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Niedermayer decides there's no quit in him

After mulling retirement, veteran forward will return to the Ducks, probably next week.

December 06, 2007|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Scott Niedermayer provided the news Wednesday that many in the hockey world suspected and what everyone associated with the Ducks hoped to hear.

He's back in the flock.

Niedermayer, who won the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player of the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs in leading the Ducks to their first championship, will end his NHL sabbatical and rejoin the team next week.

With owner Henry Samueli present, Ducks General Manager Brian Burke made the announcement during a news conference at the Honda Center before the Ducks' game against the Buffalo Sabres. The news conference was replayed over the videoboard at center ice, eliciting a roar from the sellout crowd.

"We view it as a very important day for us," Burke said. "We respect the battle that Scotty has fought over this decision as far as whether to retire or whether to come back and play."

Niedermayer was not present but issued a statement, saying, "I'm excited to be rejoining my teammates and getting back on the ice. I would like to thank the Samuelis, Brian Burke and especially my teammates for their patience while I wrestled with this very difficult decision."

Burke said Niedermayer told him during a conversation Sunday night, ending months of speculation over whether he would retire.

"Right from the get-go, our position has been that he earned that right," Burke said. "He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. What he's accomplished and contributed to our game the way he has contributed, he's earned that right to make a decision like this."

Niedermayer, 34, has been skating in pickup games at Westminster Ice Arena with some former NHL players, including Jeff Friesen and Travis Green, over the last few weeks in order to prepare himself for a possible return.

Niedermayer will skate again today at Anaheim Ice and work out on his own while the team is on its three-game trip, which begins Friday in Chicago. Burke said the star defenseman could be in the lineup for Wednesday's home game against Vancouver.

"Given his conditioning fanaticism, my guess is that it will take him seven to 10 days," Burke said. "You could see him in a game next week."

Adding Niedermayer to the active roster won't be seamless.

Because the Ducks officially suspended him in September for not appearing at training camp -- a move that was, essentially, a formality -- they will pay him about $3.8 million of his $6.75-million salary this season.

The $6.75 million will still count toward the cap, however, and it will mean the Ducks, who are at $51.1 million with Niedermayer's cap figure, would have to trim about $1 million off the roster in order to activate him.

Burke acknowledged that he has been actively shopping several mid-range and high-salaried players. Defenseman Chris Pronger, who will retain his captaincy, and forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are considered untouchable. But Todd Marchant, Francois Beauchemin and Sean O'Donnell could be part of the trade discussion.

There is also the issue of Niedermayer's being under contract for next season, the final year of the four-year, $27-million free-agent deal he signed in August 2005. The Ducks must have what's called "tagging" room or, according to the collective bargaining agreement, enough cap space to absorb a player's contract in any subsequent season for the remainder of that deal.

Unless the league cap goes up, the Ducks would not be able to fit Niedermayer in for next year because they already have $44.7 million committed to 18 players and still have to re-sign current leading goal scorer Perry.

"People's natural inclination is to say that puts us in a tough spot and puts Scotty in a tough spot," Burke said.

But Niedermayer is committing only to the remainder of this season, said Burke, who indicated that he would not extend him the same latitude if a similar scenario were to develop.

"I don't know if he's earned that twice," Burke said.

Burke has been looking to shake up the Ducks, who are third in the Pacific Division. "We knew we'd have a hangover after the Stanley Cup," he said. "Everybody does. We gave the team 20 games to turn it around and that's when we began making roster changes."

Meanwhile, Teemu Selanne told a Helsinki newspaper that he would decide between Jan. 1 and the Feb. 26 trade deadline whether to return. Selanne has said he would play only for the Ducks.

eric.stephens@latimes.com

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