2 of the Ducks greatest captains will watch their numbers rise to the rafters and be immortalized among the greatest to ever put on an Anaheim sweater.
Paul Kariya, beloved Mighty Duck who led a scrappy team past a juggernaut Detroit Red Wings team to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final and took them to 7 games against one of the greatest hockey teams to ever take the ice, will have few opponents to his number being enshrined in Orange County.
Scott Niedermayer is a bit of a different story.
It’s not that he isn’t beloved in Anaheim. Quite the opposite. Niedermayer is looked upon with reverence by almost all fans of the team for leading the Ducks to their first ever Stanley Cup and setting the gold standard for leadership against which many are still measured.
He continued to be involved with the team from 2013 until 2018 as a Special Assignment Coach for Anaheim helping to develop the young prospects both with the big club and with the AHL San Diego Gulls. His cultural impact on the franchise, with effects still being felt more than a decade later, has been unmistakable.
However, many have been pointing to the fact that Niedermayer only played for 5 seasons and claim that this was not long enough to be considered for a number retirement. Especially given the fact that he spent 13 seasons with the New Jersey Devils, winning 3 Stanley Cups.
Many have also raised the issue of another long-time Duck, goaltender J.S. Giguere not having his number retired when he was a member of the team for 3 more seasons and put up one of the greatest playoff goaltending performances of all time in 2003.
To me, it’s a matter of what you consider to be the criteria of a number retirement. Each franchise has differing standards on what it takes to decommission a number, of course. But in this writer’s opinion, the entire body of work during the time the player was a member of the franchise must be looked at. In this view, only the best of the best should be considered.
Scott Niedermayer is the greatest defenseman in Ducks history. This is a statistical fact. Not only are his on-ice and off-ice leadership qualities well-known, but he is also the Ducks all-time leading defenseman in goals (60), assists (204), points (264), and power play goals (39), all in a relatively brief 371 games.
For reference, Cam Fowler, who will likely pass Ruslan Salei this season as the all-time leader in games played for the Ducks amongst defenseman, currently sits at 249 career points, scoring at a rate of 0.44 points per game. Niedermayer, on the other hand, finished his Ducks career with a 0.71 points per game scoring rate; nothing less than elite for a blueliner. That is 17 more points in a staggering 190 less games, or approximately 2 and a half seasons worth of contests.
Niedermayer is the greatest Ducks defenseman of all time from a statistical perspective, and has been for the last 8 years.
Now, let’s take a look at J.S. Giguere.
Giguere was the primary goaltender for most of the Ducks franchise most successful years, specifically two Stanley Cup Final runs. Obviously, he will always be beloved for his otherwordly performance in the 2003 playoffs when he posted a mind-boggling .945 SV% en route to Game 7 of the Finals. A performance for which he became one of only 5 players ever to win the Conn Smythe Award despite being on the losing team.
However, when you step back and take a look at his overall body of work, his credentials based on career statistics become less certain. Giguere played for 9 seasons with the Ducks and put up a .914 SV% with a 2.47 GAA; good, but not great numbers for a goaltender during that time.
While he has a better-than-average .925 playoff SV%, that number is buoyed by the 2003 run, with less than stellar performances in the 2006 and 2008 playoffs where his save percentage dipped below .900. Obviously the team in front of him shares some of the blame of this, but he also did not help his case.
As far as overall body of work goes, Giguere does not have the definitive numbers to be called best goaltender in franchise history. Jonas Hiller, while playing for 2 less seasons than Giguere, owns a career .916 SV% with Anaheim and a .930 career playoff SV%. John Gibson, while still early in his career, is currently on pace to handily beat those numbers with a current .923 SV% (though I will acknowledge that it is too early to make a definitive statement about his relative performance).
The Stanley Cup would arguably put him over the top in this regard, but again, the numbers overall are average.
The question is this: given the choice between the two, who deserves to have their number retired more? The greatest Ducks defenseman of all time? Or a solid goaltender with a couple of hot streaks during the playoffs?
I realize I’m probably under-selling Giguere with that description given the impact those runs had on the franchise, but I do not see enough overall evidence to justify the goaltender going in before Neidermayer, who has the stats to back up his legacy.
If, next season, the Ducks decide that they want to send number 35 to the rafters, I will understand. The love the Anaheim fanbase has for Giggy is readily apparent, and it would undoubtedly be a special night.
But in this writer’s opinion, a number retirement requires the best of the best; with a body of work that, when all is said and done, speaks for itself.
Looking at that body of work, Scott Niedermayer has earned it beyond the shadow of a doubt.