I'm not a CBA expert or anything, and there was some IR time in there that I'm not sure counts, but Cam Fowler's 37 games played and Anaheim's 43 games played mean the rookie Duck is dangerously close to accruing (if he hasn't already officially accrued) a year towards UFA status.
Arthur, you were particularly skeptical of whether the Ducks would do this right, predicting more than once that they would send Fowler down before burning a year of his contract for fear of doing it wrong, general ineptitude in investing in young talent, or the sheer advantages of having Cam for another affordable year of his prime. Well, now that we've got nothing but hindsight, what do you think? The Ducks burned a guaranteed year of Fowler's services. Did they do it right?
I have to say that I honestly believe that they did. A lot of that is Cam. He was poised to open the season, and he showed steady improvement thereafter. The rest of it you can probably attribute to running with an unreliable defense. It's sad, but Cam having the opportunity to play in a piecemeal defensive corps is probably the primary reason this was done correctly. He's gotten the opportunity to perform for a team relying on him-- not principally, but relying on him nonetheless. He never had to be a bottom pairing guy working his way up the minute ladder for the Ducks.
That says a lot about Cam, sure, but it also says a lot about Bob Murray's plan for the team this year. Generally, a Top 5 pick should have trouble making the defensive corps of a 12th overall pick team. Granted, there was a major retirement, but Murray didn't reinvest that money to put too many pieces in Cam Fowler's way.
From the podium to the Pond, the Ducks have made Fowler feel like a Top 5 pick, right down to icing a defense ready-made to feature a rookie for 20-plus minutes per night. So maybe this was done a little too correctly. Hindsight is probably unnecessarily distressing in that respect.
I think the Ducks did the right thing as well, and they definitely did it by accident. Murray's inability to construct a fluid defense meant plenty of minutes for Fowler, and he certainly rose to the challenge. All of your points about this defense are well taken, but I think there's another key factor that you've overlooked, Randy Carlyle. We've had many discussion on this blog about Carlyle's reluctance to roll young guys over the boards if they're making mistakes. Fowler certainly made a few mistakes early on, and he still does. But, Carlyle has never taken him out of that top 4 spot. Part of that was due to the fact that he didn't have a lot of alternatives, but part of it was the coach's commitment to the player.
Carlyle loves this kid. He's stood up for him, helped him, and is reaping the rewards. I think our Norris winning coach sees a lot of potential and has gone the extra mile to make this kid blossom. I'm very confident that Carlyle's work and patience is one of the key reasons that Fowler has been able to stay with in the NHL. That and the fact that Murray might not be able to construct a good D to save his live.