The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/01/12 at 06:10 AM ET
Over the course of approximately 2,100 words, the Detroit Red Wings’ course as a franchise and a sports team whose players are beloved by millions of fans changed, and changed forever as Nicklas Lidstrom—who played the final games of his career on a broken ankle—thanked nearly fifty people as he officially retired from hockey.
The Detroit media and “out-of-towners” weighed in en masse, and many of them spoke to Lidstrom, over the course of Wednesday afternoon and evening, and while the Chairman’s feting and the comments made by Nicklas Lidstrom’s best friend, Tomas Holmstrom, were equally sincere, Thursday was still a sad day for Wings fans everywhere…
And twelve hours after getting verklempt, I still don’t know what the hell to say. If I was in the income bracket that could afford a properly-customized Lidstrom jersey, I would buy one today, but I’m not in that bracket—shit, I’m about to ask my readers to help foot my hotel bill so I can go to prospect camp in July, so if you haven’t figured out that I straddle the self-sufficiency line already as a blogger battling major depression and an anxiety disorder, there’s some news for you—and if I could rectify the one great mistake my health helped me make over the last season in not being able to attend at least one game of Lidstrom’s last season, I would sure as f*** go back and change that, but I can’t.
I met Lidstrom a couple of times. I was lucky enough to tell him, face-to-face, that he was my favorite player ever, and then interview him the next day, drawing a near double-take when he recognized who I was, and I also spoke to Lidstrom when I snuck into a press conference four years ago, and when I was nobody and Lidstrom had no reason to take an extra second to speak to people after a rushed presser announcing that Warrior, his equipment sponsor, had partnered with the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association to help encourage participation in youth hockey in a state in at the bottom of an economic crater, he spent the same amount of time, energy and thoughtfulness speaking to me for five minutes while answering questions about what he’d been brought out to promote and while plain old talking about hockey, making me feel like I was the important person in the room. Which was nuts, amazing, and…Nick Lidstrom for you.
Everything positive that’s been written about Lidstrom is true. All of it. He’s not perfect, but he’s as close as a person can come to being perfect, and he, Steve Yzerman and Gordie Howe will live forever as both Red Wings and hockey immortals, hall-of-famers and players whose jersey numbers will never be worn again (there’s a reason I wear #59), and they will also live on as people who were equally good players, teammates, captains, friends and especially committed and dedicated husbands and fathers.
Sometime today, the Red Wings will complete the trio of prospect signings that were slated for this week in adding Tomas Jurco to a deep group of future Wings that now includes Calle Jarnkrok and Teemu Pulkkinen, and this weekend, perhaps looking at Capgeek.com’s organization chart, news about the upper limit of the “payroll range” hitting $70.3 million, and maybe taking a gander at Josh Howard’s wonderful Lidstrom tribute poster, the Red Wings’ brass will gather at Joe Louis Arena and spend Saturday’s Tigers game, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday determining how they will attempt to build a team that Nicklas Lidstrom will be proud of for the 2012-2013 seasons and beyond.
A perennial Stanley Cup-contending team. An elite team. And a team that will bid goodbye to Lidstrom, probably Tomas Holmstrom, and, as ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun noted on Thursday night, another top-four defenseman:
Lost somewhat in the enormous news of Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement and the Wings’ likely pursuit of UFA-to-be Ryan Suter, is that Brad Stuart is also likely out the door in Detroit. It’s believed he wants to move back to California for family reasons. So there’s two of your top three blueliners gone in Detroit.
I fully believe that the Red Wings, armed with some assets and about $26 million in cap space, will act more aggressively than we’ve seen them perform at any point since perhaps the 2001-2002 season to sign and/or trade for top blueliners, a top-six forward, possibly a fourth-line forward with grit and size and probably a back-up goaltender, but I can’t make promises, and neither can the management. They can only do their best, and we can only expect them to deliver an elite product to pay to watch and follow, CBA in the fall willing.
We can take a gander at TSN’s Scott Cullen’s off-season game plan, for starters, and make our lists of favorites, and then wait and hope.
My coverage from Wednesday breaks down into a few posts packed with about sixteen hours’ worth of work.
There was an official announcement post, a post with a clip of the presser, a summary of “local takes” (with lots of videos), Bill Roose’s transcript of Lidstrom’s speech, the Chairman’s conversation with Lidstrom, Ansar Khan’s confirmation that Lidstrom played on a broken ankle, a post combining “out of town” takes and some late-breaking local news, and of course Tomas Holmstrom’s comments to the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell and anyone else who would listen.
More than a few late local takes made the “out-of-town” post’s cut as they rolled in during the evening, and if it’s OK with you, I’d prefer to leave them there, and stick with the format I offered in the previous posts.
