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DUCKS REPORT

Niedermayer 'excited' after returning to ice

December 07, 2007|Dan Arritt and Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writers

His salt-and-pepper beard a little stubbier and grayer, veteran Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer worked out Thursday in Anaheim, showing he's on course to rejoin the defending Stanley Cup champions after a three-month hockey sabbatical.

Niedermayer, 34, went through individual drills at Anaheim Ice, performing such rudimentary tasks as puck handling, skating on three-man breaks and one-touch slap shots. He mixed in a few short bursts of speed between the blue lines and finished off with some longer strides around the rink.

"I'm excited to get back on the ice, back with my teammates," he said after the workout. "It has been a tough decision whether to continue to play, or whether to retire and move on to other things."

Niedermayer, who has 140 goals and 608 points in 1,053 career regular-season games, was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the most valuable player of the playoffs last season. Since joining the Ducks in 2005, he has scored 28 goals and compiled 132 points in 161 games. He totaled 15 goals and 69 points in 70 regular-season games last season, and three goals and 11 points in the playoffs.

He surprised many by informing General Manager Brian Burke in early July that he wanted to retire, or at least to consider it. As the father of three young boys, Niedermayer said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

"Playing in the NHL is a hard job," he said Thursday. "You have to be ready to commit to it 100%, and I wasn't able to do that come September, come October."

Burke had left the door open for Niedermayer, and the former team captain said that helped.

"Without that, I'd probably now be sitting somewhere, maybe regretting," Niedermayer said. "I think the big thing was realizing that I still wanted to get out there and compete and help my teammates and be part of the team. . . . That's something that's pretty special about team sports, whether it's 10-to-12-year-olds, or a professional game."

His teammates left town Thursday morning for a three-game trip that begins today in Chicago, but had learned from Burke on Wednesday that Niedermayer was coming back.

After being shut out for the sixth time Sunday night, the Ducks (13-12-4) welcomed the addition of the four-time Stanley Cup winner. He is expected to be in uniform when Anaheim returns for its next home game Wednesday against Vancouver.

"As a forward, it's great to be out there with someone like Scotty, who moves the puck really well," center Andy McDonald said. "It makes things a lot easier when you can get that pass from the defenseman under pressure."

Coach Randy Carlyle said he has been treating Niedermayer's absence as if he were out with an extended injury. Carlyle cautioned not to expect too much early.

"You want to make sure he's got the right foundation underneath him as far as conditioning," Carlyle said. "You don't want to bring a player in and, all of a sudden, he plays some games for you and gets hurt. . . . We have to be very, very careful in the way we handle the situation."

With Niedermayer's return, the Ducks face tough decisions.

Niedermayer will be paid a pro-rated amount of about $3.8 million of his $6.75-million base salary due this season, which will keep the Ducks below the league's $50.3-million salary cap.

However, because Niedermayer is also signed through next season -- the final year of a four-year, $27-million free-agent contract -- and because teams must be under the current salary cap for next season as well, the Ducks must cut approximately $1 million from next season's payroll before Niedermayer joins the roster. Salary-cap figures are determined in the off-season.

"I know it caused a lot of frustration, probably a lot of questions, a lot of unknowns for a lot of people involved with the team," Niedermayer said. "I apologize for that because that's definitely not what I intended."

TONIGHT

at Chicago, 5:30 PST, FSN West

Site -- United Center.

Radio -- 830.

Records -- Ducks 13-12-4; Blackhawks 14-11-2.

Record vs. Blackhawks (2006-07) -- 3-0-1.

Update -- Mathieu Schneider has three goals and 11 points in 14 games since returning from a fractured left ankle. Meanwhile, Teemu Selanne and his wife, Sirpa, welcomed the birth of a girl, Veera Johanna, Wednesday.

--

dan.arritt@latimes.com

eric.stephens@latimes.com

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