August 02, 2010
(Ed. Note: Welcome to Puck Daddy's August series, "Mount Puckmore" which will feature fans, bloggers and various media personalities of all 30 teams choosing the four defining faces of their franchise. These four people are who you remember most when you think of these teams -- whether they be players, coaches or executives. We'll be running these daily for the rest of the month. First up, representing the Anaheim Ducks / Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Earl Sleek from the Battle of California.)
by Earl Sleek
My Fellow Anaheimericans,
Zero score and seventeen years ago, our Mighty forefathers brought upon this Disneyland a new NHL franchise, conceived in Hollywood, and dedicated to the proposition that Ducks can fly together. Today we are gathered to celebrate four of its forefathers in the unveiling of this great Photoshop monument.
Even though the Ducks are tied for the fifth-youngest franchise in the National Hockey League, Anaheim hockey fans have enjoyed some fantastic franchise players over the years, plus probably an unfair amount of playoff success. I really had trouble narrowing this down just to four names, but here's who I ended up with:
The Finnish Flash is the franchise's leader in nearly every offensive category, plus he's by far the most popular player the Ducks have ever had. His offensive juggernaut years as a Mighty Duck alongside Paul Kariya(notes) in the late 90s were the stuff of legend - they were exciting to watch in a new hockey market that desperately needed charismatic superstars. Teemu's winning smile and fan-friendliness made him a local hero, and that was even before his career was resurrected after the lockout.
Teemu's offensive skills are uncanny - he knows how to find openings, and he shoots without hesitation. Selanne has great instincts about how goaltenders will play him and exploits their tendencies without mercy. In the past few years, he's adapted more to a power play weapon, where he's been amazing - and the fact that he continues to sign under-market-value contracts in Anaheim (along now with countryman Saku Koivu(notes)) makes him even more endearing to Ducks fans.
Selanne's best playoff moment was when he stuck a knife in Detroit in 2007 in the overtime of a pivotal Game 5 in Joe Louis Arena. Left alone with the puck in on Dominik Hasek(notes), he roofed a backhand over the sprawling Czech to give the Ducks an important series lead - the Wings would never win in that series again. I probably should stress the importance of beating Detroit for Ducks fans: Anaheim has qualified for the playoffs seven times, and they have faced the Red Wings five of those times, the first two meetings resulting in a Detroit sweep. Sweeping the Wings in 2003 was possibly my happiest moment as a Ducks fan, but certainly the 2007 series was incredible because it led directly to an easy Cup Final - thanks to Teemu's overtime wizardry, California's first Stanley Cup became a reality.
One more year, Teemu.
Paul Kariya, Left Wing (1994 - 2003)
Paul Kariya can be a bit of a contentious subject for Ducks fans - he left the team under horrible circumstances, promising a return after the '03 Cup Finals before sneakily signing a dirt-cheap deal with the Avs, but there's no question that he was the franchise's first superstar. During the Mighty Ducks' first decade, he was just as important as Teemu - he was the Captain, and the duo worked off each other incredibly. Kariya and Selanne are the only players to eclipse 100 points in a Ducks uniform (twice each), and if you listed out the top 10 scoring seasons in Anaheim, you'd have a list that includes Selanne 5 times, Kariya 4 times, and Getzlaf once.
Kariya owns one franchise record pretty spectacularly - shots on goal. He was a shooting freak, notorious for working zealously on his backhand shots after practice. Over his Anaheim career, Kariya has compiled 121 more shots-on-goal than Selanne despite having played 95 fewer games, and he owns the top four franchise single-season totals, topping out at 429 shots in 1998-99 - that's fourth-highest in league history.
Paul Kariya also stuck a pivotal overtime knife into the Red Wings, this time in 2003. The opening game of the postseason was in its 3rd overtime, and the Wings were severely out-chancing the Ducks; overtime shots were 36-12 Wings. Up to this point the Ducks had lost all eight previous playoff games against Detroit, and it just seemed impossible to get a win. It was up to the Captain to finally exorcise the Red Wing demon with a quick shot past CuJo, and the losing streak was snapped - the Wings would never win in that series again.
Kariya's most memorable playoff moment, however, was in Game 6 of the '03 Cup Finals, when Scott Stevens' shoulder knocked Kariya's corpse down onto the ice - a captain-on-captain collision for the ages. Kariya lay lifeless on the ice for an eternity, but gradually got himself back to the bench and back into the game, and as he grew stronger the crowd grew louder. When he finally fired a laser past Marty Brodeur, essentially clinching a Game 7, the clamor was unbelievable - it was soul-shaking. The Arrowhead Pond shook like it had never done before, and it was an amazing climax moment for that magical postseason - I can't really remember what happened after that.
Of course, the real hero behind the 2003 postseason was our next forefather...