As such, on a source-by-source basis, here’s what I’ve found this morning, with no real preference given to a source other than posting stuff by the time it popped up:
Fox Sports Detroit: Fox Sports Detroit posted a 4-minute clip of Lidstrom’s presser…
And a highlight-annotated 3:10 clip of Lidstrom recalling his fondest memories as a Wing:
MLive: MLive’s Ansar Khan posted a wonderful article summarizing Lidstrom’s retirement presser and the comments made by Lidstrom, Ken Holland, Mike Ilitch, et. al. around 7 PM EDT on Thursday, as well as a story about Chris Chelios’s last-ditch attempt to convince Lidstrom to stay, and he also captured a wide-ranging number of comments from the guest list attending Lidstrom’s presser:
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock: “Just the way he spoke today, he just does things right. He’s been a great great player, an even better person. It wasn’t about what he said, it was what he did. He set a benchmark for all of us. To be around him is humbling because he does so many good things and does it without ego. He makes players want to be better players and he makes you want to be a better person. I thought Mr. I said it well, he’s been a guy in our community and in our state that has been an example for everyone on how to play and how to live.’‘
Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom: “We’ve been playing golf, tennis, some barbeques, hanging around, but we didn’t talk about (his decision) every day. Off and on we started talking about it. He was swinging back and forth. I told him if you have it in you play one more year, you’ve got to be honest with yourself. .. He’s been yes, no, no yes. He’s been back and forth. My wife has been asking me what he’s going to do and I said, ‘I have no idea. He’s all over the place right now.’ ‘’
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland: “I really thought at the 60-game pole this year when we were fighting for the Presidents’ Trophy, that Nick was, in my mind a candidate for the Norris Trophy. Then he ended up with a hairline fracture in his (ankle). I’m not even sure he was 100 percent healthy when he came back, but he could withstand the pain.’’
Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi: “He’s s a tremendous human-being, a great teammate, a great father, a great husband. He was that guy in crucial times and in times of need that you looked at and you get that look from him in return like everything was going to be OK. He was that comforting father in that room.’‘
Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall: “Being around him on a daily basis, we’ve been very spoiled to be able to sit beside a guy like that and play on a team with him. Seeing him raise the Cup in 2008 was very special. But also when we scored the winning goal in Torino is ‘06 (for Sweden in the Olympic gold medal game) was also very special.’
Former Red Wings defenseman Larry Murphy: “For me, it was a tremendous opportunity playing with a guy like that (they were paired together from 1997-2001). Mr. Reliable, Mr. Consistent, he was the perfect defense partner. ... People that know the game know just how great he was. He wasn’t a guy that was out there for the flash, he wasn’t putting a show on for anybody, he was just going out there and getting the job done.”
Former Red Wings center Kris Draper: “You knew it was going to come. Everyone talked and really wanted one more year out of him. I was spoiled to have played with him so many years day in and day out. He made all of us better, the way that he played and approached the game on and off the ice.’‘
Lidstrom’s wife, Annika: “Being away from our family for so long, especially with the kids. We’re close to our families so that has been hard. That is the part I feel happy about, that we will be a real family even though we both will miss it a lot. … At the same time, we’re sad that it’s ending, too, because it’s been a big part of our lives, too, and this has been a second home, the people around have been our family. It’s going to be really hard.”
Lidstrom’s 16-year-old son, Adam: “It’ll be good having him home all the time. It’s going to be good having him come to all our games now. It’s going to be better, him telling us what to do more and what not to do.’‘
• And it’s not necessarily his decision, but Tomas Holmstrom told Brendan Savage that he isn’t quite sure whether he’ll hang up his skates:
“It’s probably coming soon,” Holmstrom said Thursday after Lidstrom announced his retirement. “I have to figure it out and I really don’t know right now. I go back and forth and try to figure out my body.”
Even if Holmstrom decides he wants to return, the Red Wings have to want him back since his contract expired and he’s an unrestricted free agent. The Red Wings haven’t said whether Holmstrom is in their plans but they might decide he’s expendable based on his production last season.
Holmstrom’s 11 goals were the fewest he’s scored since bagging eight in 2001-02. By the end of the season, he was relegated to playing on the fourth forward line and the power-play unit. He saw an average of slightly less than 12 minute of ice time a game, his lowest total in 10 seasons. He also went 28 games – more than two months – without scoring a goal in the second half of the season and had one goal in five playoff games.
“I have to address his situation in the next 2-3 weeks,” Holland said.
There was speculation that if Lidstrom returned Holmstrom would also be brought back given their close relationship. Both are from Sweden, Lidstrom regularly needled Holmstrom in the dressing room according to teammates and they frequently shared a ride to practice. But now that Lidstrom is gone, Holmstrom is on his own. Will Lidstrom’s decision to retire have any bearing on what Holmstrom does?
“Sure I’m going to miss him,” Holmstrom said, “but it’s going to come down to if I really want to play and if I’ve still got it. Those are the main issues.”
“I’ll never go anywhere else,” he said. “I’d rather retire before that.”
Detroit News: The Detroit News’s David Guralnick, of course, posted an 18-image photo gallery from the event to kick things off;
• As the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa noted, Lidstrom spent a remarkable amount of time thanking as many people as possible:
“I’d like to thank Bryan Murray for being my first coach in the NHL, for getting me in the door and getting me an opportunity to play over here,” Lidstrom said of the former Red Wings coach and current general manager of the Senators. He partnered me with (the late) Brad McCrimmon my first year, we played every game together.”
Scotty Bowman could be both perplexing and demanding. Steve Shutt, part of the “Dynasty Line” in Montreal with Guy Lafleur and Jacques Lemaire in the 1970s, said of Bowman, “You hated him 364 days a year and on the 365th day you got your Stanley Cup ring.”
Lidstrom said Bowman elicited the best from him by instilling confidence.
“Scotty Bowman came in and, I think, took my game to another level, getting me out on the ice and really pushing me to become a better player,” he said.
