Thursday, August 4, 2005
Devils won't be the same without Norris Trophy winner
By EJ Hradek
ESPN The Magazine
Scott Niedermayer thoroughly enjoyed winning each of his first two Stanley Cups.
But in the minutes after winning a third Cup with a win over the Ducks in Game 7 of the 2003 finals, Niedermayer found it a little difficult to celebrate. The reason was simple. His younger brother, Rob, was part of the Ducks' surprising postseason run. He just couldn't feel great about seeing his brother denied a chance to hold the cherished trophy.
Now, just over two years later, Scott and Rob made sure they wouldn't have to be competing for the same prize.
After listening to offers from more than half the league, Scott Niedermayer, the best defenseman in the game, decided to sign a four-year contract worth $27 million to play in Anaheim with his brother. As part of the deal, new Ducks GM Brian Burke also re-signed Rob Niedermayer to a four-year, $8 million deal.
Burke, who took the job just two months ago, figured he might have a negotiating edge with Rob already under contract for the 2005-06 season. But he didn't leave his pursuit of Scott to chance. Burke flew to Vancouver to meet personally with agent Kevin Epp, who was running the Niedermayer sweepstakes. Burke sold his plan to Epp and the brothers.
After mulling things over for a day, Scott Niedermayer felt comfortable with Burke and the idea of moving to Anaheim. He'd always liked the idea of skating on the same NHL team as his brother.
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, who will be stung by this critical defection, knew the two brothers wanted to play for the same team. On at least two occasions, Lamoriello tried to trade for Rob Niedermayer. At the trade deadline in 2003, he called then-Flames GM Craig Button to make a deal for the younger Niedermayer. However, the call came a bit too late. Button had just completed a deal to send Rob to Anaheim.
According to Epp, Lamoriello made every effort to keep his Norris Trophy-winning defenseman. The Devils boss flew to Vancouver last week to meet with the agent. He brought with him a five-year contract worth $39 million. In other words, Lamoriello was willing to give Niedermayer the maximum individual salary ($7.8 million) allowed under the new collective bargaining agreement. Obviously, the negotiation wasn't just about money for Scott.
Lamoriello quickly turned his focus on keeping his other free-agent defenseman Brian Rafalski and signed him to a deal shortly after the Niedermayer deals were announced. It seems Rafalski had been waiting to see how the Niedermayer saga played out before making a decision.
The Devils will move forward without Niedermayer, but they won't be the same. The classy defender with the smooth stride can control a game from the blue line. Very few defensemen can do that. Now, he'll do it just a few minutes from Disneyland. And, he'll do it with his brother at his side.
EJ Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, click here to send EJ a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.