Yes, there were some very good players, key players that were added afterward and molded together.

"Chris Pronger might have been the final piece of the addition but Scott Niedermayer in the lineup was the glue."

 

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