Questions about retired duo persist

Times Staff Writers

If it isn’t being discussed openly, it certainly runs through the minds of the Ducks no matter how much they want to block it out.

The great question that has followed them from summer to fall has been whether Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne will return to the team or decide they like being retired enough to make it permanent.

And while at least one is skating and training again, the question of either returning won’t go away.


When Chris Pronger was asked Tuesday about the fact that Niedermayer was skating again and about Selanne’s appearance at Friday night’s home game against San Jose, the defenseman said, “Are we going to talk about this again?”

The Ducks won’t blame their sluggish start on the distraction created by either star’s indecision. But they acknowledge that it’s a topic tough to avoid.

“I don’t know if you can ever gauge that as far as keeping that out of the [room],” Coach Randy Carlyle said. “That’s part of human nature when it’s been reported that this is happening and that’s happening. That’s a former teammate, a former captain. Players aren’t going to ignore that. We, as coaches, are caught in that trap at times in thinking about it.”

Defenseman Sean O’Donnell said they have to proceed as if Niedermayer and Selanne won’t be there and said relying on the return of both would be a crutch on which they don’t want to lean.

“In my mind, and I think in a lot of guys’ minds, Teemu and Scotty are done,” O’Donnell said. “I think the only healthy way you can play is to assume that they’re done.”

Carlyle pointed to the situation of forward Todd Bertuzzi, who has been out since Oct. 14 because of a concussion. Until Bertuzzi skates again with the team, Carlyle said, they can’t think about him.

“Bertuzzi’s been out of our lineup for an extended period of time,” he said. “We can’t include him in our plans until he at least starts to skate with our group and practice with our group. That’s the same way you have to treat the Niedermayer and Selanne situations.

“We saw Teemu here the other night at the game. He looks content, he looks great. He’s enjoying life. His wife [Sirpa] is going to have a baby. His life has changed dramatically.

“Scotty’s in a situation where he’s enjoying his family life. He’s taking his kids to school and participating in their day-to-day activities. They’ve earned that right.”

The news out of Dallas -- the dismissal of General Manager Doug Armstrong and ascension of former star player Brett Hull to the spot of co-interim general manager, along with Les Jackson -- surprised Kings and Ducks executives in terms of early season timing.

“Brett Hull is Brett Hull,” Ducks General Manager Brian Burke said. “It’ll be entertaining.”

Burke, in fact, represented Hull early in his playing career.

“I would never bet against Brett Hull dong anything well,” he said.

For the record, the last game in Armstrong’s long management tenure was the Stunner at Staples, for lack of a better phrase. On Saturday, the Stars blew a 4-0 third-period lead to the Kings, giving up five goals in a row and losing, 6-5, in overtime.

The biggest hint that Jason LaBarbera would be the starter against the Ducks on Tuesday night was when he was the first goalie off the ice during the morning skate. But he repeated his standard phrase, “Your guess is as good as mine,” he said.

Coach Marc Crawford said the goalies already had been told. Hmm, pretty decent actors who were told their roles, eh?

“Hopefully, they’re good goalies,” Crawford said, smiling.

He joked about getting inspiration in terms of subterfuge from a certain TV miniseries, saying: “I watched ‘The Company’ last night.”

As expected, Maxim Kondratiev did not report to the Ducks’ minor league affiliate in Maine amid reports that the defenseman has signed a contract to play for CSK St. Petersburg in his native Russia.

The Ducks suspended Kondratiev, 24, on Monday and the defenseman’s $500,000 NHL salary will come off the team’s cap figure. They will still hold his rights.

“He’s got a place to play,” Burke said. “He still remains our property and we’ll just keep an eye on him.”

Kings enforcer Raitis Ivanans had surgery Tuesday afternoon to put a plate in his left cheekbone. He suffered the injury Nov. 2 at San Jose, getting hit by teammate Rob Blake’s slap shot in the first period. Ivanans went on injured reserve Nov. 7, retroactive to Nov. 2.

The Ducks’ issues with their special teams have largely focused on their 28th-rated power play, but their penalty killing hasn’t been great either.

Before Tuesday’s game, the Ducks were 24th in the league with a 78.9% success rate, giving up 20 goals in 95 short-handed situations. A season ago, they finished fifth in the regular season at 85.1%.

“I think it goes back to the consistency that we’re asking,” Carlyle said. “Again, when you play on the defensive side of things, [it’s] the commitment to getting the puck out, to blocking the shot, to winning the faceoff and clearing the puck. All those things have to go to a higher level.”--