J.S. Giguere, Goaltender (2000 - 2009)
Guy Hebert was Anaheim's first franchise goaltender, but J.S. Giguere supplants his spot on this monument with his incredible playoff career. It's not just playoff glory, though - Giguere is the franchise's leader in basically every major goaltending
category (2nd in save percentage behind Jonas Hiller(notes)). He's had some down times in Anaheim for sure, but for the majority of his Ducks career, he's been an incredible game-changer - when results mattered most, he turned the Ducks' ties into wins.
He made his playoff debut in 2003 and for three rounds at least, it remains the best prolonged goaltending performance I have seen out of anybody ever. Detroit fired 171 shots at him, scored only 6 goals, and lost 4 one-goal games. Dallas fired 202 shots at him, scored 13 goals, and lost 4 one-goal games. Poor Minnesota fired 123 shots at him and scored but once - that's still ridiculous to say.
Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy on a Cup-losing team that postseason, and four years later became the team's Cup-winning goalie as well, but those playoffs had a
much different dynamic. With Niedermayer and Pronger in front of him, the Ducks were a much more structured team, but even so, Giguere was winning one-goal games. Over his playoff career, Giguere won 23 one-goal games and lost only 5 - that really is an amazing legacy.
The most ridiculous statistic about Giguere is his playoff overtime record, a mind-boggling 12-1. In more than four regulations' worth of sudden death overtime, he faced 115 shots and only allowed ONE goal (and that came in a series the Ducks would win in 5). In pressure situations, Giguere relished the duel, and when things mattered most for the Ducks, he transformed ties into wins.
Sammy Pahlsson, Center (2000 - 2009)
Here's where things get controversial - bloggers always get the fourth one wrong. Plenty of Ducks fans would have selected Steve Rucchin(notes) or Scott Niedermayer(notes) here, and there's plenty of reason why they are justified, but this is my list, and Sammy Pahlsson is my hero.
All three times that Anaheim has advanced to the conference finals, Pahlsson has played an important checking-center role, and he's done it spectacularly. In 2003, he was the glue between a 19-year old Stan Chistov and a 19-year veteran Steve Thomas - that line proved hugely important in Anaheim's late-season playoff push and subsequent Cup Finals run. In 2006 and 2007, Pahlsson's tireless work on Anaheim's shutdown line with Rob Niedermayer(notes) was tremendous - even though he faced the toughest opposition night after night and killed way too many penalties for the punch-happy Ducks, he stepped up and ended as a significantly "plus" player in the postseason.
Pahlsson owns one franchise record, and I think it's telling- he has been on the ice for 192 power play goals against, more than anybody else in Ducks history. That's not because he's a rotten penalty-killer by any stretch of the imagination - he's diligent in all the defensive details of the game and fantastic on faceoffs. Pahlsson was the insurance player that really allowed Brian Burke's Ducks to be so penalty-happy in the years following the lockout. In the 2007 playoffs, Pahlsson really could have won the Conn Smythe, I think. Even though nightly he was sent out to stop the opposition's best scorers, Pahlsson was on the ice for fifteen 5-on-5 goals-for that postseason, more than Andy McDonald(notes) or Ryan Getzlaf(notes). And this was while he was averaging more than five minutes of penalty-killing time per game.
Two times Anaheim has won a 1-0 game in the Stanley Cup Finals, and both times Pahlsson has had a hand in the game-winner. In G4 of the ‘03 Cup Finals, the game went to a scoreless overtime before Pahlsson passed to Steve Thomas who won it to tie the series. In G2 of the ‘07 Cup Finals, Pahlsson scored an unassisted goal with less than six minutes left in a scoreless game that gave the Ducks a stranglehold on the series.
Sammy Pahlsson was never among the better-paid or most-marketed players in Anaheim, but he quietly and diligently worked his ass off for the team for nearly a decade. He played an important part of every successful playoff year the franchise has ever had, and though he didn't ever score much, Pahlsson was still a uniquely valuable player for the Ducks for a very long stretch of time.
I really do have to give one shout out to Steve Rucchin, though - it's an absolute crime that he's not in my top four; the tie-breaker between him and Pahlsson was really the cup ring. For years, Kariya and Selanne stole the offensive show, but Rucchin quietly backchecked and was an important part of that top line. Rucchin is 2nd all-time in games-played, plus he has too has scored a playoff overtime goal against the Wings.
In the end, though, I picked my four franchise players out of the top-6 all time in games played, and I feel like these were the Ducks who I cheered most for over the years. They weren't necessarily the first four star players in Anaheim, but that's okay - John Adams isn't on Mount Rushmore, either. Feel free to share your foursome in the comments, as Anaheim has several good candidates for this memorial.
Mount Puckmore photo by B.D. Gallof of Hockey Independent