The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/31/12 at 07:27 AM ET
Updated with captaincy talk at 8:15 AM: The news is still staggering, like a punch to the gut and heart at the same time: at 11 AM today, the Red Wings will hold a press conference to announce Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement, and it will air on DetroitRedWings.com, the NHL Network, DetNews.com and FoxSportsDetroit.com (update: TSN and Sportsnet will air it as well).
We don’t yet know whether family issues, a lack of drive to engage in off-season training, simply deciding that, like Steve Yzerman some six years ago, the time was right to step away and encourage the team to transition toward its next generation, fears of a lockout or Lidstrom’s encounter with mortality and an inability to turn away from checks thanks to that damn bouncing puck that hit his right ankle and left a severe bone bruise constitute the reasons why he’s leaving, but Wings fans everywhere understand that Lidstrom’s decision to retire marks the end of the line for one of the best Red Wings to ever suit up for the team, and one of the best defensemen in NHL history.
Here’s what the Wings’ beat writers and Detroit press have had to say about Lidstrom’s retirement, in site-by-site order, starting with MLive’s Ansar Khan’s report about the presser:
“I’ll let him make his announcement. He’s earned that right,” general manager Ken Holland told reporters today at the GM meetings in New York.
Lidstrom, 42, said after the season that he would take some time to decide on his future. He said at the time that he was confident in his ability to continue playing at a high level and that his health and his age were not concerns. He said he has faith in the organization’s ability to maintain a talented and competitive roster and the motivation to win another Stanley Cup still runs deep.
But Lidstrom said he wasn’t sure if he still has the drive to train the way he needs to over the summer to be prepared for another long and grinding season. And, his family might want to return to his native Sweden.
“I feel physically I can still play,” Lidstrom said on April 24, when players cleaned out their lockers at Joe Louis Arena. “I can contribute, but you have to be motivated and you have to have the drive. … It’s the grind, that workout six or seven times a week. It’s hard.”
Khan paid tribute to “the perfect human” by suggesting that Lidstrom’s contributions to the team’s four Stanley Cups during Lidstrom’s 20 years with the team were perhaps the greatest made by any player, and he spoke to one of the men responsible for drafting Lidstrom as well:
Nick Polano, the Red Wings assistant GM at the time, was assigned to bring Lidstrom to North America by negotiating a release from his Swedish club, Vasteras. Polano spent a lot of time in Sweden watching the skinny, talented kid.
“I couldn’t believe how good he was at such a young age,” Polano, now a scout for the Ottawa Senators, said Wednesday. “Great skater, great puck-handler; great offensively, great defensively without being a big hitter. He had such great use of his stick. Nobody could beat him one-on-one. The fact we got him in the (third) round was amazing.”
Lidstrom spent his first night in Detroit at Polano’s home.
“Great person,” Polano said. “Such an easy-going guy, nothing ever frustrated him. That helped him be a good player. He had such poise. I call it escapability, the ability to handle the puck in his own end and avoid the forecheck.”
Despite his accomplishments, the low-key Lidstrom probably didn’t get the respect he deserved. Some people, after all these years, still refer to him as “Lindstrom.” But those that know the game never underestimated his worth. Next season, he surely will have his No. 5 jersey raised to the rafters at Joe Louis Arena. Howe, Yzerman and Lidstrom unquestionably are the three greatest Red Wings of all-time.
“He will be missed by the Red Wings and the entire league,” Polano said. “It’s too bad for hockey.”
Khan then moved on to examine possible replacements for Lidstrom…
Money is not an issue for the Red Wings. They have 16 players signed to one-way deals for 2012-13, at a salary cap hit of $42.3 million. Add to that another $1.75 million for young Gustav Nyquist and Brendan Smith, who are on two-way contracts, and roughly $6 million for signing restricted free agents Kyle Quincey, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader. That would give Detroit 21 players at a cap hit of approximately $50 million. The salary cap was $64.3 million this past season and some believe it could increase to $70 million next season, depending on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
So the Red Wings have a lot of money to spend and are highly motivated to make changes following three consecutive early playoff exits. If the Red Wings don’t land [Ryan] Suter, here are some other free-agent options on defense:
Jason Garrison, Florida: He has speed and size (6-foot-2, 210), a big point shot and is strong defensively. But he has no proven track record, with only one good season, picking up 16 goals – including nine on the power play – in 2011-12.
Dennis Wideman, Washington: He’s a good puck-mover and point man on the power play. His lack of consistency in his own zone might be why he has played for four teams in six seasons. He has scored 10 or more goals in four of the past five seasons. Being a right-handed shot would appeal to the Red Wings.
Matt Carle, Philadelphia: A good skater and passer who hasn’t been quite as strong offensively since recording career highs in goals (11) and points (42) with San Jose in 2006-07. He posted a plus-30 rating for the Flyers in 2010-11.
