Arnott, Niedermayer reach contract agreement with Devils

The Stanley Cup-champion New Jersey Devils have Jason Arnott and Scott Niedermayer back in the fold.

"They will report for physicals and practice with the team Monday," Lou Lamoriello, the general manager of the NHL team, said in confirming Sunday he'd reached contract agreements with the two key contract holdouts. "Both players have been working out and we'll wait and see in practice what type of game shape they are in.

"We'll be careful not to rush them" into game action.

Arnott and Niedermayer have missed 19 games. The Devils have gone 8-8-3-0 without them, winning only three of their last 10 games, and sit in fourth place in the Atlantic Division.

"I don't think we have played up to our capabilities," Lamoriello said from his New Jersey home. "Even with both players out of the lineup, we haven't been happy with the way we've played.

"We've been inconsistent, and I believe a lot of that inconsistency is because we've asked the players to take more on than they might have had Jason and Scotty been in the lineup."

Arnott, 26, a six-foot-four centre, scored the winning goal in double overtime in the clinching game of the championship series in Dallas last June. He had 20 playoff points including eight goals after a 56-point regular season that included 22 goals.

His new deal is worth $6 million US plus bonuses spread over two years. He made $1.8 million last season.

Niedermayer, 27, a six-foot-one defenceman, has led all New Jersey blue-liners in scoring for the last five years. Last spring, he had seven playoff points including five goals. He had 38 points including seven goals during the regular season.

His new, four-year deal will see him earn $16 million US. He made $3.25 million last season.

Lamoriello declined to confirm the numbers negotiated with Don Meehan of Newport Sports Management of Mississauga, Ont.

"We've always wanted Jason and Scotty here," Lamoriello said of the prolonged negotiations. "They've always wanted to be here.

"I'm excited they're coming back. They were an integral part of our hockey team last year, and there is no doubt in my mind that they will be an integral part of the team this year."

The Devils leave Tuesday for a three-game foray into California, and Arnott and Niedermayer will make the trip.

If winning the NHL championship is a puzzle to be solved during the regular season, Arnott and Niedermayer who two large missing pieces for the Devils. Now, they'll once again be considered to be among teams capable of winning the Stanley Cup next spring.

"That's something you don't even think about," Lamoriello said. "What you do is get your team to play to its maximum ability and not worry about the end result."

With Arnott and Niedermayer back in the fold, New Jersey now can begin playing to its maximum ability.

Lagging attendance has been a concern. The announced crowd for a 3-2 overtime win over Carolina on Saturday night was 16,051. The Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., seats 19,040. Last Tuesday, the announced crowd for a game against San Jose was only 12,991.

The Devils are 5-5-1-0 at home, with the locals growing restless for Lamoriello to return Arnott and Niedermayer to the lineup.

By Neil Stevens