Over the last few years, winning a Stanley Cup and having a stud d-man have often gone hand-in-hand. Chicago had Duncan Keith, Los Angeles had Drew Doughty, Boston had Zdeno Chara, Detroit had Nicklas Lidstrom and, in 2007, the Ducks had Chris Pronger.
Also, and Scott Niedermayer.
The two Norris winners were instrumental in Anaheim’s dominant campaign — a 110-point regular season, followed by a playoff run in which the Ducks only lost five games total. As such, Pronger and Niedermayer are forever etched in Ducks lore, the anchors of the first and only Cup champion in franchise history.
Which brings us to the modern-day Ducks.
Heading into next season, they project to have a top-six defense of Cam Fowler, Francois Beauchemin, Hampus Lindholm, Bryan Allen, Ben Lovejoy and Sami Vatanen (Sheldon Souray’s future remains uncertain). It’s a decent group, but one that lacks a true stud blueliner — Fowler may be that guy one day, but he’s not there yet — and it’s something even GM Bob Murray admits is lacking.
“You watch the Kings, for example, and you watch how Drew Doughty has emerged as a superstar,” Murray said earlier this summer. “Do we have a defenseman who can be that way? When we won the Stanley Cup, we had [Niedermayer and Pronger].
“That’s in the back of my mind all the time. Where is that guy, can you find that guy, and can you afford that guy?”
A curious statement.
“Afford” is something worth paying attention to. The Ducks are in win-now mode; Ryan Kesler all but cemented that following his blockbuster move to Anaheim by saying “I’m going to Anaheim to win a championship.” Yet the club must know that, barring remarkable development from Fowler (or Lindholm, I suppose), it doesn’t exactly have the blueline for a championship blueprint.
Murray is the reigning GM of the year, and the fruits of his work are currently on display. While questions remain on D and in goal — where the largely inexperienced Frederik Anderson and wunderkind John Gibson will battle for minutes — the Ducks are still one of the West’s elite teams, and doing it nearly $11 million under the salary cap. They’ve got young guys on inexpensive deals contributing significantly and while they won’t be a spend-to-the-cap team, Murray has positioned them well to add salary.
Heck, they could be a prime candidate to obtain a rental at the deadline.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that stud defensemen rarely become available. Most are playing on good teams challenging for the playoffs; ones on bad teams are still deemed far too valuable to trade away. But things change quickly in the NHL — look at the Kesler deal. In October, Kesler was playing tons of minutes on Vancouver’s top line with the Sedins and scored eight goals and 11 points in his first 15 games. Months later, the Canucks are a train wreck and he’s asking out of town.
And eventually ended up in Anaheim.
So, what does it mean for the Ducks moving forward? It’s safe to assume they’ll be on the lookout for defensive improvements throughout the year and even if they’re unable to land “that guy,” they could still find a quality rearguard to bolster what they’ve got.
Defense is clearly issue No. 1 for this squad — just look at our poll results from earlier today.