Welcome to LWOS Hockey’s summer series. After the historic 2016 NHL Free Agency period, it’s a good time to look at the best free agent signing in the history of all 30 NHL franchises. Up first: The all-time best Anaheim Ducks free agent signing.
The All-time Best Anaheim Ducks Free Agent Signing
2005 – Scott Niedermayer: Four years, $27 million
Scott Niedermayer had already built a Hockey Hall of Fame resume before he joined the Anaheim Ducks following the 2005 lockout.
Selected in the 1st round, 3rd overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils, Niedermayer was a junior sensation before he even set foot on NHL ice. In three seasons in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers, Niedermayer scored 47 goals and 190 points in 156 games. He led the team to two Memorial Cup tournaments, taking home the trophy in 1992, when he was also named tournament MVP.
Niedermayer would find the same success in New Jersey. He was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1992-93 after scoring 11 goals and 40 points in 80 games, and instantly became a key part of the Devils defense along with veterans Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko.
The Devils would make the Eastern Conference Final the following season, losing to the New York Rangers, but come back strong in 1994-95, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final and winning the silver mug for the first time in franchise history. Niedermayer was no slouch during that playoff run, scoring 11 points in 20 games, including a key goal in Game 2 of the final en route to a sweep of the Detroit Red Wings.
Niedermayer would be a key cog in helping the Devils reach back-to-back Stanley Cup finals in 2000 and 2001. He would take home his second championship in 2000, however New Jersey would lose in seven games to the Colorado Avalanche the following year. The Devils would head back to the final yet again in 2003, and Niedermayer would win his third Stanley Cup for New Jersey, along with Stevens, Daneyko and Martin Brodeur.
In 2003-04 Niedermayer cemented his reputation as an elite NHL rearguard, posting his second career 50-point season (54 points) and winning the Norris Trophy as the league’s top blueliner. However the NHL lockout ended his time in New Jersey after 13 seasons, during which he recorded 112 goals and 476 points in 892 games.
By this point Niedermayer had also cemented his international reputation, winning gold at the World Junior Championships (1991), Olympics (2002, and another later in 2010), World Cup (2004), and the World Championships (2004) to earn a spot in the coveted Triple Gold Club.
Niedermayer had won everything a hockey player could win, yet there was one goal he still hadn’t accomplished: He hadn’t yet won a Stanley Cup with this brother, Rob Niedermayer.
The Ducks were the team New Jersey defeated in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, yet they were unable to recapture the same magic again the following season. After finishing 2nd in the Pacific Division the previous season, they fell to 4th in 2003-04, and 12th in the Western Conference. The team lost franchise icon Paul Kariya, and to make matters worse relocation rumors began circling as the 2005 lockout set in, with whispers the team could be on its way to Kansas City.
That situation would be resolved through Henry Samueli, the owner of the Arrowhead Pond, who eventually stepped in and bought the team, mostly to assure his building had a tenant. However that didn’t solve the issues on the ice.
The team went through a purge. General Manager Bryan Murray was replaced by Brian Burke, and head coach Mike Babcock with Randy Carlyle (which, given what has happened in Toronto the last two years, really makes one realize what an odd league the NHL is).
Looking to turn the team around quickly, Burke aggressively signed Teemu Selanne, bringing the former Duck back to provide some help on offense while waiting for young guns Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to mature as stars. However another piece was needed to add to the club’s lackluster defense corps.
The 2005 lockout and it’s accompanying amnesty buyouts left a wide-ranging free agency crop for teams to choose from. That offseason saw a number of star players (many on the downside of their careers) ranging from Peter Forsberg (Philadelphia Flyers) and Eric Lindros (Toronto Maple Leafs) to Kariya (Nashville Predators) find new homes.
Naturally, the 31-year-old Niedermayer was in high demand and had no shortage of suitors, with 14 teams trying to secure his services.
The Devils offered Niedermayer a five-year deal that would have paid him $7.8 million per season, the maximum allowable under the NHL’s brand new salary cap. However Niedermayer chose a shorter deal (four years) for less money ($6.75 million per season) with Anaheim, ostensibly to win a Stanley Cup with his brother. The Devils loss was the Ducks gain.
As then-Mighty Ducks captain Steve Rucchin was traded prior to the start of the 2005-06 season, Niedermayer was given the “C” before even suiting up for Anaheim.
The signing paid immediate dividends. Niedermayer set a career high with 63 points, and the Ducks shot up the standings, finishing 6th in the Western Conference and advancing to the third round of the playoffs before getting inexplicably eliminated 4-1 by Chris Pronger and the Edmonton Oilers. Niedermayer lead all Anaheim defensemen in both regular season and playoff scoring, proving his value early.
With Niedermayer a rock on the blueline, the team continued to evolve around him, entering the 2006-07 season with a new name (they dropped the “Mighty”), new uniforms (banishing the eggplant purple in favor of black and orange), a new arena name (gone was “The Pond”, welcome to the Honda Center). Oh, and a new defenseman to join Niedermayer on the blueline, namely Pronger.
The duo would form the backbone of a dominant team which didn’t lose a game in regulation until early November and stormed their way to a 110-point season, tied for tops in the Western Conference with the Nashville Predators. Niedermayer would continue his scoring rampage, notching 15 goals and 69 points (another new career high) in 79 games for his second-consecutive 60-point season since signing the deal with Anaheim.
The Ducks, led by Niedermayer and Pronger on the blueline, Getzlaf, Perry and Selanne up front, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere continuing his 2003 Conn Smythe-winning form, easily stormed their way to a Stanley Cup championship in 2006-07, losing just five postseason games. However this time it was Niedermayer who would take home the Smythe, after playing some of the most sublime hockey ever by a defenseman.
It was the first Cup in franchise history and Niedermayer’s fourth. More importantly for Niedermayer, he had fulfilled his goal, and the photo of him holding the Cup aloft with brother Rob has become iconic.
Niedermayer would retire following the 2009-10 season and be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013. In total he would play 371 games for the Ducks, scoring 60 goals and 264 points, actually posting a higher points per game average (0.71 to 0.53) in his twilight years in Anaheim than in his heyday with the Devils. Ducks fans would argue he was easily worth every penny.