That brought Lidstrom to the present, and an enormously successful coach who some players describe as a bit of an acquired taste. Mike Babcock clearly is a hard driver. When he coached the 500-goal scorer Jarome Iginla at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Iginla said he was happy for the practices that spring because he became familiar with Babcock’s intensity. Lidstrom said Babcock helped him maintain a high level of play during the last third of his career.
“I think Babs continued to give me confidence; he showed me and helped me become a leader on this team,” Lidstrom said. “He put me out in all of the key situations that forced me to do something I wanted to do, which was to play and compete at the level at which I wanted to be. I was getting up there in age, I was 36 and 37 and I wanted to continue to play at that high level, and Babs gave me the opportunity. Every night he relied on me and put me out there in situations that I had a chance to succeed in. So I’m very grateful for that.”
Red Wings fans might wonder how it is Lidstrom played so well, with such distinctive style, for so many years. Some of it began in the mid-1980s, back in his homeland.
“Starting in Sweden, when I was 16, I moved away from home and I got a coach named Par Marts,” he said. “He spent time with me and started guiding me in the right direction to become a solid hockey player. He is coach of the Swedish national team.”
If you check the out-of-town post, Aftonbladet’s Jonathan Ekeliw spoke to Lidstrom’s first national team coach, Curt Lundmark, at some length, and as it turns out, Lundmark is one of Lidstrom’s closest friends…
• John Niyo found that Lidstrom’s decision to quit while he still had more to give a striking one…
But at age 42, having accomplished everything in hockey — including four Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal, seven Norris trophies and a Conn Smythe Trophy — Lidstrom decided it was time to “walk away with pride, rather than have the game walk away from me.”
“It’s not that the tank is completely empty,” Lidstrom said after a career that included 1,564 regular-season games — an NHL record for a player with one team. “It just doesn’t have enough to carry me through every day at that high level where I want to play at.”
“I didn’t have that push that I know I need, that I’ve had in the past, that I had going into last summer,” said Lidstrom, who missed a career-high 11 games with a hairline fracture in his foot this season. “I knew I didn’t have that drive in me.”
And he knew to ignore that would be a mistake. Lidstrom never cut any corners in his career, and now was certainly no time to start.
“If I cheat myself and don’t come back and play at the level I want to play at, that’s on me,” he said. “And that’s something I don’t want to do.”
What he did Thursday, in his typically understated fashion, was say goodbye, saluting the fans — “I take a lot of pride in being a Red Wing, but also in being a player that comes from Detroit,” he said — while pausing to savor a precious few of those memories. There was that monumental center-ice goal in Vancouver in the 2002 Stanley Cup run. And there were those frantic final moments on the ice with Vladimir Konstantinov in the 1997 Cup Finals, just before Detroit celebrated its first championship in 42 years.
Especially given that Chris Chelios readily admitted that he desperately tried to convince Lidstrom to return, or perhaps, thought he could, while taking Lidstrom paddleboarding out in Orchard Lake on Wednesday:
They went out on Orchard Lake on Wednesday morning, but Chelios, whose longevity as an NHL player was trumped by only Gordie Howe, said, “After 30 seconds, I could tell his mind was made up and there was no changing it. … I didn’t even have the heart to try and convince him otherwise.” So instead, they just talked as friends and former teammates.
• What’s next for the Wings? Bob Wojnowski wants to know, too, and he can only guess, just like the rest of us:
Of course, they’ll hotly pursue prime free agents Ryan Suter from Nashville and Zach Parise from New Jersey. They’ll look at trades, and explore the unique case of young defenseman Justin Schultz, whose rights are owned by Anaheim. I always like the chances when Ilitch and Holland go hunting for stars, but this will be tricky and pressure-packed. A chunk of the Red Wings’ identity left with Lidstrom, so do they try to replicate what he provided, or use this as an opportunity to somewhat reinvent themselves?
“To be a really good team, you need to have a great defense, and he’s been the greatest of them all,” Holland said. “Obviously, we’re not gonna have that star power on the back end, but we don’t want to go into any rebuild. Our goal is to compete to be a playoff team and compete for the Stanley Cup. The challenge just got greater, but we’ll see what transpires the next five or six weeks.”
This period is huge for the Red Wings, as July 1 free agency approaches. By then, they’ll know about defenseman Brad Stuart, who has strongly indicated he wants to return to the West Coast to be with his family. Counting the retirement last year of Brian Rafalski, the Red Wings likely will have lost three of their top four defensemen, with Kronwall the last man standing.
“We like to hang onto the puck, and the game is becoming more chip and chase, banging and crashing,” Holland said. “Do we want to continue with a lot of skill, or become a little bigger, a little grittier? I don’t know if you change this thing overnight. We’re gonna sign somebody. A lot of people talk about the big, sexy name, but it takes a lot of pieces.”
“Our style of play now will depend on July 1 (free agency),” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s gonna be a huge dynamic. It’s important to embrace change.”
Especially when there’s no choice. The next time Red Wings fans cheer Lidstrom — who’s moving his family back to his home country of Sweden — it’ll probably be at the ceremony to raise No. 5 to the Joe Louis Arena rafters. It’s a long way from the ice to the ceiling, and 20 years is a long time. Lidstrom was there almost every game, in perfect position, in puck possession. His presence always was felt, and will be magnified by his absence.
