ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Scott Niedermayer is certain about only one thing in his hockey future - he won't be on the ice when the Anaheim Ducks open camp next week.
The decision whether or not to retire is proving to be more difficult. "It's sort of unfortunate that this decision has taken this long for me to make," the 34-year-old defenceman said Thursday at a news conference. "It's definitely become harder than I had envisioned.
"The last thing I want is for it to be a distraction to the work and the team that's going to be hitting the ice. Brian (Ducks general manager Brian Burke) has been very good at allowing me this time. I've made it clear to him where I'm at and the fact I don't have an answer whether I'll be playing this year or not."
The Ducks' captain did not rule out the possibility of joining the team during the season. He said he was out of shape now and would need about four weeks to get in condition.
"If I wanted to come back, I don't think they would lock the door on me," he said.
Roger Clemens, 45, sat out the first part of the baseball season before his latest comeback with the New York Yankees. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner pitched his first game on June 9, and is 6-6 with a 4.45 ERA.
Weighing in on the side of retirement, Niedermayer said, are thoughts of having more free time, more time with his family and maybe even pursuing a new career. But he sounded as if it may be hard for him to stay away from the ice when he knows his brother Rob, a Ducks centre who often swings by to pick up his older sibling, will be heading to practice and he won't.
Burke said he wanted to dispel any notions that Niedermayer was creating difficulty for the Ducks or his teammates, saying Niedermayer has been encouraged to take as much time as needed to make his decision.
The GM also said that he didn't want to create any false hope that Niedermayer's going to play a partial season.
"Right now, we're starting without him," Burke said. "If he wants to come back, that's great news."
Niedermayer hoisted the Stanley Cup for the fourth time earlier this year, and won his first Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs. The NHL title was the first for the Ducks, but Niedermayer played on three Cup champions with New Jersey before coming to Anaheim in 2005.
One of the big reasons he chose the Ducks was so he could play with his brother. Scott said he believes Rob wants him to keep playing, but the decision is up to him.
"There is no question I'm going to miss a lot of things about the game if I retire. That's why the decision is as difficult as it is," he said. "There are things on both sides of the question that are appealing to me; obviously playing with the group of guys that I played here with the last two years.
"It's a great group of guys, coming off the year we had. It's a huge challenge to come back and defend that (Stanley Cup title). I don't want to drag this out any longer than I have to. The team has enough to worry about."
Another of the Ducks' veteran stars, 37-year-old right wing Teemu Selanne, also hasn't said whether he'll retire.
"He's in the same situation. We've talked over the summer," Niedermayer said.
Unlike Niedermayer, Selanne is a free agent.
Burke said he spoke with Selanne on the phone last week, and is giving him time to make his decision as well.
"Teemu has earned the right to call his shots," Burke said. "Both players deserve and are entitled to some patience on our part."
Niedermayer has two years and US$13.5 million left on his contract. Since he will not report for the start of camp next Tuesday, the Ducks will suspend him.
His absence for even a few months could free up some money under the salary cap for the Ducks, since they won't be paying him.
Asked if he is leaning one way, he smiled and said, "I think it's 50-50 until I make it 100-0."
Niedermayer, who signed as a free agent with Anaheim, won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenceman for the 2003-04 season with New Jersey.