(Ed. Note: Welcome to the Puck Daddy 2013 summer project, the National Hockey League of Nations. We’ve recruited 30 writers/blogs to identify the best player in their favorite team’s history for each major nationality that creates the fabric of our beloved NHL: Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and The Rest of The World. It’s their criteria, as long as they can justify it. Read, debate and enjoy! If you want to do so on Twitter, it's #NHLoN.)
By Chris Kober, Anaheim Calling
I have a confession to make. I’ve been a Ducks fan since before they even existed, when I saw the original Mighty Ducks movie for the first time, and I’ve spent the past 11 months or so blogging about Ducks history week by week, but I’m flying by the seat of my pants here. The only criteria I’ve given myself in making this list is the player has to be significant in the Ducks’ 20 year history in some way, have some talent and personality/entertainment value is a plus. Additionally, all of those things are weighted differently from category to category. Having said that, let’s dive right in.
Canada: Paul Kariya
Naturally, this is the most difficult category. I know this topic was created to entice debate, but I don’t know how I’m going to live with myself for picking one of the top three Canadians in Ducks history: Paul Kariya, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Scott Niedermayer.
My wife is going to kill me for this, but the first one I have to knock off the list is Niedermayer.
Yes, he is the only player in the Hall of Fame who played more than a year with the Ducks – as opposed to Jari Kurri and Adam Oates, who had cups of coffee in Anaheim at the end of their careers. Yes, he is the only truly sought after UFA to ever sign with the Ducks. Yes, he captained the team to its only Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe that year.
On the other hand, he wasn’t the only one who could have won the Smythe in ‘07. Though he was a high profile free agent, he had extra incentive – playing with his brother Rob – to come to Anaheim, and he can’t really be considered in his prime since he heartily contemplated retirement only two years later. I can’t stress enough how fantastic he was as a Duck, but the majority of his career was in New Jersey including his best years and the year they beat the Ducks for the Stanley Cup.
Jiggy was incredible as well. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in games played by a goalie and wins, but he made his bones in the playoffs. He became a legend in Anaheim with his first ever post season game, a 63 save triple overtime performance to beat the Red Wings – the only team to knock the Mighty Ducks out of the playoffs, the team they’d never beaten in eight post season attempts. Going on to sweep the Wings, beat Dallas, hold Minnesota to a single goal in a four game sweep, take the Devils to Game 7, and winning the Conn Smythe in a losing cause, plus the Stanley Cup four years later only solidified it.
As great as he was in the playoffs, he was even better in playoff overtimes, playing in 16 overtime periods in eight games before giving up a goal. To this day, Game 2 against Vancouver in the second round of 2007 is the only playoff overtime he’s ever lost, putting up a record of 11-1, all with the Ducks.
Then there’s Kariya.
His reputation is absolutely the most tarnished among Ducks fans, and the good old days aren’t as fresh in anyone’s mind, but the first draft pick of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim was and still is the cornerstone of this franchise.
I’ve never held his departure against him as most Ducks fans have. In fact when he and Teemu signed with Colorado my first reaction was happiness that they’d get to play together again. I would love for him to be welcomed back into the organization by the fans and the team, especially in this upcoming 20th anniversary season, but I highly doubt it will happen. That’s a shame, but this is by no means a pity vote (well, maybe a little). I just don’t understand how anyone who calls themselves a Ducks fan and remembers the 2003 Stanley Cup Final Game 6 can boo that man. The simple phrase “Off the floor, on the board!” still gives me chills.
Of course there is so much more to Paul Kariya than the drama and that moment, as frightening and glorious as it was. When I see highlights from the mid 90’s, I find myself wishing I was an older, more sophisticated hockey fan when Teemu and Paul were in their prime, so that I could appreciate it the way I did with Scotty, Jiggy and some of the other guys I’ll talk about later. Then I realize that growing up with that is what made me the Ducks fan, the hockey fan and the person that I am today.
While Niedermayer and Giguere each took the franchise to new heights, it was built on the back of Paul Kariya.
Finland: Petteri Nokelainen Teemu Selanne
This is a no-brainer. I can go on for days and days about how amazing Teemu is, and I have. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the overtime goal he scored in Game 5 of the ‘07 WCF against Detroit effectively clinched the Cup.
It's almost a shame that it's so easy to identify the top Finn in Ducks history though, because the Ducks have had three of the best Finns in NHL history. If we applied the full career criteria, it would be a dog fight between Jari Kurri and Teemu, with Saku Koivu a rather distant third. However, at the end of the day Teemu is the best Finnish player of all time, the best Duck of all time and in general one of the best dudes of all time.
Of course, that only makes it more difficult to deal with the realization that, as this offseason gets into August, we have probably seen the last game of his career (and it was a loss to the F***ing Red Wings, naturally).
USA: Bobby Ryan
The child inside me, as well as the hard core, old school “Mighty Ducks” fan wants to say Guy Hebert. He was the first member player in franchise history, when he was taken from St. Louis in the 1993 expansion draft. He was the number one goalie for nearly a decade. He’s second in both games played and wins by a Ducks goalie. My mother even made me a Guy Hebert Halloween costume when I was eight, for Gretzky’s sake. Still, with all of that sentimentality and the fact that it’s almost impossible to compare a goaltender to a skater, there is no denying that Bobby Ryan is exponentially more talented than Hebert ever was.
Taken second overall in the 2005 draft, behind Sidney Crosby (thanks ping-pong balls) Bobby is the highest draft pick in Ducks history (tied with Oleg Tverdovsky). He’s one of only two players (along with Alex Ovechkin) to score 30 goals in each of his first four post-2005 lockout NHL seasons and is the leading American scorer in goals (147), assists (142) and points (239) in franchise history.