• The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan allows us to shift gears as he’s provided updates on Danny Cleary and Darren Helm‘s respective statuses…
Cleary was bothered the majority of the season with his left knee, which required surgery three weeks ago. But he already can see a difference.
“It’s a huge difference to be able to walk normally,” Cleary said. “I’m feeling great.”
Helm had his cast removed Wednesday and expects to begin strength-related conditioning. Helm suffered a deep cut on the left forearm by an opponent’s skate blade in Game 1 against Nashville.
“I should be working out hard for a couple of months and get back and be ready for the start of camp,” Helm said.
But Kulfan also happened to ask one Scotty Bowman what he thinks might lie in store for the Wings:
“It’s going to be a transition, there’s no question about it,” Bowman said. “But I think they got enough guys.”
Bowman thinks Kronwall, Helm and Valtteri Filppula can help with the leadership void and has faith in Datsyuk and Zetterberg.
“The tough part of trying to replace a defenseman like Nick is that you had a player that played nearly half of every game,” Bowman said. “Every coach used him against the team’s best player. His stats are truly amazing, and they’re accurate because of how often he played and the quality minutes he delivered.”“
WDIV: WDIV’s Dave Bartokowiak Jr. added some text to a story which mostly focused on an evening news interview Bernie Smilovitz conducted with Lidstrom:
“When you think about Nick, for me it’s about class,” Holland said. “I think he’s been the most valuable player of his era. He’s going to go down in history as one of the greatest Red Wings, as one of the greatest players at his position.”
Lidstrom said he and his family are comfortable with his decision. He said it came down to how he felt about his level of play and how he felt in the offseason.
“I don’t have what I feel like I have to have to play at my level,” he said.
Lidstrom said injuries later in his career did make him feel slower and not as ready for the playoffs. Once he started his offseason workouts he knew he didn’t have the drive to come back for another season.
“If I cheat myself and come back and don’t play at the level I want to, I think that’s on me and that’s not something I want to do,” he said.
Crain’s Detroit Business: Crain’s Detroit Business’s Bill Shea perhaps predictably offered us a bottom line:
Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement today after 20 years on the Detroit Red Wings’ blue line leaves the team $20 million under the National Hockey League’s salary cap heading into the 2012-13 season.
The team currently has $44 million committed to salaries for next season, according to CapGeek.com. The payroll ceiling is $64.3 million for 2012-13.
An unrestricted free agent after last season, Lidstrom is coming off a one-year, $6.2 million contract.
Detroit’s unrestricted free agents from the 2011-12 roster include forwards Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom, defenseman Brad Stuart and goalie Ty Conklin.
Hockey insiders have linked the Red Wings to unrestricted free agent Ryan Suter, 27, who is coming off a four-year, $14 million deal with the Nashville Predators; and forward Zach Parise, 27, who had a one-year, $6 million contract with the New Jersey Devils.
Teams can begin signing free agents July 1.
Toledo Blade: Sticking with less-than-usual voices, the Toledo Blade’s Rachel Lenzi took note of the fact that Lidstrom led by example for a very good reason:
“When you see a player like [Yzerman] it’s easy finding guys to follow,” Lidstrom said. “That’s something I tried to do, as well. I tried to work hard and I tried to do things right, and good things will happen for you. That’s been my message to the players. Work ethic is just so important, and that’s what sets players apart. Once you do that, determination comes into play. You keep doing that, day after day, that determination takes over and you start to push yourself even more. I try to be that player.”
Red Wings left wing Drew Miller explained Lidstrom’s presence and the experience he brought to the team dynamic.
“When the game’s not going your way, you looked to him to see how he’d conduct himself in that situation,” Miller said. “He calmed the room and his professionalism is something that I looked up to. Nothing really seemed to faze him and to us, you looked at that and it was very reassuring.”
Teammate Niklas Kronwall believed Lidstrom would return for a 21st NHL season.
“Maybe I was just hoping,” Kronwall said. “But nobody really wanted to face the facts that this could be the possible outcome. You take it for granted that he’s on the ice, and now, it’s not going to be that way.”
Holland and Lidstrom discussed Lidstrom’s intention to retire last week, and Holland told Lidstrom to take the weekend to consider his decision, but that the Red Wings would plan on holding a Thursday press conference. Tuesday afternoon, Holland sent a text to Lidstrom.
“He texted me back,” Holland said. “He said, ‘I’m very comfortable with the decision.’ For me, I wanted to make sure Nick was at that podium and completely comfortable with that decision.”
London Free Press: The London Free Press’s Morris Dalla Costa took note of both comments by a person who knows his sports superstars and, well, the demeanor that the captain has always maintained:
“You think of MJ (Michael Jordan,) (Wayne) Gretzky,” said Chelios. “None of them are better than Nick. They may be right up there but none of them are better.”
As Lidstrom fulfilled every interview request, he faced the usual “what-if” questions. What if he decided to come back after half a season? What if the Winter Classic featuring the Red Wings proved too strong an attraction? What if, like many retired athletes, he felt the lure of the spotlight? To all those suggestions he responded the same way.
“My family and I are completely comfortable with the decision,” he said. “Annika told me if I wanted to play another year, we could make it work. But I feel comfortable with the decision I’ve made.”
