The banner years read from 1991 to 2004. Of course, everyone knows his career concluded in 2010 with the Anaheim Ducks. Yet, what if he had stayed with the New Jersey Devils his entire career? What if his story went the other way with Rob Niedermayer eventually joining Scott with the Devils in 2009-10? How would history have been different?
In 2003-04 the Devils were defending Stanley Cup champions and playing at a high level under head coach Pat Burns. With Ken Daneyko retired, Scott Stevens dealing with concussion problems and on his legs, Niedermayer was becoming the face of the franchise, earning the captaincy.
Despite this changing of the guard, the Devils still managed to yield a league-low 164 goals. It didn’t hurt matters to have a Vezina Trophy-winning Martin Brodeur in nets with his 11 shutouts either.
Everything was rolling for Niedermayer, placing third on the club with 54 points, earning his first Norris Trophy. His 25:56 average time on the ice paced the squad and his 6.9 defensive point shares topped the circuit.
Then, the Devils were bounced by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the lockout followed with a dramatically altered landscape.
Points-wise there wasn’t much of a drop-off following his departure. Through his final season, the Devils recorded point totals of 101, 107, 99, 106 and 103. Yet, one could argue those clubs were built for the regular season.
If Niedermayer had stayed, there’d likely have been no Vladimir Malakhov reunion, no Dan McGillis signing only to play with AHL Albany and Lowell. The organization would have kept its 2007 first round draft choice, rather than trading it, Malakhov and his salary to the San Jose Sharks, a pick the St. Louis Blues eventually used on David Perron. The team could’ve conceivably used the pick on another defenseman with the departure of Brian Rafalski. Heck, maybe the money would have been there to retain Rafalski.