The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/06/11 at 04:44 AM ET
The Red Wings’ 3-0 series deficit against the San Jose Sharks means the obvious for at least three Red Wings (if not four). As Nicklas Lidstrom told DetroitRedWings.com’s Jeff Sanford on Thursday, he will engage in the usual conference with his family after the season to determine whether he wants to play for at least one more season, but Mike Modano’s not totally sure whether he’s going to retire, either, and he’s not the only one.
The emergence of Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Patrick Eaves as dependable performers has started to push Kris Draper into riding a bike instead of sitting on the bench during the regular season, and Chris Osgood wasn’t able to return from what turned out to be extensive surgery to repair a sports hernia and his groin muscles in January—with enough setbacks taking place that the Wings tried to sign Evgeni Nabokov to help buy the team time as a goaltender who’s had significant groin injuries in each and every one of his post-lockout seasons with the Wings—and with Ruslan Salei nearly losing his job to Jakub Kindl, his future’s anything but certain, too.
The following stories intertwine somewhat, so there’s going to be repetition here and there, but we’re obviously going to start with Lidstrom, who told the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness that he’s not going to tip his hat should the Wings’ playoff run end:
“I want to continue to play in this playoff and keep going with this team,” Lidstrom said. “I’m going to wait until this season is over and then make a decision on what I want to do.”
Lidstrom, 41, is a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the 11th time in the past 13 seasons. He has won the award six times, placed second three times and third once.
“I’m so focused on playing, that’s something I’m going to start thinking about when we’re done playing,” Lidstrom said.
Lidstrom ranked second among NHL defensemen in scoring with 62 points this season and was one of just two Wings to play all 82 regular season games.
“I’m kind of in the same boat as I was last year,” Lidstrom said about when he’ll make his decision. “I think, looking at the lineup and depth and core group of guys, I have no doubt they’re going to be a successful team.”
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun attempted to read into Lidstrom’s use of the “they” pronoun, but LeBrun admitted that it’s all but impossible to figure out what Lidstrom’s thinking—Lidstrom was noncommittal last year at this time and gave the same number of clues last time around, as in zero—and Chris Osgood suggested as much:
“We have no idea,” said Osgood. “To be honest, he’s one of those guys that doesn’t say much about it. The only person who might know is his wife, and she might not even know. We never ask him. It’s kind of a taboo question. It’s the same when Stevie [Yzerman] was near the end of his career. We don’t ask. I don’t know if it’s because guys are scared to ask or what. It’s out of respect. We’re not going to go up to him and say, ‘Are you done?’ We don’t want to ask him that. We never talk about it—ever.”
Here’s something to consider: If the Wings do lose to the Sharks, will it be a tipping point for Lidstrom? Will back-to-back, second-round series losses to the Sharks be a message that the Wings have slipped from a perennial Cup contender to simply a very good team? Maybe we’re wrong, but we don’t think Lidstrom comes back at 41 to play on a good team. He’ll come back if he believes the Wings are a great team. Otherwise, there’s no point when you’re a player with his standards and accomplishments.
Lidstrom suggested that the Wings have more than a few players coming into their prime (think Filppula, Kronwall, Cleary, Howard, Franzen) and won’t see any drop-off in the performances of Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg next season, so the question becomes a subjective one: are the Wings still a contender if they’re swept? The question quite literally ticks me off because I don’t believe that the team has taken a step back—this season reminds me of the 1999-2000 one when the Wings lost for the second time in a row to Colorado, and the team won a Cup two seasons later after reloading and tinkering with the roster [edit: I’m not suggesting that the Wings can load up with Hall-of-Famers; I’m suggesting that the Wings can readjust and reclaim championship form]—and Lidstrom doesn’t seem to believe that the Wings are going to drop into “very good” territory, either:
“I think so,” Lidstrom said about the Wings’ surviving whatever turnover is on the horizon. “I think they can still find draft [picks] in the later rounds, looking at the guys they have found like [Henrik] Zetterberg and [Pavel] Datsyuk; they’ve been doing such a great job that I think they’ll be able to in the future, as well.”
Both Draper and Osgood just aren’t sure at this point. For Draper, the question becomes one for Ken Holland to decide, as Abdelkader and Helm are here for the long term, but Eaves and Drew Miller are free agents-to-be, and both Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton will have to clear waivers next season.
With Jordan Pearce making big strides in Grand Rapids and Thomas McCollum still very much in the mix despite a very difficult season, Holland has to decide whether he wants to employ Osgood to bridge the gap for another season, or whether the 400-game-winner’s injuries have become a liability, especially given Joey MacDonald’s capable play in the crease as his replacement.
