N.J. could lose Stevens, Niedermayer, Rafalski

Updated: July 12, 2004, 6:38 PM ET
Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils bolstered their defense Monday by signing unrestricted free-agent defenseman Richard Matvichuk, who comes to the Meadowlands after 12 seasons with the Dallas Stars.

Richard Matvichuk

Terms of the deal were not released.

The signing provides the Devils with some insurance in case 22-year veteran Scott Stevens, who sustained a season-ending concussion in January, does not return. Defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski also could leave as restricted free agents.

"He brings size, he brings experience and he's also been part of a winning organization," said Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello. "I just like the way he competes each and every night."

Matvichuk, 31, had 21 points and 36 penalty minutes in 75 games last season with Dallas. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound player earned $2.2 million last season.

"Our defense still was one of the best in the National Hockey League last year, but we had an opportunity here to make ourselves even better," Lamoriello said.

He said the team is still not certain when or even whether Stevens will be able to return. He said 40-year-old Stevens continues to work out and "he feels good," and said the Devils did not sign Matvichuk thinking Stevens' career is finished.

"I don't want to think in those terms, but we also know that Scott Stevens will retire at some time," Lamoriello said. "Hopefully it is not in the near future."

Lamoriello also said the team is not sure whether coach Pat Burns will return this fall after surgery for colon cancer.

"He has had the operation and is resting comfortably," he said. "Right now, we're looking at him recovering and getting better. His health will be the criteria for any decision."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press