Anaheim Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Ottawa Senators in Game five of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey finals in Anaheim Wednesday, June 6, 2007. (CPimages/Paul Chiasson)
Until now. "Scott has indicated that he's thinking about retirement," Ducks GM Brian Burke told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. The Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP informed Burke of the possibility during the players' exit interviews a few days after Anaheim won its championship.
Niedermayer confirmed the rumours of his possible retirement in an ESPN.com story Monday and said he wasn't leaning either way.
"I think every player, as they get older, begins to think about how much longer they're going to play," Niedermayer told the website. "I know I think about it."
Niedermayer's agent Kevin Epp spoke to his client Tuesday afternoon.
"He hasn't made a decision at all," said Epp. "He's got lots of things to think about."
While the fact that he's even thinking about retirement may be a shock to most, since Niedermayer is only 33 years old, it doesn't surprise the people close to him, including former New Jersey teammate and standout blue-liner Scott Stevens.
"When I was playing with him, he never seemed, in my opinion, like he was planning on playing that long - or as long as I did," Stevens, who played 22 NHL seasons, told CP on Tuesday. "I kept saying to him, 'You'll have no trouble surpassing my amount of games and this and that.' And he'd say, 'Oh no, you won't see me doing that.' But there's no question the guy can play as long as he wants."
Stevens spoke to his former defence partner last week.
"I said to him, 'It's not an easy decision. It has to come from within you,' " said Stevens.
It would be a gigantic blow to the Ducks, who have Niedermayer under contract for two more years at US$6.75 million per season.
"We have not given him a deadline (for his decision) and he's not given us a time frame," added Burke. "Obviously, Scott Niedermayer has earned the right to walk away if that's what he wants to do.
"Obviously we're hoping he plays again."
Niedermayer turns 34 on Aug. 31. But perhaps the native of Cranbrook, B.C., who began his NHL career at age 19, feels he's got nothing else to play for. He's the only player in hockey history to have won the six championships any Canadian-born player cares about: Stanley Cup, Memorial Cup, world junior gold, men's world gold, Olympic gold, and a World Cup of Hockey title.
He has also captured a Conn Smythe Trophy and Norris Trophy to boot.
"You look at what he's done, he's won everything you can pretty much win," said Stevens. "And sometimes that's a factor in retiring - when you've done it all."
Furthermore, the Ducks' championship came alongside his brother Rob, fulfilling a lifelong dream. It also gave Scott Niedermayer four Stanley Cup titles after winning three in New Jersey.
"People set out to win things and then they win everything, at some point they have to contemplate retirement," said Epp, who runs Titan Sports Management. "And I think now that his brother has had a chance to win the Cup, and they won together, that's pretty special for him."
In a perfect world, Niedermayer would inform Burke of his decision by the July 1 opening of free agency so the Ducks can try to fill the void. But then again, what does it really matter? There's no one on the market that can replace one of the top-three defencemen in the NHL, Niedermayer finishing runner-up to Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom for the Norris last week.
Sheldon Souray, Brian Rafalski and Mathieu Schneider are the top three blue-liners still slated for unrestricted free agency, but none of them can fill the skates of the immensely talented Niedermayer, whose leadership off the ice would be equally missed.
Niedermayer, New Jersey's first choice, third overall in the 1991 NHL entry draft, has racked up 608 points (140 goals, 468 assists) in 1,053 career regular-season games - including a career-high 69 points (15-54) in 79 games this past season. He also added 11 points (3-8) in 21 playoff games, giving him 86 career points (22-64) in 183 career games.
A smooth skater and intelligent player, Niedermayer's pinpoint passes also trigger the transition game and he rarely ever gives the puck away.
"I said to him, if he does retire and he feels it's a mistake, there's no reason he can't come back and play, with his abilities and the type of player he is," said Stevens.
Meanwhile, the Cup champions also await word on Selanne. The Finnish Flash, slated to be an unrestricted free agent, turns 37 on July 3 and is pondering whether to go out on top.
"He's earned the right to walk if that's what he wants to do," said Burke. "We told him we'll support him.
"And if he wants to come back, that would be great news, too."