And unlike Lidstrom, whose performance still merits a $6.2 million salary at 41 years of age (all figures per Capgeek.com), Draper would almost certainly be asked to take a pay cut from his current $1.25 million salary and $1.58 million cap hit, and Osgood might be asked to shave a few pennies off his $1.1 million salary and $1.416 million cap hit.
The Wings would probably want both players to remain with the organization (same with Lidstrom, who will be a little harder to convince to not move back to Sweden as he’s stated he’d like to become a youth hockey coach) if they retire, with Draper likely becoming the team’s first strength and conditioning coach and Osgood working in a similar capacity to Chris Chelios, acting as a mentor to the team’s prospect netminders.
For Draper, who still runs the team’s warm-ups and donned a coach’s jacket to run the team’s informal workouts at the Joe prior to training camp, signs of “the end” are all around him…
“I mean, I still know the end’s coming,” said the 39-year-old Draper. “I know I’m getting there. Do I think lacing up my skates and going out and playing tomorrow night that that’s possibly my final game? Honestly, I haven’t thought about it. … I’ll have as tough a time as anybody walking away from this game with how much I love it, what it means to me, how I appreciate it, all those things. … I’ve seen guys walk away and how tough it’s been. I look at myself. I know one day I’m going to have to do it. For sure, it’s going to be the toughest thing that I’ve ever had to do because of how much everything means to me.”
And Osgood knows that his future is anything but certain, too:
“If I was to decide not to play, I wouldn’t decide until I spoke to [GM Ken Holland] and see what he wants to do, see what my options are,” said Osgood. “As of right now, I still want to play again. I feel I can play. I just have to get healthy.”
Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika was a Wings beat writer for a while before moving onto the Lions beat and then deciding to get back into hockey with Yahoo Sports, and while he’s roved around the NHL this season, he knows the Wings’ veterans very well, and he noted these comments from Draper and Osgood before asking Ken Holland about the players’ respective situations (and I guess questions as to retire their numbers are a little trickier than Lidstrom, who will doubtlessly be the last player in team history to wear #5):
“If you were to say that it’s over, I’d tell you it’s not because of the way that I feel,” Draper said. “But I’m going to obviously have to sit down with Kenny Holland and see what the plans are for me.”
Said Osgood: “For me, either way is good. If I don’t play, it’ll be good. If I do, it’ll be great.”
Holland is looking ahead only to Friday night. But he said: “At some point in time, this season’s going to be over. Then we’ll obviously start to plan for ’11-12. I think the nature of the industry, there’s change. There has to be change. Nobody just brings the entire team back. … I’m aware we’ve got some veteran guys. Some probably will be back. Some probably won’t.”
As for Lidstrom:
If he had something to prove, he proved it. He is a Norris finalist again at age 40. If he wins his seventh Norris, he will tie Doug Harvey for the second-most behind Bobby Orr (eight). He has said he doesn’t see himself playing until age 48, like former teammate Chris Chelios did, even though he almost certainly could. If he wins the Norris, will he go out on top? Will he be satisfied to retire as a Norris finalist if he doesn’t win? Or will he come back in any event because he knows he can still play at the highest level and the Wings can still compete?
“I have no idea what Nick is doing,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “I’ve had no conversations, for obvious reasons.”
The Wings still believe that they can rally in this series, period, as Draper told Cotsonika…
“I’ll be honest with you,” Draper said Thursday. “When I drove home, until I got off [Interstate] 75, the drive was a blur. Just realizing we were right there. It very easily could be 2-1. And then you wake up this morning, and you realize we’ve got a ton of work to do.”
And as for Modano, as Cotsonika points out, it’s assumed that once the Dallas Stars’ ownership situation is finalized, he’ll be offered a position in the team’s front office, but we’re not quite done with Osgood yet, because he spoke with SanJoseSharks.com’s Tony Khing of all people about his injury…
“The Stanley Cup Playoffs are THE best playoffs of any sport,” Osgood said. “It’s the time of the year you look forward to.”
“I definitely miss playing and miss being out there,” Osgood said. “I miss the arenas, skating out onto the ice, hearing the anthems and the crowds. It’s the little things (I miss) like scraping your crease while the crowd is going crazy. When I got injured, I knew it was going to take a long time,” Osgood added. “That was the biggest frustrating thing because I felt good coming into the season. I felt young and rejuvenated. It ended up being a lot worse than I thought. It’s been like training camp for me for the last couple of months.”
