Battle of the bluelines
If I’ve got it right (and even TSN’s Bob McKenzie’s confused on this whole issue), the Anaheim Ducks DON’T need to get rid of Mathieu Schneider’s contract, meaning that they can create the most fear-inducing blueline in the NHL. However, is it the best defense we’ve seen in recent years? Here’s some food for thought:
2000-2001 Colorado Avalanche
Ray Bourque (age 40): In Ray Bourque’s final season, he wasn’t playing to the quality of his prime but he was still in the top tier of NHL defensemen, and he had the point totals to back it up. Most notably, Bourque, like Nicklas Lidstrom today, was a total package that allowed his game to adapt as his body changed. Even at 40, he was still capable of being most team’s #1 defenseman.
Rob Blake (age 31): By this time, Rob Blake was always considered “one of” the best defensemen in the league, but he was never “the best” of the best. Still, that’s nothing to knock, considering that at the time, he was a true #1 defenseman with a monster shot, superb power play instincts, and a good hard hipcheck that not enough people did. It’s hard to believe how bad young Blake was in the early NHL video games (dear lord, he was slow).
Adam Foote (age 29): Adam Foote never put up the numbers the way that some of his contemporaries did, but back in the pre-lockout era, Foote in his prime was a fierce shutdown defenseman who could kick the crap out of you as easily as he could stick check you. His play was never vaunted on a Scott Stevens-type level, which meant that Foote was never really a Norris candidate, but if you asked any coach today if they could go to war with Foote in his prime, they’d make it an emphatic yes.
2007-08 Anaheim Ducks
Chris Pronger (age 33): Big, mean, talented, and a little temperamental, Chris Pronger continues to show why he’s the complete package on the blueline. He can make tape-to-tape outlet passes, his long reach can make impossible poke checks feasible, and his defensive instincts can stifle even the most talented individuals. Sure, his temper gets the better of him, and you can say that he should be suspended more often, but there’s no doubt that he’s been a worthy Norris candidate for each season in his prime.
Scott Niedermayer (age 34): In my opinion, with all due respect to Lidstrom, no blueliner can control a game like Scott Niedermayer. It starts with the skating — or the fact that pretty much no one can skate like him. It’s speed, swiftness, and grace, combined with immense stick skills and hockey sense, and with that, Niedermayer can basically create a play all by himself or he can single-handedly bail his team out of a bad break.
Mathieu Schneider (age 38): Schneider may never make it to the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he definitely will make it into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s still got his offensive instincts and is a worthy power play contributor, but even in his prime, Schneider was never the most feared defenseman out there. Still, at 38, he’s a better #2 defenseman than a lot of team’s #1’s.
If we could time travel back to 2001 and you told any hockey fan that the Avs HOF defense wouldn’t be as good as the 2007 Anaheim Ducks, they’d probably scoff at you (after first correcting you with “Mighty Ducks of Anaheim”). However, when you line it up like this, the two-headed Norris monster of Pronger and Niedermayer is better than aging Bourque and in-his-prime Blake. Foote and Schneider represent different types of skill sets, and I’d give the advantage to Foote at 29 over Schneider at 38, but it’s hard to argue with Anaheim’s two #1’s.
And if you really wanted to break it down even further, you could look at the Avs’ mix of Martin Skoula, Jon Klemm, or Greg deVries as their #4 guy vs. Anaheim’s Francois Beauchemin. But for now, I’ll just leave it at that.
Do you think there’s a blueline in modern NHL memory that’s topped the Anaheim roster? Debate it out in the comments.
Filed under: Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche | 2 Comments