Scott Niedermayer’s No. 27 hangs in the rafters of Prudential Center. The banner years read from 1991 to 2004. Of course, everyone knows his career concluded in 2010 with the Anaheim Ducks. Yet, what if he had stayed with the New Jersey Devils his entire career? What if his story went the other way with Rob Niedermayer eventually joining Scott with the Devils in 2009-10? How would history have been different?
In 2003-04 the Devils were defending Stanley Cup champions and playing at a high level under head coach Pat Burns. With Ken Daneyko retired, Scott Stevens dealing with concussion problems and on his legs, Niedermayer was becoming the face of the franchise, earning the captaincy.
Despite this changing of the guard, the Devils still managed to yield a league-low 164 goals. It didn’t hurt matters to have a Vezina Trophy-winning Martin Brodeur in nets with his 11 shutouts either.
Everything was rolling for Niedermayer, placing third on the club with 54 points, earning his first Norris Trophy. His 25:56 average time on the ice paced the squad and his 6.9 defensive point shares topped the circuit.
Then, the Devils were bounced by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the lockout followed with a dramatically altered landscape.
Points-wise there wasn’t much of a drop-off following his departure. Through his final season, the Devils recorded point totals of 101, 107, 99, 106 and 103. Yet, one could argue those clubs were built for the regular season.
If Niedermayer had stayed, there’d likely have been no Vladimir Malakhov reunion, no Dan McGillis signing only to play with AHL Albany and Lowell. The organization would have kept its 2007 first round draft choice, rather than trading it, Malakhov and his salary to the San Jose Sharks, a pick the St. Louis Blues eventually used on David Perron. The team could’ve conceivably used the pick on another defenseman with the departure of Brian Rafalski. Heck, maybe the money would have been there to retain Rafalski.
His Ducks defeated the Ottawa Senators in 2006-07 to win the Stanley Cup. The same Sens squad that disposed of the Devils in the second round. Perhaps he’d have helped slow down the Senators’ attack and the Devils advance.
It’s more likely the 2007-08 squad wouldn’t have been run over by the New York Rangers with Niedermayer wearing No. 27 instead of Mike Mottau.
Does the 2008-09 team suffer a late defensive collapse against the Carolina Hurricanes if Niedermayer is on the ice? Probably not.
Had No. 27 stuck around, maybe the organization doesn’t pursue Ilya Kovalchuk and prioritizes Zach Parise or if they fit all of the pieces together, perhaps John MacLean is raising the Stanley Cup and we remember the Los Angeles Kings as we remember the 1993-94 Vancouver Canucks, and not as a mini-dynasty.
Following their Stanley Cup Final loss in 2002-03, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim suffered a hangover, finishing out of the postseason picture in 2003-04.
One could argue if the club only acquired Chris Pronger in 2006-07, they could’ve brought home the Stanley Cup. Pronger almost willed the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers to a surprise Stanley Cup title, beating Niedermayer’s Ducks in the Western Conference Final.
With that said, one could argue Niedermayer helped change the culture as the Ducks’ captain, finishing second in Norris Trophy voting in his first two seasons there, third on the squad in scoring and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2006-07, netting a pair of overtime playoff winners on the way to a Stanley Cup title.
Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.