His recollections regarding the series which kick-started his career in 1994, when the Wings dropped a first-round series to San Jose in seven games:
“I wasn’t supposed to play. I was so young,” Osgood said. “I really didn’t know what to think. I was disappointed in losing to the Sharks, but at the same time, it put them on the map and gave them some credibility. It was a stepping stone of many stepping stones for me in my career.”
“For us, it was a devastating loss,” Osgood said, “but for a lot of our young guys, that series was a stepping stone for their careers. There’s guys like Draper who played in that series and are still playing. As San Jose would know, you have to go through a lot of tough losses before you can win. It was a great experience.”
And his present and future, with Osgood pointing out that he essentially serves as Jimmy Howard’s mentor, sounding board and sometimes a de-facto cheerleader…
And it’s those chapters of hockey life that Osgood shares with the 27-year-old Howard. “I wouldn’t say I’m a coach yet, that’s (Goaltending Coach) Jim Bedard’s job,” Osgood said. “But I help Howie and talk to him. You have that cocoon of guys you know are always on your side and back you up. I had that as a young goalie with (ex-Shark) Mike Vernon (who joined Detroit in the mid 1990s). He protected me and kept me inside that web. I talk to the young guys to keep them confident, to feel comfortable about themselves and to make sure they’re having some fun.”
Before suggesting that his injury might end up allowing the 38-year-old to keep going for more than one season:
“For sure,” he said. “I want to play again because of the way I feel right now. This injury is tough. It’s been the first time in my career that this has happened to me. It’s given me an opportunity to work on my game a ton, get in great shape and be 100 percent ready to go next year. It may prolong my career.”
Modano was the player who sounded most uncertain about his future, and possibly borderline bitter about a lost season spent recovering from a torn flexor tendons in his left wrist, the kind of setback that relegated Modano to spare part status as the Wings’ regular season wound down and a healthy scratch in the playoffs. Modano campaigned for a spot in the lineup—despite his protestations to the contrary—on Thursday, as the Macomb Daily’s Pleiness noted…
“I don’t know anything about (today) until I come in here and see what’s on the board,” Modano said after an optional practice Thursday. “It hurts not being out there. It’s tough to deal with. You do what you can to stay ready.”
Modano has been a healthy scratch each of the first three games of the Wings’ Western Conference semifinal series against the San Jose Sharks. He’s played one game this postseason, subbing in for an injured Johan Franzen in Game 4 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
“It certainly crossed my mind after the game last night and today that this could be it,” Modano said. “It came quick, but you hate to think this scenario and maybe we can extend it a little longer. I don’t think I need to say anything about wanting to play,” Modano added. “I think that’s self explanatory. I don’t think I need to plead my case and make an effort in that sense. You’d love to be a part of it. You miss out at this time of the year. These are exciting times for players.”
Given that the Wings’ secondary scoring has all but dried up, Mike Babcock was willing to suggest that Modano might very well play on Friday, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted:
“You’d like all these guys to play,” Babcock said. “Mike has been nothing but class since he’s been here. Obviously we didn’t expect him to miss (41) games with the (lacerated right wrist) injury.”
Modano, 40, again said Thursday he’s leaning toward retirement. He’ll make a final determination later in the summer. Modano sliced his wrist Nov. 26 in Columbus, missed three months, and essentially lost his spot in the lineup. When he returned, Modano basically had to unseat what had become a tight and effective lineup, and couldn’t do it.
“The injury was a major setback. It just changed the whole scenario of the season around,” said Modano, who added his discussions with Babcock and general manager Ken Holland have been positive. “It was a freak deal. I feel I got back to where I was before the injury. But at that time, these guys were pretty set in their ways as far as a lineup.”
Sometimes Modano wonders whether the injury was a sign he should chosen retirement last summer.
“Maybe it was a sign I should have stayed away,” Modano said. “But nobody can ever predict what would happen.”
Modano told MLive’s Ansar Khan that he plans on taking some time to decide whether he’s going to hang up the skates this summer…
“Right now if you ask me, I’d probably say no (to continue playing),” Modano said. “The knee-jerk reaction is to kind of say that’s it and be done with it because the frustration level is fairly high at this point. But I’ll let the dust settle and make a decision.”
Modano said it’s easy for him to second-guess his decision to play this season, but added, “I’ve had fun and enjoy playing with these guys.”
