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Red Wings overnight report: More on Lidstrom’s return and the Wings’ roster moves to come

Early on Monday morning, the Red Wings officially announced that Nicklas Lidstrom would return for his 20th NHL season, signing a one-year, $6.2 million contract. I had asked Paul to text message me and/or call when the Nick news came about ten days ago, and while Expressen’s Gunnar Nordstrom tipped Lidstrom’s hand for him, I popped up with a start when my cell phone’s text message alert jingled me from a restless night’s worth of sleep and got to work.

Relieved. Unbelievably relieved. As Ken Holland suggested and columnists pointed out during the mid-day and evening crops of columns, the Red Wings’ off-season renovations hinged upon the fulcrum that was Lidstrom’s future, and as Ken Holland suggested to the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson, the Wings can weather the storm that is Brian Rafalski’s sudden retirement, but losing both Rafalski and Lidstrom, well…

“If we had lost both (players), it would have been devastating to our blue-line ... these are two elite puck-moving defencemen,” said Holland, who is likely paying his captain about $6 million for the one season.

As it turned out, Lidstrom simply wanted to have everybody in the fold and decide whether he was ready to fully commit to the off-season work that’s involved in preparing physically and mentally for an NHL season, and he probably made his final decision this past weekend with his family in tow for, as Nordstrom noted, a vacation in California. Lidstrom simply wasn’t going to return if he wasn’t fully committed to playing and didn’t believe that he could still compete at a still Norris Trophy-caliber level

“At my own age, I still have to get motivated. It gets tougher every year. After the playoffs, you’re drained and mentally fatigued. You have to find the fire again,” said Lidstrom. “I can’t just show up and play 15 or 20 minutes. If my level drops off and I’m a sixth or seventh defenceman, I probably wouldn’t be playing. I admired Chelly (Chris Chelios), who was still playing in his high 40s. His ice time dropped, but he accepted it because of his love of the game. If that happened to me, I wouldn’t have as much fun. I do have expectations. I usually play against the top lines with a goal of shutting them down. I’m used to playing 23-25 minutes, night in and night out. Two seasons ago, I thought I should have played better and, this past season, I wanted to prove I could still be an impact player. Getting nominated again (for the Norris) is a great feeling and it proves I can still be a top guy. If I’d taken a step back, it might have been a different decision today.”

Lidstrom said the Red Wings “really wanted me to come back because they were losing Brian ... I knew Raffi was on the trainer’s table a lot but it never crossed my mind that he’d hang them up.

“But even though they wanted me to return, I had to know in my own mind that I had the motivation to start working out for the long season. You start working out in June and, when you get older, you have to work even harder. You cut any corners.”

Now that Lidstrom’s locked in, Ken Holland will get down to the business of attempting to retain Jonathan Ericsson (who could get more money elsewhere), Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller, and I can’t emphasize enough how many times over the past two or three weeks that he’s suggested he plans on “exploring options” which include making a trade to upgrade his roster.

Even with a huge chunk of change to spend on the free agent market due to both Rafalski’s retirement, the cap’s increase to $63 to $64 million and the fact that Holland won’t inform Kris Draper and Chris Osgood whether they’ll return until after he’s surveyed the market (per Capgeek.com, you’re looking at $1.583 million for Draper and $1.416 million for Osgood), and James Wisniewski or Christian Ehrhoff clearly the team’s targets to replace Rafalski on July 1st…

The free agent market is quite thin everywhere except on the goaltending front, and even going into a potential lockout year, it’s entirely possible that the Brooks Lachs of the world will be massively overpaid as GM’s dole out bucks and long-term deals like there’s no tomorrow, with the bidding getting particularly fierce due to the market’s lack of depth.

The Wings have obviously been in contact with and have done their homework on Jaromir Jagr, but between the fact that he’s still seeking out teams to wine and dine him (Pittsburgh on Monday, and depending on who you believe, the Canadiens, Rangers and/or Capitals are either in the mix or have lost interest) and, as Pro Hockey Talk’s Matt Reitz and the Hockey Writers’ Mike Colligan suggest, Jagr possibly courting as much salary as possible to off-set his purchase of a 70% stake in his hometown team, Kladno HC (iDnes.cz and CTK report that the sale’s officially official today), it’s Jagr’s motives which seem suspect.

