Signs Point to Lidstrom Calling it a Career
The past two years, the Detroit Red Wings have waited on the most important decision from a player that would alter the plans of the team. This year is no different. Nicklas Lidstrom's contract is up again, and the 42 year old defenceman has until July 1st to let Ken Holland know what his plans are.
Chance are that he will let Holland know sooner than the beginning of free agency, but this time the signs are pointing to Lidstrom hanging up the skates.
Lidstrom is one year removed from winning his seventh Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman, winning it when he was 41 years old and a minus player. This season, he scored 34 points and was plus 21 in only 70 games (his lowest games played total since 1995 - the lockout shortened season). He is still the best defenceman on the Red Wings, but age is catching up to him and he isn't the same player he was last year.
He's one of the greatest defenceman of all time, right up there with Bobby Orr, and is probably the best European born player to ever play the game. His smarts on the ice have earned him the nickname 'The Perfect Human,' but not everyone can play at the same level their whole career, not even Captain Nick.
As much as I want to believe that Lidstrom is going to return, there are several signs that hint that he probably will call it a day.
In this year's playoffs, he had no points in a series for the first time in his career. That in itself is shocking, but consider he never killed penalties, either. That had to do with a deep bone bruise in his foot sustained in the regular season, which is also a concern. It's human nature that your body starts to deteriorate, especially with 20+ season of hockey. Lidstrom is fortunate enough to have dodged injuries mainly because he is so smart with the puck.
I remember in the 2009 playoffs when the Red Wings were playing the Ducks, and my brother, an Anaheim fan, would tell me he was 'crapping his pants every time Lidstrom had the puck at the blueline." That's fair, because every time he had the puck I knew something was going to happen. Now, though, he needs some help.
The Red Wings didn't look good in the five game loss to the Predators, and this is after Holland promised Nick that the team would challenge for a title. That's the reason he came back: to win the Stanley Cup one more time. I don't believe that it's about the fame or money for a player like Lidstrom. Like he said last year and all throughout this year, he has to think about if he has the motivation to keep playing. Does he think the Wings have a shot at winning next year? His decision will say so, but as long as he sticks around the Wings should be in the playoffs, that's for sure.
Some other factors influencing him is the decision his best friend, Tomas Holmstrom makes. Lidstrom and Homer have their pregame routine and Nick gets driven everywhere by him. Having a close friend on the team is always a great thing for chemistry's sake (Parise and Suter?).
Also, he has said he is taking his family into consideration. His boys play hockey in Michigan and maybe Nick wants to watch them play. It's only natural to miss your family, being away on 41 road games a year. Obviously I don't know what it's like, but it has to be a huge factor.
The bottom line is that Lidstrom came back in good faith that Holland would build a winner. That didn't happen; not even close. So even if Holland says he thinks the team will be a contender, is that the same situation as last year? If I was Nick, I'd like to see change, some new faces, a fresh start. But he has to take Holland's word that trades will be made and free agents will be signed. It's not much to go on; nothing is a guarantee.
Lastly, the kicker. Has anyone ever wondered what would have happened if Brian Rafalski decided to stay last year? Maybe we would be talking about if Raffy was staying this year and not Lidstrom, because for all we know, Nick stuck around so the team wouldn't suffer as much. Imagine both Rafalski and Lidstrom retiring in the same offseason; it would have been a disaster. So maybe Nick did it for the team and not himself.
I want Lidstrom back in Detroit. He's the best defenceman ever and is still able to play the game well. However, we can't keep counting on him to continue playing like this when he is 43. Nick has to realize that he needs help. It would be right to assume that he would take a pay cut from his $6 million salary. His production was cut exactly in half from last year, so if he wanted to come back, throw him $3-$4 million. The Red Wings desperately need the money to sign some big names to help the rest of the team. I hate to say it, but Lidstrom isn't worth the same money he was this year.
If he comes back and takes a pay cut, the Wings can sign and trade for some players, but if not, they are in a bit of trouble. They'll be a team without an identity for a while, because Red Wings hockey has quietly been the Nick Lidstrom show from 1991-92. Sure, the scorers like Yzerman, Fedorov, Datsyuk and Zetterberg take center stage, but think about it; ever since Lidstrom was in the lineup; playoffs every year. A contender every year. And a perennial nominee for the Norris Trophy.
The last time we saw Steve Yzerman was at a visiting rink after a first round knockout. Perhaps it's the same with Lidstrom.
Red Wings fans might have taken Nicklas Lidstrom for granted, but once he ultimately hangs up his skates, they will notice that they just lost something special and impossible to replace.