Lidstrom said he would still like to be a part of the Red Wings’ organization and he’s spoken briefly with Holland about that possibility and no doubt it will happen.
But when his kids finish school here, Lidstrom and his family will move back to Sweden.
With the announcement came the usual speculation of how the Wings would fill Lidstrom’s spot. The Wings already had ample salary-cap space, and Lidstrom’s departure will give them $6.2 million more. They are expected to pursue the Nashville Predators’ Ryan Suter, a pending unrestricted free agent, among others.
Whatever . . . none of that seemed to matter Thursday. It’s going to take a while to adjust and figure out how to deal with life after Lidstrom.
Macomb Daily: The Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness’s “storylets” are in the local takes post, but for some reason, his full article won’t be posted by the Macomb Daily proper until later this morning, so here’s an affiliate’s version:
The seven-time Norris Trophy winner missed 11 games in the later part of the regular season with a hairline fracture in his ankle and could never get back to full health when the playoffs rolled around. Lidstrom, who wound up missing a career-high 12 games this regular season, needed injections before games to dull the pain, and he was not able to play on the penalty kill.
“It did slow me down and that was still hurting when I was playing, especially when you have to do a lot of stops and starts in your own zone,” Lidstrom said. “When you can’t do that, it’s hard to be effective. But I think that it feels so much better now, if I had the determination and the will to do this again, I believe I could still be back up there. But when I don’t have that and if I still try to go out there and play, I don’t think I could play as well as I’d have to.”
The Macomb Daily learned during the regular season that Lidstrom had just finished building a lavish home in Sweden and that his son told coach Mike Babcock’s son that he was not going to sign up for travel hockey in the fall. Lidstrom spent his final six seasons as the Wings’ captain after taking over for Steve Yzerman, who was the longest-serving captain in NHL history.
“We’ve had 20 special years,” Holland said.
Lidstrom, who won his seven Norris Trophies in 10 seasons starting in 2001, is a member of the exclusive “Triple-Gold” club, winning both an Olympic gold medal (2006) and an IIHF World Championship (1991) with Sweden in addition to the four Stanley Cups he won with the Red Wings.
“Seven Norris Trophies, that’s not by accident, he’s just that good,” Babcock said. “We’re going miss having him. He’s been so good and that’s how he wanted to play. It was very fitting he said, ‘I didn’t want to cheat myself. I wasn’t motivated enough to do the work.’ What a message to every athlete. For Nick it was always about the team,” Babcock added. “You never had any trouble with Nick as the coach because he was always prepared and motivated. Nick brings it every single day, sets an example for all of us in professionalism and perfection and work ethic and being a good human being and doing it without ego.”
Detroit Free Press: After getting the obvious out of the way in that the Free Press posted retirement ceremony and career-spanning photo galleries, I want to be very clear about the snippet I’m posting from this article: it is a snippet from the Free Press’s editorial for Friday, nothing more and nothing less.
The paper’s editorial page isn’t about politics or some great moral issue…Except that it is, because it’s about how we can learn from Nicklas Lidstrom being himself:
“Work hard, try to do things the right way, and good things happen,” Lidstrom said, offering sound and simple advice for young athletes—and their parents.
Indeed good things did happen for him—seven Norris trophies recognizing defenseman Lidstrom as the best at his position in the world’s best hockey league, 12 selections to play in the National Hockey League All-Star Game, and a Conn Smythe trophy as the best player in the NHL’s grueling Stanley Cup championship tournament—and to his team, which won four of those coveted cups during Lidstrom’s years.
In an era when athletes are paid enormous amounts of money—and/or generate it for team owners, merchants and schools—far too many, including several current members of the Detroit Lions and Tigers rosters, create problems in their off-hours; far too many are poor role models as players, too, eschewing good sportsmanship for showy individual celebrations, in-your-face taunting and outbursts of violence. That was never Nick Lidstrom. He worked hard, played well, won with class and lost with grace.
Detroit and Michigan have had their share of embarrassing, infuriating sports figures who squandered their talents and frustrated some of the most loyal fans anywhere. But then along comes a Nick Lidstrom, to join the likes of Alan Trammell, Joe Dumars, Steve Yzerman and Jason Hanson as people to admire, emulate and respect, in their game and away from it.
They are influential, and the best of them know that and, like Nick Lidstrom, conduct themselves accordingly.
• For once, Mitch Albom nailed it. He asked Mrs. Lidstrom how she found out about Lidstrom’s decision…
It was Annika who first heard the news, a few weeks ago, in the kitchen of their home. It was mid-morning. The kids were at school. Nick, now 42, entered and said, “I’ve made my decision. I’m going to retire.”
“Just like that?” I asked her.
“Just like that,” she confirmed.
And offered this from an interview he conducted with Lidstrom, which should appear…Sometime in June…on his WJR podcast page:
He later told me it was as much mental as physical. In short, when he gave himself his annual “Do I still want to do this?” test, he found himself lacking.
Of course, lacking for Lidstrom could be a 96 out of 100. But he deserves great admiration for walking away from a game when he could still be one of its top players, for leaving money on the table when the Wings would have happily paid him, for returning to his native Sweden because “we are a tight-knit family” and that’s where his aging parents live, and he wants his kids to be near them and their cousins.
