The 2006-2007 season was without question the most memorable in the young history of the Anaheim Ducks. Beginning by setting an NHL open era record for number of games before losing in regulation (16, with a record of 12-0-4), the Ducks steamrolled through the regular season on their way to a franchise-record 110 points, and their first and only Pacific division title.
Anaheim's campaign boasted one of the most well-coached and well put-together rosters in recent hockey memory. With Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on the blue line, two solid scoring lines (which saw Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf on the second line) and what would become known as the "shutdown line" comprised of Rob Niedermayer, Samuel Pahlsson and Travis Moen, the Ducks were an absolute powerhouse of a team.
Now more than four years removed from that day, Anaheim fans look on at a skeleton of the team that they saw take the league by storm in 2007—a team that now sits only one point out of last place in the Western Conference.
This seemingly quick decline begs several questions, not the least of which is, which players do the Anaheim Ducks miss the most from their dominant Stanly Cup run and why are they no longer with the team?
The following is a list of seven of Anaheim's most missed players from the 2006-2007 season, based on their contribution during that year, as well as their continued success with other teams. These players have all left voids that have yet to be filled in the "refuse to admit we're rebuilding" Anaheim Ducks' lineup.
Often playing on the second defensive pairing with Chris Pronger, Sean O'Donnell was an incredibly consistent and reliable stay-at-home defensemen. Though his offensive contribution wasn't significant, he freed Pronger up to be more aggressive with his neutral-zone passes by playing near positional perfection in the defensive zone. His veteran experience and unselfish defensive play made him one of the unsung heroes of Anaheim's team.
2011 Equivalent: Sheldon Brookbank
Centering Anaheim's third line, Pahlsson was the center piece of what might have been the club’s most valuable weapon: their third line.
With tremendous skill in the faceoff circle and an uncanny ability to shut down opposing forwards, coach Randy Carlyle would have Pahlsson and his line on the ice almost every time the opposing team's first line played a shift.
Though partial credit is certainly due to Anaheim's stacked defensive pairings, Pahlsson was responsible for more than his fair share of penalty killing and shutting down the opposing team's most prolific scorers. Jean Sebastian Giguere as well as the Anaheim defense never performed quite as well without him.
2011 Equivalent: Andrew Cogliano
Aside from Paul Kariya, Chris Kunitz was the best complementary left winger Teemu Selanne ever had at his disposal. Kunitz was a physical presence on Anaheim's top line who brought enough skill to keep pace with Selanne and Andy McDonald.
Since the departure of Kunitz, Anaheim has yet to find another true left winger for their first line. Though Bobby Ryan often fills this role, he shoots right, and is listed as a right wing.
It is somewhat puzzling that Kunitz didn't manage to stick as part of the young core that Anaheim now boasts. His style of play fit in nicely with Getzlaf and Perry, who both play a pattern of getting the puck deep, winning battles in the corner and then cycling below the goal line until something opens up, which was typical of former Coach Carlyle's system.
Though Carlyle is no longer with the club, there's no question that Kunitz would be very valuable to a Ducks team right now, with almost zero secondary scoring aside from Teemu Selanne.
2011 Equivalent: Jason Blake and Matt Beleskey
As far as the development of Ilya Bryzgalov is concerned, Anaheim's management and coaches outpunted their coverage. Though he was a likely replacement for Jean-Sebastien Giguere, his abilities and recognition as a potential starter in the league were simply too high for Anaheim to keep him as a backup.
Worse yet, GM Brian Burke received absolutely nothing in return for a goaltender who has become a regular favorite to win the Vezina Trophy, as Bryzgalov was placed on waivers and picked up by the Phoenix Coyotes.
2011 Equivalant: Dan Ellis
My knowledge of why exactly Andy McDonald was traded is limited, aside from the fact that GM Brian Burke needed to make room for Scott Niedermayer, who had decided to opt out of retirement and return to the team after sitting out half the season. However, this to me is one of the most disappointing roster moves ever to come out of Burke's office.
During the beginning of the 2007-2008 season, McDonald struggled to put up consistent offensive numbers partly due to the fact that his linemate, Teemu Selanne, was also contemplating retirement along with Niedermayer.
Still, the trade which sent McDonald, who was in his prime (and would've consistently competed with Ryan Getzlaf for the centering spot on the top line), to the St. Louis Blues for an aging Doug Weight may have been "premature," a word that some would use to describe Ryan Getzlaf's promotion to the top-line centerman's spot.
2011 Equivalent: Ryan Getzlaf
Putting myself in the shoes of Anaheim's front office, there aren't a lot of things that could happen in the hockey world to ever make me agree with anything that involves trading Chris Pronger.
Obviously, I had zero creative input when it came to that decision.
As before, the inner workings of this deal elude me, but the general consensus is that it was either Niedermayer or Pronger who had to go. Because of the organization's loyalty to Neidermayer, Pronger hit the trade market.
Maybe even more disappointing (and strange) is that Anaheim got Joffrey Lupul in return, who had actually been the main piece in the trade that brought Pronger to Anaheim in the first place.
Also thrown into the mix was promising defensive prospect Luca Sbisa. Many Anaheim fans are still waiting on his development to decide how they really feel about the Pronger Exodus. As of right now, it's not looking good.
2011 Equivalent: Luca Sbisa
Scott Niedermayer's retirement came as no surprise to the Anaheim Ducks fan base. Considering his extensive list of accomplishments and a decline in the talent surrounding him, Niedermayer officially announced that he was hanging up his skates in June 2010.
Today Scott is still only 38 years old, which causes some to consider his departure from professional hockey to be somewhat early, especially considering the success of Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne at age 41.
The acquisition of Cam Fowler during the 2010 entry draft has helped Anaheim fans move on from the Niedermayer era, but it seems as if Scott's exit is just the most prominent example of what was a series of premature departures and changes to one of the most powerful teams of the post-lockout era.
Why the Quick Changes?
It was a strange thing to see such a powerful roster be assembled and fall apart so quickly. Why did Anaheim's front office not keep such a successful group of players together longer? Were they perhaps too impatient in dealing personnel?
If Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne hadn't sat out the first half of the 2007-2008 season, GM Burke would not have been forced to make so many radical roster adjustments. The initial efforts to compensate for the losses of Scott and Teemu brought on the signings of Mathieu Schnieder and Todd Bertuzzi, who simply weren't able to meld well with the rest of the team, and created a mess of salary-cap issues when it came time to resign the would-be retirees.
I have and will continue to hold the opinion that this group of players, had they been given a few more years together, would not have been limited to only one Stanley Cup.
But who's to blame? Do we blame management for acting too hastily, or Selanne and Niedermayer for taking so long to decide whether or not to retire?
The reality is that both of these issues played a huge part in the decline of an incredibly talented team, and the blame can't really be laid on either one in particular, or on any one aspect of those two ideas.
Regardless of the conclusion, it doesn't change the fact that Anaheim has become a very one-dimensional hockey club, and that nostalgia is setting in on the Ducks fan base "mighty" quickly.