ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) – Scott Niedermayer’s desire to play with his brother Rob on the Anaheim Mighty Ducks was worth more than anything the New Jersey Devils could offer.

Niedermayer, the Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s top defenseman in 2003-04, chose family over money Thursday, turning down a deal with the Devils that would have paid him more than his four-year, $27-million contract with the Ducks.

“There were a few things, obviously the big one was that since I was 16 and he was 15, we’ve been apart, but now we can be together again. The family can all come down,” Scott Niedermayer said Thursday in a conference call from British Columbia.

His 30-year-old brother Rob, 16 months younger than Scott, was delighted.

“I was probably the happiest guy around,” said Rob, also on the conference call from their hometown in rural Cranbrook.

The brothers are set to spend lots of time together: Rob, a restricted free agent forward, also agreed to a four-year deal that will pay him $8 million.

The deal with Rob was struck before the Ducks approached Scott, general manager Brian Burke said.

Scott said the background of the Ducks’ new GM also figured in his decision.

“With Brian Burke and his track record, that was a big part of it,” he said. “I just felt I wanted to have new challenges in life, do different things, try different things.”

Burke, who made two trips to the brothers’ homes in Canada, said that when he began talking with Scott, the defenseman had a checklist of what he considered important. Included was that he would like to play with his brother.

“I told him I’m the only GM who can check that off the list,” Burke said. “I can say to Mr. and Mrs. Niedermayer, “You no longer have to pick a team when you’re cheering for your sons,”‘ Burke said.

Scott wrestled with his decision to leave New Jersey, where he had played for 13 years and helped the Devils win three Stanley Cup titles in a nine-year span, including a Game 7 victory over Anaheim in 2003.

“I’ve been in New Jersey for a long time, a lot of memories, and to make a decision like this is difficult to do,” said Niedermayer, who along with goaltender Martin Brodeur anchored the Devils’ defense during the championship runs.

His agent, Kevin Epp, said Niedermayer picked the Ducks on Wednesday afternoon although New Jersey’s offer topped Anaheim’s by more than $1 million a year and the Devils were willing to add a fifth year to the deal.

Niedermayer had nothing but praise for the Devils and GM Lou Lamoriello, who returned the compliments.

“We did have a conversation last night when he told me, and as you can all imagine it was a difficult conversation from both parties,” Lamoriello said. “We’ve had him since he’s been 18 and we’ve shared a lot of high times.

“The years that Scotty has been here, I think our record and his record speaks for itself. There’s no more quality of an individual on the on the ice, off the ice, family man. We have tremendous respect for him.”

Lamoriello had a contingency plan.

“We’re not going to sit there and brood over it by any means,” he 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.”

The Devils quickly used the money they saved on Niedermayer to re-sign defenseman Brian Rafalski, and add fellow blue-liners Dan McGillis and former New Jersey player Vladimir Malakhov.

In 892 NHL games, Scott Niedermayer has 112 goals – just 17 fewer than his brother, who is a center – and 364 assists. He also has 17 goals and 47 assists in the playoffs.

Rob Niedermayer was acquired by Anaheim from Calgary in March 2003. He has 129 goals and 207 assists in 696 NHL games. He played his first eight seasons with the Florida Panthers.

Scott will join a vastly changed Mighty Ducks organization, which has new owners in Henry and Susan Samueli, a new GM in former Vancouver Canucks executive Burke, and a new coach in Randy Carlyle, who was hired earlier this week.

Both Burke and Carlyle – a former Norris Trophy winner himself – promise that the Ducks will be an attacking, up-tempo team, a style that Scott Niedermayer should fit well.

Rob believes his brother will be a big factor for the Ducks, who missed the playoffs in 2003-2004.

“He can bring a lot with his skating, can open up the ice,” he said. “It’s hard to defend a guy like him, and people don’t realize how good he is on defense. I see him fitting in very well, helping our younger players.”

The brothers obviously get along well, although Rob did recall one time his older sibling taught him a “lesson.”

“The Stanley Cup finals, that was a good lesson for me,” Rob said.

AP-ES-08-04-05 1835EDT

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