Key defenseman will help lift struggling Cup champions
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Ducks general manager Brian Burke announced Niedermayer's decision at a news conference a half-hour before Wednesday night's game against Buffalo. It was replayed before the game on the video board, and the crowd roared its approval.
"I was pretty thrilled," said Rob Niedermayer, who got the word from his big brother by phone on Tuesday. "For sure, I've had a lot of fun playing with him the last two years, and I know it was a tough decision for him. I know everyone in this room is happy to have him back.
"Being allowed to make a decision on his own time and relax, that was big. I don't think that would happen with a lot of organizations, and this one's run pretty classy."
Niedermayer had taken time off to decide whether he wanted to retire. He wasn't at the arena for the announcement.
"We view it as a very important day for us," Burke said. "We're obviously thrilled that he's elected to come back and play. Right from the get-go, we've respected the battle that Scotty has fought over this decision, as far as whether to retire or come back.
"For a player who's accomplished what he's accomplished and contributed to our game what he has, our position has been that he earned the right to take that time. You're talking about a player that's going to walk into the Hall of Fame someday, and his shoulders aren't going to tough either side of the door frame," Burke said.
Niedermayer had two years and $13.5 million remaining on his contract. According to league rules, the Ducks suspended the 34-year-old defenseman without pay when he did not report to training camp with the rest of the team. So far, he has lost about $2.3 million in salary, an amount that will keep increasing until he plays his next game.
"He's made it clear his commitment is to come back for this season only, and I made it clear that we're not going though this same dance again," Burke said. "If he feels he's going to retire at the end of next season, I'm going to produce those voluntary retirement players within about two minutes at the end of this year."
Burke was driving back from Canada on July 1 when Niedermayer called him and said he was strongly leaning toward retirement. But the GM and his management team said they were not disturbed that Niedermayer and Selanne took the time off to reflect.
"In those five months since then, we've encouraged Scotty to make his decision," Burke said. "But our message to him from the get-go was: 'Take your time. Don't decide in a hasty manner, then miss the game and decide you want to come back. Now you've signed those retirement papers and you can't come back. So take your time. We'll be patient.'"
Niedermayer will skate at the Ducks' practice facility on Thursday morning and work out with strength coach Sean Skahan until the Ducks return from a three-game road trip. Then he'll begin practicing with the team.
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"The player owes us, in this case, 21 days of training camp. But it's our discretion what number of days of that 21 that the player has to fulfill," Burke said. "Scotty's status does not change. He is still a suspended player and is not a roster player until we say he is. We'll see how his fitness levels are and then we'll make a decision. Given his conditioning fanaticism, my guess is we're looking at seven to 10 days and we'll see him in a game next week."
Without Niedermayer and Selanne, the Ducks got off to a slow start and were third in the Pacific Division with a 12-12-4 record heading into the game against Buffalo.
"Getting news like this and adding someone like that can be a huge boost to our confidence and our mental awareness, whatever you want to call it," Ducks defenseman Sean O'Donnell said. "We welcome him back with open arms. Anything we can do to make our team better."
Selanne, a 10-time All-Star who led the Ducks last season with 48 goals and 94 points, is still basking in the glow of his first Stanley Cup title in 15 NHL seasons. Unlike Niedermayer, Selanne is a free agent and couldn't be suspended. He became a father for the fourth time on Wednesday, when his wife, Sirpa, delivered the couple's first daughter.
When Niedermayer and Selanne were on hand for the unveiling of the team's Stanley Cup championship banner early this season, the fans chanted, "One more year!"
"We'd talked back and forth since then, but I didn't want to ask him about it," said O'Donnell, adding that Niedermayer will require a grace period to get back into the flow of things after the long layoff.
"We can't expect a lot too quickly, but he's a pretty well-conditioned athlete and he skates well, so I don't think it will take him too long," he said.
Niedermayer won the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman for the 2003-04 season when he was with the New Jersey Devils. His captain's "C" was given to another former Norris Trophy winner, Chris Pronger, when the season began and he will remain the captain.
Talking about the team's struggles this season, O'Donnell said: "We have a good team in here. I think our problem right now is kind of between our ears. But if you can add a guy like Scott to give you a shot in the arm and a pick-me-up in those situations, it's a huge addition."
Niedermayer hoisted the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in June and won his first Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He previously won three Stanley Cup rings with the Devils before coming to the Ducks in 2005, when he joined brother in Anaheim.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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