Working on a soon-to-be-released THN project, I was researching the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks and I’m starting to think they may have been the best team ever. That is to say, if you put that roster up against any other Cup champ, the Ducks would come out on top in a seven-game series.
That Ducks team featured three sure-fire Hall of Famers in Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne; an incredibly potent kid line featuring Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner; two excellent goalies in J-S Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov; tons of toughness and the premier shutdown line of Sammy Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen.
Anaheim dropped only five games in the entire Cup tourney, two of which came at the hands of the Red Wings, who went on to capture the Cup themselves the next year with a very similar lineup.
But this isn’t about stats necessarily; it’s about team composition. Pronger and Niedermayer famously patrolled the blueline with such stamina that at least one of them was almost always on the ice. Pahlsson’s line neutralized some of the best scorers in the game, including Ottawa’s Alfredsson-Spezza-Heatley combo in the final. Those three tied for the tournament lead in scoring that year, but they didn’t make much headway against the Ducks. And if you got to the net, Giguere was there with his 1.97 goals-against average.
But this theory also got me thinking: Who could hang with the ’07 Ducks?
Despite the reality that conditioning and modernity should eliminate most past-era teams, the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens actually stack up pretty well. Of course, they are regarded as the best team in NHL history, which is a good start, but again – composition helps. I still think if we took the ’07 Ducks and put them in an Ice Rink Time Machine, they’d beat that Montreal team, but it would be fun to watch.
Those Habs were led on defense by 6-foot-4, 220-pound Larry Robinson, who tallied an outstanding 85 points from the blueline in the regular season (and 12 more in 14 playoff games). Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard were also rocks on the back end, giving the Habs an answer to the Pronger/Niedermayer wall.
Offensively, Montreal trotted out the biggest name in the game at the time, Guy Lafleur. Would he be able to sneak his way past Pahlsson enough to create offense? It may sound like a ridiculous question, but remember conditioning: Pahlsson didn’t allegedly smoke between periods during his prime, he watches game video to study the opposition and knows a lot more about angles than the average NHLer in the 1970s would have.
In net the intrigue only heightens. Giguere has always been lauded (or hated, depending on your allegiances) for his ability to fill up as much net as possible, but Ken Dryden, at 6-foot-4, 207 pounds, is actually bigger. Dryden may not have had the larger modern pads, but he could still kick out pucks as good as anyone in history.
Montreal had its own shutdown specialist in Doug Jarvis and another question would be how the 5-foot-9, 170-pounder would handle Anaheim’s attackers. First-line center Andy McDonald is only slightly bigger than Jarvis, but Ryan Getzlaf is a mean 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, with skill to boot. For those looking for comparisons of Jarvis’ work, that’s a lot bigger than Phil Esposito.
In the end, I believe the Ducks would be too physical and too nasty for the Habs. Anaheim was well known for its fisticuffs and getting between Pronger and his goalie is like wandering between a mother bear and her cub – you just don’t do it if you value your life.
That physical factor also eliminates a lot of sexy historical teams, such as the firewagon Edmonton Oilers – how is Wayne Gretzky going to even get to his ‘office’ behind the opposition’s net with the surly Pronger on the prowl? And before you say ‘Dave Semenko or Mark Messier,’ remember that Pronger towers over both of them, while the Ducks also had Brad May, Shawn Thornton and George Parros – all of whom would delight in the opportunity for a line brawl.
And if you think ‘old-school toughness’ would win out, take heed from no less an authority than Bob Probert, who recently told me he’s glad he didn’t have anyone like 6-foot-7 Derek Boogaard around when he was in his prime.
That Ducks squad was, in the end, too good to last. Selanne and Niedermayer took most of the next season off, while McDonald was traded for cap space. Penner signed his infamous offer sheet with Edmonton and Bryzgalov was waived and grabbed by Phoenix, again, due to cap concerns.
But let’s not forget just how good that team really was.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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