So while you, me and the Red Wings breathe a huge sigh of relief, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James notes...

“I’m very excited Nick has decided to come back for the 2011 season,” teammate Danny Cleary said. “I think I can speak for the entire Red Wing nation in saying this: Nick is our captain, our best defenseman, our leader. He’s the guy that drives the bus for us. He had a great season last year and is up for another Norris Trophy, so, at age 41, he’s not slowing down. I look forward to receiving tape-to-tape passes from Nick again. Thank God for that.”

And the incomparable Lidstrom won’t rule out continuing to play (St. James eloquently explains why Lidstrom remains the team’s best player at 41)...

Pavel Datsyuk is the most talented player on the team—he’s in the top three in all of hockey—but it’s still Lidstrom whom the Wings can least afford to lose. Nobody else calms the bench the way Lidstrom can. Nobody else is harder for opposing superstars to try to outmaneuver. Take Datsyuk out of the lineup, and the Wings can shuffle their forwards and still field two very powerful lines. Take out Lidstrom, and there’s no hiding it.

General manager Ken Holland said Monday he didn’t even want to think about a lineup without Lidstrom. That reality is, of course, in the future. But it’s avoided for now. Lidstrom was asked three different ways Monday whether 2011-12 will be it, but, with Lidstromian consistency, he answered the same way each time:

“I take it year by year,” he said, “because I want to make sure that I’m motivated, that I can still play at a high level. That’s why I’ve taken it year by year the last couple of years. At my age, I have to be motivated to play. I can’t just show up and play 15-20 minutes. I have to be motivated. If I’m motivated, I have fun, too. And I have to have fun, too, otherwise I wouldn’t be playing.”

The Wings haven’t missed the playoffs since Lidstrom joined them in 1991-92. He often has talked of how he came here from his native Sweden not knowing what to expect, not knowing how long he’d be here. Twenty years later, he’s still building on his legend, superlatively.

Lidstrom reminded the press that he expects his team to maintain the same standard of excellence that he requires of himself, as the Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski suggests...

“I’ve never had any doubt in my mind they’ve tried to put the best product on the ice, and that helps my decision,” said Lidstrom, who has won four Stanley Cups here. “Rafalski leaving was a big surprise to me, and I knew they wanted me to come back even more. As you get older, you have to work out even longer to stay in shape. I wanted to make sure I had the motivation and the commitment.”

With Rafalski out the door, Draper and Osgood likely done, two assistant coaches to hire (the Hockey News’s Ken Campbell reported that Ken Hitchcock turned Mike Babcock’s offer to join the team down, making it all but inevitable that Bob Boughner and/or Pete DeBoer will fill out Babcock’s shoulders by the time the Wings’ pre-season starts—did I mention that the Wings released their pre-season sked on Monday?), and in my estimation, Eaves and Miller likely to return, but Jonathan Ericsson an even bet to either remain with the Wings or test the free agent market knowing that he can score a career-best payday, Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton out of waiver options and Doug Janik’s contract shifting to a one-way deal, the Wings are a team in flux, and Holland faced a significant challenge in keeping the team up to Lidstrom’s and his own standards.

Wojnowski’s take as to Holland’s to-do list reads as follows…

Because Canadiens defenseman James Wisniewski is a right-handed shooter, he could be a decent target when the free-agent market opens July 1. Another possibility is a bold trade for a younger defenseman, such as rising Thrashers 20-year-old Zach Bogosian. The Red Wings aren’t sure if they’ll re-sign 27-year-old Jonathan Ericsson.

“Obviously, teams know we have a need on defense and we have cap space, so I’m getting calls now I didn’t really have in the past,” Holland said. “We’re looking to be active. We have some money to spend, but we don’t want to spend for the sake of spending.”

The Red Wings make it easy for players to fit in, an atmosphere created long ago by the Ilitches and Jimmy Devellano. They also make it hard for players to leave.

Right now, veterans Chris Osgood and Kris Draper are anxiously wondering if they’ll be back, and those will be excruciating decisions for Holland. Both represent the spirit of the Red Wings and serve as valuable mentors.