He is not hanging around to pick up a paycheck. He is not shuffling off to a cushy network TV job where fame and celebration will continue. He came from a quiet life and he is returning to it now, in a Swedish hometown that, he once told me, is best known for a giant wooden horse, the largest in the world.
“Yeah, that horse is still there,” he said Thursday, laughing. And soon Lidstrom will be, too. But while the horse may win on measurements, it will not stand the tallest in his city or ours. That honor belongs to the now-former captain of Hockeytown’s most famous army.
The Ice Man retireth. We were lucky to have him.
For once, Mitch, yup.
• The Free Press’s Helene St. James is the one who wrote the truly frame-worthy column, and while I can’t quote all of it, nor embed all the videos included therein, St. James offered a final sentence from a paragraph that I hope every Wing believes in…
“This was difficult,” he said. “But with my age, just being a little bit older, I don’t have that motivation that I’ve had in the past. It’s something I’ve done for 20 years. It’s become a lifestyle. I’m going to miss all that. But if I don’t have that fire, I can’t be at the level I want to be at. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of so many great teams, so many championships. It’s been a great ride. I take a lot of pride in being a player that comes from Detroit.”
And then she looked forward, after finding that even Mrs. Lidstrom was a bit shocked by her husband’s decision:
He can’t be replaced. But the Wings can restock, and they have a bull’s-eye on Ryan Suter, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July if Nashville can’t get him re-signed. But more help than that is needed, because the Wings probably also will lose Brad Stuart, which would mean half of the top-four core is gone. Niklas Kronwall becomes the de facto No. 1 guy now, with a supporting cast of Ian White, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincey, a restricted free agent the Wings plan to re-sign.
“It’s hard to have a contingency plan when you’re talking about Nick Lidstrom,” Holland said. “He’s just been so great. We’ve had a lot of great players here, but he’s one of the two or three special ones, at a position on defense that really controls the game. In order to be a really good team, you need to have a great defense. We’ve had a lot of great defensemen for a long time. So I don’t think there are any contingency plans for losing Nick.”
Holland held out hope until midweek that Lidstrom might change his mind, because the decision to retire is incredibly hard for most players. Typical to Lidstrom, the first decision he made was done the right way. He isn’t coming back midseason, he isn’t coming back for the Winter Classic, unless it’s to play in the alumni game, and he isn’t even sure he’ll do that. He will, of course, be back for when the Wings send his No. 5 to the rafters. And he’ll come back because he’ll remain a Red Wing in some capacity, probably as an ambassador of sorts.
“We’ve had a lot of our ex-players remain in the organization,” Holland said. “He’s told me that he would love to have some affiliation with the Red Wings. We haven’t really figured it out. I’ve spent the last week hoping Nick would wake up and change his mind.”
By mid-June, Lidstrom and his family will move back to their native Sweden, as has been the plan for the past decade. Lidstrom answered questions for more than 2 hours after the news conference ended. Over and over, he was asked if he was comfortable with his decision, if he was sure it was right. His answer never wavered. He said the ankle injury he had in March wasn’t a factor, that even his oldest sons’ desire to continue their secondary education in Sweden wasn’t a factor. It was that the man who made every shift look easy didn’t think he could do that any longer. When it came down to it, Lidstrom knew he could no longer lace up his skates and be perfect.
• If we are to believe what Lidstrom told St. James, he was something of a “wild child” until he started primary school…
“I think it’s the way I’ve been brought up,” he said. “I know my dad kept telling me I was a wild kid up until I started school, at 6 or 7. I had two older sisters that were teasing me all the time. Once I started school and settled down, I kept that demeanor.”
Toddler Lidstrom used to swing hockey sticks, used to break glass inside the house, used to yell when his sisters would take his tennis ball. Adult Lidstrom is the world’s most placid man.
“You know, we’ve been driving back and forth to the rink together for 15 years,” Holmstrom said. “We go out for dinners, and he’s ordering the same food every time. He’s pretty boring that way. But I’m going to miss him.”
Instead, Holmstrom relayed this story…
“I never hear him raise his voice to his kids, like, OK, that’s it. I never hear that,” he said. “He never really raised his voice at me, either. Even when he’s (ticked) at me, it’s just, ‘Tomas, relax. Breathe.’ He’s pretty calm.”
And Chris Chelios and Kris Draper relayed their own tales:
“As a player, playing against him, you couldn’t get under his skin, couldn’t rattle him,” Chelios said of Lidstrom. “I got to Yzie a little bit, because Yzie had that little edge to him, and every once in a while he could lose it. His demeanor was really something. And then when I got to the team, the one thing I learned from Nick was because of the passion I play with, I got too high and too low. Nick kept it an even keel. That’s the one thing I learned over the years here. Watching Nick and the effect he had on the players, not losing his composure—he never changed his game, never panicked. I slowly but surely like the rest of the team caught on to that. He was like Cool Hand Luke. If there’s any such thing as a perfect person, Nick was perfect. He was a rock.”
That’s a sentiment that echoed from teammate to teammate. “Every time he went over the boards, he was that calming influence you wanted,” Draper said. “He didn’t need to say much. He just needed to go over the boards, and you knew everything was going to be OK. That was probably the greatest thing Nick could do—just go out and play at that high level. You knew things were going to be good.”
