<
>

Signings come after Niedermayer departs

The New Jersey Devils signed three defensemen Thursday to replace the Norris Trophy winner they lost in the morning.

After Scott Niedermayer agreed to a four-year deal worth $27 million with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the Devils re-signed Brian Rafalski, brought back former Devils player Vladimir Malakhov and inked Dan McGillis.

All three got two-year deals but none plays to the level of Niedermayer, who spent parts of 13 seasons with New Jersey and won three Stanley Cup titles.

"Scotty is in another uniform and we have to get the people that we have ready to play in our uniforms," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said.

Niedermayer was offered over a million dollars more per season, and the Devils were willing to stretch to a fifth season to bring back the NHL's top defenseman during the 2003-04 season. But the lure of heading home to the West Coast and joining his brother Rob on the Ducks was more than the Devils could provide.

"We're not going to sit there and brood over it," Lamoriello said. "We made a substantial offer and did tie up a considerable amount of money. We had another plan should that not work out and we feel extremely comfortable with our defense right now."

That will be anchored by Rafalski, who will earn $4.2 million in each of the next two seasons.

Rafalski, who will be 32 once the season starts, is cut out of the same offensive-minded mold as Niedermayer. In 377 NHL games, all with New Jersey, the Dearborn, Mich., native has 30 goals -- 13 on the power play -- and 177 assists.

He takes his offense up a notch in the playoffs, where he has tallied 14 goals and 29 assists in 82 games. Rafalski has been on two Cup-winning teams.

"I can't do what Nieder does," said Rafalski, who agreed to his deal Thursday morning. "I do what I do. Hopefully, that will benefit me. I've always been able to do things at a very high level. As far as pressure goes, I tend to do better under pressure."

Malakhov is 36 and heading into his 13th NHL season. He will be the ninth player to be reacquired and play for the Devils.

He was originally acquired by New Jersey from the Montreal Canadiens at the 2000 trade deadline and was a member of the Devils' championship team that season. Malakhov has played in 683 regular-season games with the New York Islanders, Montreal, New Jersey, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers and has posted 82 goals and 255 assists.

He will make $3.6 million per season.

The 33-year-old McGillis, who will be entering his ninth NHL season, was given a $4.4 million deal over two years. He has 56 goals and 176 assists in 607 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia, San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins. McGillis recorded a career-high 14 goals and 49 points in 2000-01 with the Flyers.

With Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson now behind the Devils' bench, New Jersey is expected to continue to put a strong defensive team in front of goalie Martin Brodeur.

"This addresses all types of situations on our defense," Lamoriello said. "Probably the most excited I've heard Larry Robinson in a long time is when I told him the addition of these three players.

"Malakhov just simply excelled under Larry and they had a great relationship, and Brian he knows, and McGillis played against us enough when he was in Philly so we know what he brings. That complemented with everyone else," he said.

New Jersey will also have longtime Dallas Stars defenseman Richard Matvichuk on the back line. Matvichuk has been waiting over a year to pull on a Devils sweater after signing a four-year deal with New Jersey last summer before the NHL lockout wiped out the season.

The Devils are close to the $39 million salary cap, but they do have room for 41-year-old captain Scott Stevens should he decide to return to New Jersey following a head injury that limited him to 38 games in the 2003-04 season.

Many other top defensemen signed all across the NHL this week while the Devils waited on Niedermayer. But Lamoriello said he is perfectly pleased with the Plan B he put into place.

"No matter what and who was out there, if we didn't have Scott Niedermayer, I couldn't be more comfortable [than I am] with the type of people and players we have," Lamoriello said.