Somehow, the Red Wings must change a bit without changing too much. They’re only two seasons removed from a second straight Stanley Cup Final appearance, and I think everyone saw in the Bruins’ Cup run how narrow the margin for success can be. One of these summers will be the last for Lidstrom, and then the team really will change. But until then, appreciate it as long as it keeps happening. Nick isn’t done, and neither are the Red Wings.

The Detroit Free Press went so far as to post an 11-image gallery of potential free agent targets (including Marty Turco, Johan Hedberg, Tomas Kopecky, Tomas Kaberle, Ed Jovanovski, Kevin Bieksa—though I can’t imagine the Canucks letting him go—Andrei Markov, who’s all kinds of scary after two successive ACL reconstructions that didn’t take, and Joni Pitkanen, who the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff suggested via Twitter does not have fans in the Wings’ front office; and the Detroit News went with a 20-image Lidstrom gallery instead)...

And St. James weighed in with her take on the Wings’ situation, noting that Brendan Smith might duke it out with Janik for the right to play alongside Jakub Kindl…

In addition to Lidstrom, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $6.2 million, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and Jakub Kindl are under contract. Prospect Brendan Smith, a first-round pick from ‘07, will be given “every opportunity to make our team,” Holland said, and minor-leaguer Doug Janik is going to get a look, too. Holland is in talks with Jonathan Ericsson, but Ericsson might opt to test the open market when free agency begins July 1. The Wings are going to be eyeing that market, too, although Holland is taking calls from colleagues regarding possible trades.

“We’ve obviously got Brian Rafalski’s cap dollars, so we plan to try to be aggressive on July 1,” Holland said. “We’d rather have Brian Rafalski back for the ‘11-12 season, but Rafi has different priorities in his life. We’re looking to be active on July 1, but at the same time, we’re not just going out there looking to spend a bunch of money.”

Some of that money might go toward forward Jaromir Jagr. The Wings have told Jagr’s camp they’re interested at the right price and are waiting for Jagr to decide what he wants to do. He’d get more money if he stayed in Russia, and it’s believed he’s also in talks with Pittsburgh. It certainly doesn’t hurt the Red Wings’ cause that Jagr now knows he’d be fed pucks by Lidstrom as well as Pavel Datsyuk.

St. James believes that Wisniewski’s the favorite defensive target, too, but her “x factor” is Ed Jovanovski…

One of the guys the Wings like is Canton’s James Wisniewski, best known to Detroit fans for accusing Tomas Holmstrom of throwing a “gutless” elbow during the 2009 playoffs, when Wisniewski was with Anaheim. Wisniewski split last season between the Islanders and Canadiens. He’s only 27, and while at 5-feet-11 he doesn’t tower, he’s what coach Mike Babcock would call a “thick body,” a 200-plus pounder who is tough to move. And he shoots right, something the Wings lack with Rafalski gone and Patrick Eaves only a maybe to return.

Other potential unrestricted free-agent defensemen include Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa of Vancouver and Tomas Kaberle of Boston. Phoenix’s Ed Jovanovski, a native of Windsor, is 34, but the Wings would rather sign him short-term than overpay for a younger guy.

“We’re committed to putting the very best team on the ice to try to compete and be a playoff team,” Holland said. “As we’ve seen the last couple of years—once you get in, it’s wide open.”

The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan handicaps the Wings’ probable moves by duly noting that Holland plans on spending his money wisely, and that Ruslan Salei isn’t totally out of the picture…

Holland said he’s continuing to negotiate with Ericsson, while a decision to offer a contract to Salei will be made in the next 10 days. Doug Janik has a one-way contract next season, and could be the seventh or eighth defenseman.

The one addition from within the Red Wings organization could be rookie Brendan Smith.
The first step for Holland could be via trade. With the draft this weekend, trade talk could be heating up.

“We’ve received a few calls over the last week or so,” Holland said of potential trade opportunities. “Teams out there know we have a need on defense and we have cap space.”

Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula are two assets Holland could dangle in a possible trade.

On the free-agent market — considered down by most experts — some defensemen that could be available July 1 include Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo, Montreal’s James Wisniewski (Canton), Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen, and Phoenix’s Ed Jovanovski (Windsor).