• Former Wings coaches Joey Kocur and Dave Lewis spoke to Carlos Monarrez about Lidstrom, and in Kocur’s case, Chelios’s attempts to get to Lidstrom:
“I think we all ignored Cheli when he was in Chicago,” [Kocur]e aid. “No, I think all teams tried to get to him. That’s their job. And Nick never got involved in any of that stuff, never had to, and just played the game honestly and respectfully, and everyone showed him the same.”
Examples of Lidstrom’s stoic and steely demeanor were cited everywhere. Danny Cleary said he never saw Lidstrom lose his cool. Not once.
“No,” he said. “Isn’t it amazing? I know. It’s amazing. I’ve never seen him get upset. ... I wish I was like him. I’m not, but if I had a boy, you’d want him to be like him.”
Kocur also marveled at Lidstrom’s “amazing career” and called him one of the game’s best positional players.
“He was never put in an awkward spot on the ice,” Kocur said. “He always controlled the puck, the player and the game. I mean, it was just masterful to watch.”
Lewis candidly admitted he didn’t think Lidstrom would play into his 40s. But he understood why he did when he saw how a young Lidstrom increased his upper-body strength training one summer, how he possessed vision akin to Igor Larionov’s on the ice, and how he worked hard no matter the circumstance. It all boiled down to one thing.
“I guess his biggest strength is between his ears,” Lewis said. “It’s amazing what he’s accomplished in 20 years—absolutely amazing.”
Whoever gets the Red Wings’ “C” next will have some tough acts to follow. Yzerman, below, wore it for 20 seasons, and Lidstrom for the past six. (Before that, it was Danny Gare, who succeeded Reed Larson).
So who’s next? The smart money says it will be Henrik Zetterberg.
“I might get asked about my opinion of it, but I think the coaching staff and management will find a very good captain for this team,” Lidstrom said. “I think there’s a few candidates that are very fit to fill that role. I think Zetterberg has been a leader for a few years. (Niklas) Kronwall emerged as a leader. I think (Valtteri Filppula) is one of the players.”
The Red Wings seem to understand who’s next, as St. James noted:
“I think Z has definitely taken his game to the next level,” said Kris Draper, himself a former alternate, who retired a year ago and is now in the front office. “I noticed over my last couple of years that he got more vocal, that he realized he was kind of evolving into what a big part of this franchise he was going to be with a lot of the players getting older.”
Pavel Datsyuk is the second-longest serving alternate having received the letter in ‘07, but he doesn’t share Zetterberg’s fluency with English. Niklas Kronwall joined the “A” team last fall. Like the two captains he played under, Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman, Zetterberg has that special something.
“Nick talking about the work ethic on and off the ice, he’s that guy,” Draper said. “He’s that guy that goes out and plays at a high level night in and night out. He’s that guy that works hard after games, before games, practice days. He’s always training. He’s been around that culture that Nick was talking about.”
Whoever follows Lidstrom has a lot to live up to. Coach Mike Babcock called Lidstrom more than a leader, saying that “I can say I coached him for seven years, but maybe he’s coached me for seven years. He’s been that good of a guy to talk to about the team and about players and about helping guys, and he’s done it with no ego and so much class.”
General manager Ken Holland said an announcement on the captaincy probably wouldn’t be made until training camp, but he conceded that as far as candidates, “three probably come to mind,” naming Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Kronwall. “They’ve got the A’s. Hard to think you’re going to take somebody who didn’t have a letter and go past guys with letters. Hard to think you’re going to bring somebody from outside to be your captain. So in all reality, probably one of our assistants will be the next captain. That would seem logical.
“Z’s a great player, great competitor. We watched him evolve from being a young player to being, both he and Pav, two of the best two-way forwards in the game. And Z is a fierce competitor. Great leader.”
Where was Zetterberg on Thursday? St. James says he was in Bali, and Aftonbladet’s Per Bjurman managed to call him:
Zata and Kronwall taken by the captain’s statement
“Hoped it would take a few more years”
His Swedish teammates in Detroit were shocked that their role model and extra dad quit.
“I knew this day would come, but I had hoped it would take another few years,” said Henrik Zetterberg to Sportbladet.
Nicklas Lidstrom’s been one of the world’s best hockey players. And a tremendous leader of men in the Red Wings’ locker room. So the news that he had no motivation left for another season was received with some consternation.
“Until I heard it from his own mouth, I hoped it wasn’t true,” says Niklas Kronwall.
Henrik Zetterberg received news of the captain’s retirement during a holiday in the South Pacific.
“I’m very grateful for the years we played together. The high point was winning a Stanley Cup together,” says Zata.
And for the record, Tomas Holmstrom told Bjurman that he fought back tears during Lidstrom’s speech.
• Okay, back to the Free Press for now. The Free Press’s Steve Schrader offered a treasure trove’s worth of quotes from past Free Press stories, as well as this:
Image courtesy of the Detroit Free Press archives
• And sometimes, as the Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp of all people reminds us, we forget that Lidstrom’s prouder of his role as a husband and father than he is of his role as a hockey player. Lidstrom’s youngest son, Adam, is just happy that his dad will be around more:
“It’s a great feeling knowing how much people appreciate him,” Adam Lidstrom said following his father’s retirement news conference Thursday. “But I’m looking forward to having him around more.”
