Can Niedermayer lead Anaheim to another Cup?
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Originally published in Eishockey News in 2008
By Lucas Aykroyd
When Scott Niedermayer returned to the lineup of the Anaheim Ducks on December 16, it marked the end of a bizarre episode in NHL history.
It’s not unheard-of for a legendary defenseman to retire after winning a Stanley Cup. Viacheslav Fetisov did it in 1998, and Ray Bourque followed suit in 2001. But because Niedermayer vacillated for months about whether he wanted to keep playing hockey or do something else with his life at age 34, it forced the Ducks to make some difficult decisions. GM Brian Burke suspended the former Conn Smythe and Norris Trophy winner and gave his captaincy to Chris Pronger. And when Niedermayer finally chose to put his skates back on, it created salary cap problems, and Andy McDonald had to be traded to St. Louis for Doug Weight to make room.
Niedermayer missed 34 games in total during his period of contemplation. Even though Anaheim earned points in his first five games back (four wins and a shootout loss), consecutive losses to Calgary (December 29) and Vancouver (December 30) followed, demonstrating that no one player can single-handedly turn a team’s fortunes around.
“I think that tonight and last night were an indication of how much work we have ahead of us, even with Scott Niedermayer,” said coach Randy Carlyle after the Vancouver game. “The honeymoon’s over.”
Although some might question how Niedermayer’s leadership skills will be perceived in the Anaheim dressing room after his prolonged, self-inflicted absence, the reality is that his teammates probably won’t care if the club mounts another great playoff run and wins a second straight Cup. For now, the main value in the smooth-skating defenseman’s return consists of cutting down the number of minutes that Pronger and Francois Beauchemin need to play nightly. Both have averaged more than 27 minutes a game so far, but Niedermayer will likely take some minutes away from Beauchemin, as well as 38-year-old Mathieu Schneider, once he gets into optimum physical condition.
“I think I’m getting there,” Niedermayer said. “I feel a little bit better for sure. This is a tough game physically, but hopefully the training camp part’s over for me.”
“I think [the Ducks] were playing well before he came back to the lineup, but adding him has given them that extra boost,” said Vancouver defenseman Willie Mitchell.
Niedermayer has been cut considerable slack due to his legendary status. He’s the only player to have won the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, World Championship, World Cup, World Juniors, and Memorial Cup. However, Anaheim won’t tolerate him hemming and hawing about retirement again this summer. Niedermayer’s contract runs through 2008-09, but there’s a good chance this season will be his last. He’ll need to let the team know much earlier this time, probably before the NHL Draft on June 20 in Ottawa.