And not expecting the Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp to offer his suggestions by straddling the gloom-and-doom line (hey, I don’t have blind faith in Ken Holland, either, but three Cups in thirteen seasons, four Stanley Cup Final appearances and five Western Conference Final appearances ain’t bad):

Holland can’t ignore the Wings’ long-term future just to keep Lidstrom happy and motivated for another season. Rafalski’s retirement gives the Wings an extra $6 million under the salary cap, but Holland can’t recklessly throw money at veterans just to create a buzz that the Wings are back after successive second-round playoff exits to San Jose. It’s a balancing act. The Wings will be active when free agency begins in 10 days, but they cannot be dollar-foolish. Lidstrom trusts that Holland will find the proper mix of youth and experience.

“We don’t want to spend money for the sake of spending and holding press conferences,” Holland said.

It didn’t cost the Wings much money to bring home Mike Modano last summer, but it was considered a big deal. Big enough to lure owner Mike Ilitch from the shadows for a news conference that framed Modano as the potential missing piece to a long Stanley Cup run. Remember Ilitch’s “Cuppy! Cuppy! Cuppy!” line from that afternoon, responding to a question about the importance of the signing?

But Modano had nothing left.

The thought of luring Jaromir Jagr to the Joe after a three-year hiatus from the NHL has spurred plenty of interest, but can he really help next season? Or is he another Hall of Famer reduced to career fumes by the time he gets to Detroit?

Holland is breathing a lot easier with Lidstrom coming back, but it doesn’t make his job of keeping the Wings at an elite level any easier.

My eyebrows actually rose halfway up my forehead (which extends to about an inch above my ears on the back of my head thanks to my solar panel) when Paul posted this tidbit from the Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo, because this rumor’s become so persistent that it seems like an inevitability now:

Some trade scuttlebutt around the NHL as the draft approaches:
• Detroit: Could be dangling Jiri Hudler and/or Valtteri Filppula for a puck-moving defenseman to replace retired Brian Rafalski

I’m going to go back out on my typing monkey’s limb here. Hudler, I could see—his cap hit is $2.78 million and he’s in the last year of a contract that pays him, again, via Capgeek, $3 million real-world dollars, but Filppula’s flat $3 million cap hit belies two years at $3.5 million per season in real-world dollars left on his deal, and, put simply…

You don’t create a hole in your roster to fill another, at least unless you’ve got somebody lined up to play as the team’s second-line center when Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk play on the same line. If you look at Capgeek’s free agent finder, which only lists players as “forwards,” you see quite a few wingers, but not many natural centers (Tim Connolly? Tomas Fleischmann?). Unless agents have been talking in hypothetical, yes-no questions like, “Player X is available at Y dollars for Z years, are you interested?” with agents, or he has a center lined up alongside a defenseman, I don’t see the point of moving him, and I don’t see the appeal of having to pay someone who averages 40 points $7 million over two seasons. In that sense, even with Hudler’s struggles accounted for, he’s the more desirable player right now.

Sooner than later, we’ll have our answers, and as we know via DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose, it’s not just, “In Kenny we trust”:

During the Wings’ organizational meetings, the team’s amateur scouts obviously finalized the list of players they’re going to target this Friday and Saturday in St. Paul, but the team’s pro scouts (from Mark Howe to Kirk Maltby, Jim Nill, Ryan Martin (he may be the team’s capologist but I would suggest that you consider him to be the team’s other assistant GM), Babcock and the one member of the coaching staff who remains with the team, video coordinator Keith McKittrick, all weighed in with free agent and trade picks and pans, so the team will make decisions on the draft floor, over the next ten pre-free agency days and on July 1st and thereafter as a management team.

We can also assume that the management team has discussed Lidstrom’s inevitable retirement, so if I may be blunt, I think that the fact that Mitch Albom weighs in with grumbles and gripes about the Wings’ imminent post-Lidstrom demise are...Leftovers from when Steve Yzerman retired and Brendan Shanahan left for New York—and his final comments mar a very solid column:

Lidstrom is the Red Wings’ captain, the man who inherited Steve Yzerman’s stripes. I must say, when he first took over, I wondered if he was too passive, too humble, too quiet for the role. But two years after donning the “C,” Lidstrom led the Wings to the 2008 Stanley Cup in a six-game battle with Pittsburgh. The following year, it was a seven-game Cup final, that one ending in defeat.

