An emotional Scott Niedermayer has announced his retirement, bringing an end to a historic 18-year career that brought Anaheim its first Stanley Cup.
Niedermayer, who turns 37 in August, nearly retired after leading the Ducks to their first Stanley Cup in 2007. But then-general manager Brian Burke allowed the defenseman to wait until midway through the next season to rejoin the team. With Niedermayer back, Anaheim turned its season around, going 32-12-4 and easily clinching a playoff berth.
He contemplated retirement again after the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons before returning each time. This time, Niedermayer was “100 percent committed to this decision.”
A lock to make the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, Niedermayer is the only player in hockey history to have won a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal, World
Championship, World Cup, Memorial Cup and World Junior titles. His impact on the Ducks is unmistakable: When Niedermayer signed as a free agent in August 2005, the franchise had just three playoff appearances (and four series victories) to show for its first 11 seasons. In his five seasons in Anaheim, Niedermayer led the Ducks to four playoff appearances, seven series wins, as well as their first Cup.
His 10 goals and 38 assists in 2009-10 were both tops among Ducks defenseman, but represented Niedermayer’s lowest goal total in a full season since 1999-2000 and his lowest assists total over a full season since 2002-03.
Niedermayer was named team captain in October 2006, relinquishing the “C” (to Chris Pronger) only during his partial 2007-08 season. The captaincy is likely to fall to one of last season’s alternate captains, Ryan Getzlaf or Saku Koivu. Koivu is due to become a free agent July 1, while Getzlaf is under contract through 2013.
Replacing Niedermayer on the ice is not as straightforward a task.
Considered one of the best skaters in NHL history, Niedermayer is in an elite class of defensemen, none of whom can be found on the open market. However, the Ducks would have the salary-cap and payroll space to trade for a top-tier defensemen with Niedermayer’s $6.8 million salary off the books.
Lubomir Visnovsky proved a capable power-play quarterback after he was acquired from Edmonton late last season. Otherwise, the team’s strongest puck mover last season was James Wisniewski, a restricted free agent. Luca Sbisa is also a strong skater with offensive instincts, but the 20-year-old has yet to play a full NHL season. The Ducks own two picks (12th and 29th) in the first round of the entry draft, which begins Friday.
How the Ducks draft, and who they target in free agency or the trade market, may not be the most significant ramification of Niedermayer’s retirement.
Teemu Selanne turns 40 on July 3, two days after he will become an unrestricted free agent, and may now be persuaded to retire as well. Selanne also contemplated retirement in 2007 and 2008, and only returned to the team in 2007 after Niedermayer returned. Selanne is expected to decide this week on whether or not to play an 18th NHL season.