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Niedermayer getting his Ducks in a row

by Phil Coffey

Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer has decided to play another season in Anaheim. Watch Scott Niedermayer highlight video
Scott Niedermayer certainly took all the suspense out of the summer for the Anaheim Ducks Thursday.

And everyone seems pretty happy about it.

Unlike last summer, when Niedermayer thought long and hard about his NHL future after winning his fourth Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He eventually opted to return to play, appearing in 48 regular-season games, totaling eight goals and 17 assists. How important was Niedermayer’s return to the Ducks? When you consider Anaheim was 32-12-4 after Niedermayer returned, the best mark in the League, the answer is obvious.

After winning the Cup in ’07, Ducks GM Brian Burke showed plenty of patience and didn’t press either Niedermayer or veteran winger Teemu Selanne for their decisions on returning to play until they were ready. Selanne also eventually rejoined the Ducks. But after the Ducks were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first round, Burke said he wouldn’t be as patient this time around, hence Niedermayer’s decision prior to the July 1 start of free agency.

“Obviously, I’m getting a little better at making these decisions quicker,” Niedermayer joked. “I’m looking forward to the season starting.

Changes coming for Ducks

The Ducks are delighted with Scott Niedermayer’s decision to return next season, but the decision will cause GM Brian Burke to start making some roster alterations to make his team compliant with the salary cap.

The NHL announced Thursday the floor limit for the salary cap next season is $40.7 million, an adjusted midpoint is $48.7 million and the upper limit is $56.7 million. The Ducks were at nearly $50 million last season and still have to agree to new deals with players like Corey Perry.

“Yes, at some point we will,” Burke said when asked if moves were coming. “To me, all of that’s Plan B. In other words, you get a player back like Scotty, if it causes repercussions, that is all Plan B. Plan A is you say, 'great,' and then Plan B is you figure out how to make the money work.”

Burke was asked if he could keep his defense, which is anchored by Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Mathieu Schneider and Francois Beauchemin, together in 2008-09.

“Yeah, but that could be a disingenuous answer,” Burke said. “Could I mathematically move people up front and keep my ‘D’ together? The answer to that question is yes. Is that the best way to proceed? I don’t know. We got this news two or three hours ago and we’re trying to react to it and figure out what’s the next step. The answer is yes, but I don’t want to be misleading – that doesn’t mean we’re going to. You want me to tell you who’s going and I don’t know.”

Niedermayer realizes his decision will have a ripple effect on his teammates.

“Unfortunately with the CBA and the salary cap, that’s going to happen,” he said. “I guess the way I looked at it and talking with Brian and other people, there are going to be changes one way or another. Whether I came back or not, things are going to change for different reasons. I really am not going to take too much responsibility. At the same time, they are teammates and friends. When anybody gets traded or things happen like that, you can be disappointed. It was something I thought about, but like I said, this is professional sports and that is what happens.”

-- Phil Coffey “When I first started thinking about retiring last year after we won the Stanley Cup, I maybe didn’t appreciate some of the things that would make it difficult to walk away from the game, some of the things that I’ve enjoyed for a long time playing this great sport. Something I’ve enjoyed doing since I was 6-year-old. I have a little different perspective on it. I think physically and mentally I definitely feel a lot fresher right now than I did a year ago at this time. I think that’s a big change as well.”

Niedermayer said he had made up his mind fairly quickly, but delayed the announcement until after the birth of his fourth son, Luke, last weekend.

“I probably have been sitting on this decision for a little bit,” he said. “It’s been good just to see how I felt after making the decision, committing to it personally and just let a little time pass after that. It felt like the right decision. I’m excited to get back playing some hockey with the guys we have in our room.”

Now the Ducks will try to lure Selanne back for another season. He becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

“I talked to him a couple of times before I made my final decision,” Niedermayer said of Selanne. “I think he’s back in Finland now. I just want him to make the right decision for him personally and really not interfere with that. I’m sure he will do that, and whatever it is we will respect it and support it.”

Burke sounded a little more anxious to get a decision from Selanne.

“It’s just like last year,” Burke joked. “We’re looking for Teemu on a milk carton. Nobody has seen him. He’s on his own time. He’s in Helsinki. I haven’t talked to him.”

Burke said he had an inkling Niedermayer would opt to return, but was glad the news became official.

“We believed that Scott would play,” Burke said. “We have been meeting with season-ticket holders the last couple nights and I told them that I hoped and thought he would. I’m not surprised, but obviously pleased. This is a great player. We’re a better team this afternoon than we were this morning.

“Yeah, I’m happy. A manager always likes news like that. This is good news. There is no other way to look at this. We are a better hockey club this afternoon than we were this morning. He’s an important player on our team and a leader on our team. It’s great news.”

So what was different for Niedermayer this time around? After 79 regular-season games and 21 playoff games in 2006-07, Niedermayer was just tired. Happy, but tired.

“It really wasn’t different,” he said. “I’ve gone through everything. I’ve gone over this for a long time, four or five months last year and two months now. There really wasn’t anything different in the decision. I guess after a short year and a shorter playoff run, I definitely physically and mentally feel ready to go, a lot more energized. That’s probably a big difference this year as opposed to last year.

“I suppose when I made the decision to come back last year in the fall, I probably thought that that was going to be my last season. I hadn’t at that point really thought a whole lot about it. Once the season was under way, I enjoyed playing. We had our focus as a team to try and get into the playoffs and then do some good things there, so I never really thought a lot about it. I probably thought less about it this summer than I did last, to be honest, that I was going retire. I was evaluating a little bit more and just moving forward to make another decision.”

And after a first-round loss to the Dallas Stars in the playoffs, the Ducks have something to prove.

“We’re fresher,” Niedermayer said. “We’re energized. We have the excitement to get back on the ice as soon as possible, whereas after you’ve played a long playoffs, a long season, you’re worn down and maybe you don’t have as much in the tank. That’s a big challenge of returning after a long season like that.

“It’s a difficult situation to be in. I think how our season went, finishing with over 100 points, we managed to do pretty well there. There was a little disappointment in the playoffs. That’s the beauty of pro sports. The next year rolls around, you have another opportunity to try and go out and achieve your goal. I think with the group of guys we have our goal really hasn’t changed. I think we’ll all be looking forward to that challenge and the opportunity that we have.”

In all likelihood, the 2008-09 season will be the end of Niedermayer’s terrific NHL career.

“If I had to place a guess, I would say yes, but I’ve been wrong before in my thinking,” Niedermayer said. “That could change. If I had to sort of make a decision on that now, I would say yeah, this will probably be it.”

But Niedermayer has been known to reserve the right to change his mind before.

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