Lidstrom clearly has the respect of the locker room, while allowing stars like Datsyuk and Zetterberg to have their due influence. No one’s ever been jealous of Nick. How many players can you say that about?

So the Wings are lucky on a lot of levels today. But Lidstrom admitted he is not Chris Chelios, he doesn’t want to go on forever, doesn’t want to play “15 or 20 minutes a night.” He wants to be productive, top notch and have fun—and for him, having fun is being productive and top notch. He wants to stay at the crest of the wave.

He has done it longer than most, but no one does it forever. So enjoy the news. Enjoy the year. But if I’m the Wings, I’m prepping my best replacement right now. Or next summer could well be a bummer.

The Wings are preparing, and while Lidstrom cannot be replaced, just as Yzerman could not, to suggest that the Wings won’t be able to recover from his eventual departure is…short-sighted. Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl, probably Brian Lashoff and whoever the Wings sign this summer (Or make a trade to acquire? Or sign in the summers to come?) will be expected to fill the void by committee, and down the line, the Wings have high hopes for Ben Marshall and Adam Almqvist.

Thankfully, we don’t have to cross that bridge for another year, if not two or three, because Lidstrom has at least one more season’s worth of a hockey future to carve into the ice, and for the moment, that is all that really matters.

Also of Red Wings-related note: If you missed, it, per MLive’s Ansar Khan, here’s the Wings’ pre-season schedule:

Sept. 21—at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.

Sept. 22—vs. Philadelphia at London, Ontario, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23—vs. Philadelphia at Joe Louis Arena, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 25—vs. Chicago at Joe Louis Arena, 4 p.m.

Sept. 28—at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 30—vs. Toronto at Joe Louis Arena, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 1—at Toronto, 7 p.m.

Oct. 2—vs. Pittsburgh at Joe Louis Arena, 4 p.m.

• I’ve mentioned Wojtek Wolski as a possible target for the Wings should he be bought out by the Rangers, but I need to emphasize that, via the New York Daily News’s Jesse Spector, the Rangers are considering buying out Wolski but have not done so as of yet. Sorry!

• He isn’t a Red Wing anymore, but the Globe and Mail’s David Shoalts penned a fascinating article in which former NHL disciplinarian Brian Burke, colleague Joe Nieuwendyk and one Scotty Bowman offer new NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan a little advice as to how to survive the most thankless job in the NHL;

• Jonathan Toews offered a classy comment to the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc, suggesting that his fellow Selke Trophy finalists deserve serious pats on the back:

“In my opinion, (the Selke) is one of the underrated awards,” Toews, 23, said. “Everyone wants to see who wins the Hart (for MVP) and all these different big-name awards going to the big-time points scorers. But to be in that category with two guys like (the Canucks’) Ryan Kesler and (Red Wings’) Pavel Datsyuk is a big honor. It would be exciting to win that award. I feel like to a certain extent I deserve it, but you have to give credit to those two guys too. In their own way they deserve it as well.”

• Bookmark it for later, methinks: Hakan Andersson spoke to Aftonbladet’s Victor Melander about the Swedish-born players eligible for the 2011 Entry Draft;

• If you were ever wondering how one applies for a Red Wings-sponsored school assembly, here’s the page which explains what the Wings and the Alumni Association do and offers application forms;

• I’m almost almost there in the get-to-camp fund…

• And I want to conclude by clarifying the topic I addressed on Monday night: I’m not asking anyone to engage in anything less than passionate discussion and disagreement, but the name-calling stuff and personal attacks aren’t cool. You’re allowed to suggest that someone’s opinion is invalid, but to call the person silly, stupid, etc. for holding their opinion is a no-go.

Pretty please, please, please just try to treat others as you’d like to be treated. We’re informed fans talking about hockey here, and there’s no hierarchy. If you want to toss, “That’s stupid and you’re stupid” comments toward anyone, I’m paid to deal with your slings and arrows as well as your constructive criticism.

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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.