Modano reiterated his points to ESPN’s LeBrun:
“The talks with Kenny and Mike over the summer really had me thinking that I could muster up something for one more year and come here and enjoy playing with these guys,” said Modano. “The injury was a major setback. I think it just changed the whole scenario of the season around. It was a freak deal. I feel I got back to where I was before the injury, but at that time, these guys were pretty set in their ways as far as the lineup.”
Does he regret playing another season?
“Your initial thought is a little regret because of what you went through,” said Modano. “But nobody can ever predict what would happen, the severity of the injury and what took place. Maybe it was a sign I should have stayed away.”
The Hockey News’s Ken Campbell painted the Wings’ veterans’ futures in the starkest terms, but one must also take into account that he gushed like a school…boy…about the Sharks cementing their status as the team of the present and future after Wednesday night’s game, and he’s been suggesting that the Wings “window is closing” for a while now:
Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom wasn’t about to say what lies in the future for him one way or another, but logic would dictate the prospect of retirement would have to be on his mind. On the one hand, he had 62 points and is a Norris Trophy finalist. On the other, Lidstrom has accomplished everything and earned every accolade possible in the game, so what would be gained by him returning to Detroit if it is indeed true that the Red Wings have fallen into the second tier of a very strong Western Conference?
The Wings have made the playoffs 20 straight seasons and finished third in the conference with 104 points, but can they still hang with the likes of the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks, or has their time passed? Can they appreciably improve their roster? The answers to those questions will likely determine whether or not the greatest defenseman of his generation returns, regardless of whether or not he wins the Norris.
In a perfect world, Detroit would win the Stanley Cup and both Lidstrom and Modano would ride off into the sunset on the highest notes of their careers. But with the Red Wings down 3-0 against the Sharks and having lost Game 3 despite playing their best game of the series, it will require a miracle even bigger than the one the Philadelphia Flyers pulled off last season to advance.
It’s a hugely frustrating way for Modano to go out of the game if that indeed transpires. He’s a proud player, but the reality is he’s a shell of his former self, much the way Jari Kurri was in the last couple of years of his career.
“There were days in November where I was pretty excited about it and thought there would maybe be something beyond this year,” Modano said. “Then March comes and the feeling changed pretty quick. I’ve been saying that I want to leave on a better note for the last three years, but they’ve all turned out the same – frustration, not making the playoffs, obviously being here and not being able to be a part of it. There’s been a little bit of disappointment the last three years.”
As for Ericsson and Salei…
Defensemen Ruslan Salei and Jonathan Ericsson are also unrestricted free agents. Salei likely won’t return and the Red Wings must certainly be growing weary of living with Ericsson’s many miscues and bad decisions in the defensive zone. With $46.8 million in cap space already committed for next season, the Red Wings will have just $13 million to fill out their roster. That amount will be cut by almost half if they sign Lidstrom to another one-year deal, so it’s doubtful Detroit will be terribly active in the free agent market this summer.
A few points:
1. The salary cap is all but assured to rise to the $62 million range next season;
2. With Ericsson, it’s going to be about money. If he wants a gigantic raise over his $1.25 million salary and $900K cap hit, he’s gone, but the Wings tend to view the fans’ resident whipping boy not named Jiri Hudler in a much more positive light than you and I might;
3. I’ve made a very specific choice because I’d prefer to believe that the Wings will be flying to San Jose on Sunday, as remarkably improbable as that is, instead of getting one more “weekend off” before posing for a team picture and cleaning out their lockers on Monday. I’m not going to share my take on the Wings’ personnel options until the Wings’ playoff run is over.
Quickie update: USA Today’s Kevin Allen weighed in on the situations of Lidstrom and Modano as well, but there’s only so much repetition that I can get away with.
Update #2: Here’s a bit more from Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji:
“I’m so focused on playing, that’s something I’m going to start thinking about when we’re done playing,” Lidstrom said. “I want to continue to play in this playoffs and keep going with this team.”
Lidstrom was second in the league in scoring among defensemen in the regular season, is a finalist for the Norris Trophy and has recorded two goals and three assists in these playoffs. Pressed on the matter, Lidstrom said, “I’m kind of in the same boat as I was last year.’‘
So Lidstrom will likely follow a similar plan as he did last year, when he took a little time after the season to talk things over with his family and general manager Ken Holland before making a final decision. Although Lidstrom’s teammates would love to have him back, they said they aren’t thinking about that right now, either.
“I think we’re going to focus on that after we’re done playing,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “He’s still playing now, enjoying that, and what happens next year happens next year.”
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.