When told that television stations interrupted programming to broadcast the news conference, Adam looked rather astonished that Nicklas Lidstrom’s farewell was such a major story in Detroit. But his entire life is marked with the milestones of his father’s fabulous 20-season Red Wings career. He was only 6 when Lidstrom won this third Stanley Cup in 2002 and remembers curling up to the Conn Smythe Trophy his father won as the MVP of those playoffs in his dressing room cubicle during the postgame celebration.
“I see the pictures when was I little, but I can’t really remember that much,” said Lidstrom’s second-oldest of four sons. “I’ve only known him as playing hockey here, and now it’s going to be nice having him at home more.”
Lidstrom’s family was a big reason he retired. His eldest son, 18-year-old Kevin, wasn’t at Joe Louis Arena because he’s in Sweden playing for his father’s original team in Vasteras. Adam talked about joining his brother on the team later this year.
Annika Lidstrom said that might have played an important role in her husband’s decision to retire now and return to Sweden, because an increasing number of his family would be there and he no longer wished to be separated from them. But now that he will become a full-time hockey dad, does that place added pressure on his sons to live up to an extraordinary family hockey legacy?
“I try to take all the pressure off me,” Adam said.
“I just love the game so much,” he said. “I don’t worry about what others think how I should play because of who my father is. I just want to play the best that I can.”
From around the rest of the NHL? Senators GM Bryan Murray offered this to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch:
Murray can’t take credit for drafting Lidstrom, but he is proud he was sitting in the GM’s chair with the Red Wings when the decision was made to sign the defenceman in 1991. While Lidstrom had been drafted No. 53 overall in 1989, the Wings weren’t sure they wanted to bring the Swede overseas. That all changed after Murray made a trip to the world championship in Finland.
“They didn’t know whether to bring him to North America or not,” recalled Murray. “I went over to the world championships to see him. He scored a goal on his first shot and I said, ‘Yeah, I think this guy can play.’ I called (his agent) Don Meehan and we got a deal done.”
• If you’re interested, New Jersey Devils defenseman Adam Larsson told the Newark Star-Ledger’s Rich Chere that he’s bummed about never playing against Lidstrom, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty spoke to the Ottawa Sun’s Chris Stevenson about being a supposed successor to Lidstrom, and Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp and GM Stan Bowman praised Lidstrom in conversations with the Chicago Sun-Times’ Adam L. Jahns (twice on Sharp’s part), and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Greene talked to Comcast Sportsnet Chicago’s Tracey Myers about Lidstrom, too;
• San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan had this to say to Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz:
“I think you have to look at it from two perspectives. One is the hockey perspective, and I think we’re all disappointed that we’re losing a Hall of Fame, all-star player – one that was so dominant for so many years, so that’s the really sad part,” McLellan said. “But, then you have to look at it from a family perspective. You have to appreciate that he’s had a satisfying career, and that he’s going to spend time with his boys and his wife. You have to respect him for that. It’s a happy/sad day when you think about it, but what a remarkable career.”
McLellan was part of the Red Wings’ 2008 Stanley Cup team in the season prior to his being named head coach of the Sharks, so he has a unique perspective on how Lidstrom conducted himself on a day-to-day basis both on and off the ice.
“I think you’ll hear specifically from the Detroit people is what a great human being this guy is; what a good person he is, great teammate, how he cared about people, how professional he was. The obvious is on the ice. The way he can read plays and the way he can shake off forecheckers and the impact he had on the game for all 20 of his years – one of the best players ever to play. But the unnoticed or unseen is how he carries himself around people and in the locker room. Just a remarkable man. Really, really remarkable.”
• The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons, on the other hand, wrote an elegant tribute to Lidstrom, and noted that his #1 defenseman raved about Lidstrom:
And aside from the Olympic gold and the world championship he won playing for Sweden, everything else he won wearing just one uniform. He was another great Red Wing. Like Kelly and Bill Gadsby before him. Like Gordie Howe. Like Steve Yzerman. Howe is Mr. Hockey. What name, then, for Nick Lidstrom? Even that, over 20 seasons of success, doesn’t come easily. The tributes for Lidstrom poured in Thursday, but maybe the most meaningful response came from [Bobby] Orr.
“First of all, we’re going to miss him,’’ he told my friend, Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com and TSN. “Putting aside the injuries last year, the guy still played awfully good hockey. After 20 years to continue to perform like he did in his 20th season, in my mind, that’s incredible. He was still a superstar, a key player for the team. Off the ice, the way he’s handled himself, he’s just class, he’s a classy gentleman. He’s represented our game as well as any player. To perform the way he did for 20 years, that’s special. That’s a special player.’’
From greatest to almost greatest, one special player to another. Orr isn’t the hyperbolic type. That’s his tribute, his nod of approval. Ken Holland, the shrewd general manager of the Red Wings, has joked for so many years that he would never have to start a rebuild until Lidstrom retired. There is no joking anymore. You can’t replace the irreplaceable and Nicklas Lidstrom chose Thursday to say his goodbyes.
Also of Red Wings-related note: I missed this one, but ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside reported that Ken Holland’s desire for penalties to carry over from one playoff game to the next will be discussed during the summertime GM’s meetings which will replace the Shanahan R&D camp this summer:
“We want to discuss it further,” Detroit GM Ken Holland said.
The carryover would only take place within a playoff series and wouldn’t carry over from one series to another.
“If an incident occurs at the end of the game giving hockey operations—again, it
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