Niedermayer to the rescue

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Scott Niedermayer has been absent from professional hockey for the last six months, but it would be a stretch to call that layoff a retirement.

Niedermayer captained the Anaheim Ducks to their first-ever Stanley Cup title last year and shortly afterwards declared that he was "leaning towards retirement."

The hockey world hardly believed that Niedermayer, a stellar defenseman with plenty of good years left, would go through with retirement, and we all sat and waited for the 34-year-old to announce his inevitable comeback.

That day finally arrived on December 5, when Niedermayer stated that he would indeed return to the Ducks and end his lengthy vacation. The superb blueliner said he would make his official return to the ice in about 7-to-10 days.

Niedermayer's decision to take some time off is reminiscent of New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan's saga this summer. Strahan was reportedly contemplating retirement prior to training camp, but eventually returned to the team and played in the Giants first game of the season.

Scott Niedermayer
Scott Niedermayer captained the Anaheim Ducks to their first-ever Stanley Cup title last year.
Strahan was criticized greatly for his holdout, which was described as a ruse designed to help him avoid going through another strenuous NFL training camp.

But, was what Strahan did any worse than Niedermayer's ploy? After all, the NFL's all-time single-season sack leader didn't miss any games, unlike Niedermayer, who has sat out Anaheim's first 29 contests and counting. The difference is Strahan plays football under the media microscope in New York, while Niedermayer is a hockey player in laid-back Southern California.

In reality, Niedermayer's decision to stay away from hockey has hurt the Ducks more than Strahan's absence affected the Giants.

To be fair to Niedermayer, the Ducks' front office supported his decision to mull over retirement, even though the team was forced to place him on the suspended list. In fact, during his comeback announcement Niedermayer thanked ownership, general manager Brian Burke and his teammates, "for their patience while I wrestled with this very difficult decision."

Burke even said that Niedermayer, "earned the right to take time in making a decision," a reference to the fact that the Ducks captain won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of last year's playoffs.

Whether or not you have a problem with Niedermayer's layoff, one thing is obvious - the Ducks could really use his services at this stage of the season, as the defending champs have yet to resemble the dominant club that bullied its way to the Cup title in 2007.

Anaheim still possesses that physical presence on the blue line in Chris Pronger, but is missing the smooth-skating ability of Niedermayer, who was the NHL's premier puck-moving defenseman before his absence.

In fact, Niedermayer is known as one of the best skating defenseman of his generation, and once he's ready to return, the Ducks will have an added dimension they've been missing since June.

Anaheim hasn't exactly been bad this season, but the Ducks have disappointed so far with a 13-12-4 record and a third-place standing in the Pacific Division.

It would be extremely difficult to argue that Niedermayer won't help Anaheim improve become a better team this season, because the man has won everywhere he has ever been. Niedermayer has four Stanley Cup titles, one in Anaheim and three with New Jersey, and is also the only player ever to win the Memorial Cup, World Junior Hockey Championship gold, World Hockey Championship gold, Olympic gold, the Stanley Cup and the World Cup.

With credentials like that, it becomes easier to understand why Niedermayer would want to walk away from the game before his skills have faded. After all, he has nothing left to play for except possibly the lure of playing more with his brother, Rob, who is one of Anaheim's top checking forwards.

The news of Niedermayer's return has also spurred rumors that winger Teemu Selanne will also end his retirement and re-sign with the Ducks. However, Selanne is 37 years old and it seems that his decision to hang up the skates may actually stick.

The Ducks are hoping Niedermayer's return will be enough to swing the balance of power in the West back in their favor. His resume shows the odds of that happening are pretty darn good.

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Dan Di Sciullo