Despite his last year and a half or so in Anaheim being marred by constant trade talks, Bobby was always a huge fan favorite in large part because of his engaging personality. The prime example being the ‘Gold vs. Silver’ sketch he did with Ryan Getzlaf at the NHL Awards following the 2010 Olympics. Really, the only Duck who ranks above him in terms of bedside manner with the fans is Teemu Selanne, and a comparison with the Finnish Flash from any Ducks fan is about as high as praise gets.
Finally, there are also segments of Ducks fandom that hold him in high regard for de-Kariya-izing the No. 9, but as you might have guessed from the above, I am not among them. I do think I speak for all Ducks fans though, when I say that I hope in ten years American Hero: John Gibson and/or Cam Fowler and/or Emerson Etem surpass both Bobby and Guy.
Sweden: Sammy Pahlsson
When discussing Ducks History, there are two years that stand out, 2003 and 2007, for obvious reasons. Sammy Pahlsson is one of only four players (with Rob Niedermayer, Andy McDonald and Jiggy) who were on both of the Anaheim teams to make it to the Stanley Cup Final.
He doesn’t even get to sniff the same air as Giguere in ’03, but there is a legitimate argument to be made for him as the ’07 Conn Smythe winner. He played insane amounts on the PK, dominated in the faceoff circle and scored HUGE goals (specifically the lone goal in Game 2 of the Final) all while crushing the opponent’s best lines. Personally, I’m not upset about it because anyone with a half brain knows that a shut down center like Sammy doesn’t have the flash to win that award these days. However, I will go to the grave, firm in my belief that Rod Brind’Amour robbed him of the 2007 Selke Trophy.
It’s hard to put a finger on why we love Sammy so much without going into a soliloquy of fancy stats (which I happen to be mathematically incapable of) but the best way to put it in layman’s terms is that even female Ducks fans have man-crushes on Sammy Pahlsson.
The only other Swede that deserves a mention is Tomas Sandstrom who, believe it or not, became the NHLs all time leading Swedish scorer while with the Ducks in 1997. He’s since been passed by some scrubs named Mats Sundin, Nicklas Lidstrom, Peter Forsberg, Daniel Alfredsson and Markus Naslund.
(Stick-tap to blogger emeritus/Pahlsson fanboy Earl Sleek for the last two advanced stats heavy links).
Russia: Ilya Bryzgalov
“That’s a hockey y’know. It’s only game. Why you heff to be mad?” That should be enough right there, but I’ll go on.
Bryz only played two plus seasons with the Ducks, he played back up to Giguere the entire time, and his numbers (2.48 GAA, .909 Sv%) aren’t all that great. However, he stepped up in a HUMANGOUS BIG way, during the 2006 and 2007 playoffs.
In Game 6 of the first round against Calgary in 2006, he replaced Jiggy. By the time he relinquished the net he had become the first rookie goalie since 1945 to post back to back shutouts and had gone 249:15 (spanning five games) without giving up a goal, the third longest playoff shutout streak of all-time. The following year he started the Ducks’ Stanley Cup run with three straight wins against Minnesota while Jiggy was tending to his newborn son’s eye condition.
Now, he’s most well known as an overpaid nutcase goalie who crapped out in Philly (don’t they all) because he was a product of Dave Tippitt and Sean Burke. It kind of bothers me as a Ducks fan that the argument against him doesn’t include that he played behind Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Sammy Pahlsson, but as Bryz (and Bobby McFarrin) would say, “Don’t worry, be happy!”
I should also give shout outs to Oleg Tverdovsky, whose biggest contribution in two stints with the Ducks was being traded for Teemu and Sergei Fedorov who wins the Best-Career-but-Not-Good-Enough-with-the-Ducks Award for Russians.
Slovakia: Lubomir Visnovsky
This is as easy as it gets, Lubo is the only Slovakian ever to play for the franchise. It helps that he was pretty good while he was here as well. In 2010-11 he led the league in scoring from a defenseman with career highs in goals (18) assists (50) and points (68) at age 34. Some Ducks fans think a case of the dreaded East Coast Bias robbed him of a Norris nomination that year, but I tend to think he didn’t carry enough defensive responsibility.
He also holds the distinction of being the only Anaheim defenseman ever to score a hat trick, which included the overtime game winner against Dallas. What Ducks fan could ever forget the post game interview with his famous quote: “Thank you very much fans and let's go for the next game … TOGETHER!” Adorable.
Czech Republic: Petr Sykora
Honestly, there isn’t much competition here, outside the (now) inexplicably tan Vinny Prospal. But Prospal’s numbers don’t rival Sykora’s and Vinny never scored a goal in quintuple overtime.
REST OF THE WORLD CATEGORY
Belarus: Ruslan Salei
We may never truly know why Fox Sports commentator Bill McDonald referred to The Arrowhead Pond/Honda Center as “The House That Rusty Built.” It probably had to do with the fact that he scored the overtime winner in Game 3 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final there, or maybe that he is the franchise leader in games played by a defenseman (and fourth overall). It’s definitely not because he nearly killed Mike Modano or got a puck over the glass delay of game penalty from his own zone in 2005-06, years before Matt Cooke made it cool. But those are the things I’ll remember him best for, nearly two years after he tragically died with the rest of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team and for years to come.
… I don’t want to end on such a sad note, so here’s a joke:
Iceland: Wolf "The Dentist" Stansson & Gunnar Stahl.
OK, so they're not technically Anaheim Ducks, and not technically real people, and they didn't even play for the fictitious Mighty Ducks, but the only reason anyone has ever heard of any hockey player from Iceland is because of "D2: The Mighty Ducks", so I’m counting it.
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