- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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On Tuesday afternoon, the four-time Stanley Cup winner confirmed that likelihood via telephone from Southern California. "That might be a bit too ambitious," he joked. But he added that he could be back in the Ducks' lineup later in the club's three-game homestand.
Anaheim hosts Minnesota on Friday and San Jose on Sunday.
Niedermayer, who started skating informally in November with a group that included former NHLers Travis Green and Jeff Friesen, said he feels pretty good. He doesn't, however, want to get ahead of himself. He figures he'll be running on adrenaline during his first game or two. After that, he's concerned about the possibility of running into a bit of a conditioning wall.
Niedermayer announced his decision to return to the Ducks last week. He had taken time off to decide whether he wanted to retire. 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.
Before Niedermayer can officially rejoin the club on the ice, GM Brian Burke has to clear about $900,000 of cap room from his 2008-09 budget. We can expect that move any minute now.
The stud defender does have a little experience with returning in-season. In 2000-01, he sat out several weeks of that campaign and returned in late November after a contract impasse with the New Jersey Devils. Niedermayer scored a goal in his first game back and helped the defending Cup-champion Devils go on a six-game winning streak.
Will he have the same impact when he returns to the Ducks? That's hard to say, but his comeback makes Anaheim a more dangerous threat in the West. While it might take him a few games to find his groove, we can't imagine he got too rusty during his three-month hiatus. Over the long run, the extra time off will probably be very helpful to him come playoff time.
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.
Niedermayer won his first Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP this past June. He previously won three Stanley Cup rings with the Devils before coming to the Ducks in 2005, when he joined brother Rob in Anaheim.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com. Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.