Filip Kuba, Ottawa: At 35, he would be a shorter-term option. He’s mobile for a big man, but not overly physical for his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame. He went from a minus-26 rating to a plus-26 in one season under first-year coach Paul MacLean, the former Detroit assistant.
Barret Jackman, St. Louis: Unlike the others, Jackman is an abrasive, stay-at-home defender with limited offensive ability. His career hasn’t blossomed like many anticipated after he beat out Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2003.
Brad Stuart, Detroit: He gave the Red Wings four-plus good seasons as a strong, physical, workmanlike defender. It’s a role he adapted to, after being more offensive- minded earlier in his career. He wants to sign with San Jose to be closer to his family, which is unable to relocate. But if the Sharks aren’t interested or they can’t work out a deal, returning to Detroit might be his second option.
Justin Schultz: This highly skilled player is leaving Wisconsin to turn pro, and some believe he will be the third most sought after free agent behind Parise and Suter. Anaheim, which drafted him in the second round in 2008, owns his negotiating rights for the next month, but he is not expected to sign with the Ducks.
MLive’s Josh Slaghter took note of what Steve Yzerman had to say to NHL.com about Lidstrom’s retirement…
Steve Yzerman, now the Tampa Bay Lightning’s general manager, told reporters in New York on Wednesday that Lidstrom just made the game look “easy.”
“I think he’s going to go down as one of the all-time best defensemen ever to play,” Yzerman said. “Having played with him and watched him closely from his first game, people know about it now but we’ve said it all along—you have to watch him closely to appreciate how good he is, what a great athlete he is because he makes the position look so easy. He is a special athlete.”
The Red Wings announced a press conference scheduled for Thursday, where Lidstrom is expected to announce his retirement after 20 seasons in the NHL. Lidstrom took over as Detroit’s captain after Yzerman retired in 2006. Before that, Lidstrom had served as an alternate captain—with Yzerman as his teammate—since the 1997-98 season.
They won three Stanley Cups together, with Scotty Bowman as their coach. Yzerman said it won’t be easy for Detroit to replace the seven-time Norris Trophy winner.
“Yeah, it is not easy. It has been a unique run,” Yzerman said. “I guess sitting from outside looking in ... their depth—they have some excellent young players not in the NHL coming forward. They’re going to be a strong organization.”
And he noted some of the Twitter comments regarding a “trending topic”...
• Ray Ferraro @rayferrarotsn: “No great player had the puck on his stick less than Lidstrom - timing and accuracy of passes unmatched #efficiency”
• John Buccigross @Buccigross “Nicklas Lidstrom retiring: The NHL’s angel. If every NHL player played with his vision and class, we would have fewer concussions….”
• Pierre LeBrun Pierre LeBrun @Real_ESPNLeBrun: “On Lidstrom retiring: his greatness wasn’t just measured by his incredible play on the ice, but just as much by his class off of it.”
• Craig Custance @CraigCustance: “I hope Detroit’s next captain is as patient and considerate w/the media as Lidstrom. Will miss working w/one of hockey’s classiest guys.”
• Bob McKenzie @TSNBobMcKenzie: “DET GM Kenny Holland always used to joke, at least I think he was joking, that he would retire five minutes after Nick Lidstrom retired.”
• Darren Dreger @DarrenDreger: “No surprise, former teammate, Steve Yzerman says Lidstrom will go down as one of the all time best.”
• Darren R Pang @Panger40: “A gentleman is how I describe Nick Lidstrom. Both on and off the ice, he was as good as it gets. Congrats on brilliant career.#Wings”
As well as some comments made by Scotty Bowman to the Denver Post’s Adrian Dater:
Bowman, speaking with The Denver Post’s Adrian Dater, fondly recalled his time in Detroit with Lidstrom.
“I was very fortunate. I got to Detroit in his second season. Where could you ever get a player who would miss very few games, who could play at the level he was at? You never had to worry about him day-to-day,” Bowman told The Denver Post. “He was just one-of-a-kind. Even after they changed the rules after the (2004-05) lockout, his game never suffered. People thought he might not be able to handle the new game, but he did. The great players always adapt.”
Lidstrom became the first European-born player to win the Norris Trophy, the Conny Smythe Trophy and captain a Stanley Cup winning team. He won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings, three with Bowman.
Bowman spent nine seasons in Detroit and won 414 games.
“He was a wonderful person and a terrific player. He was a natural choice as captain after Yzerman left,” Bowman said. “The thing I was always amazed about with Nick Lidstrom was how he could play with anybody as a partner on defense, and his game never suffered, and he could just play with anybody. It’s going to be strange to watch Detroit without him.”
MLive also posted a 34-image photo gallery looking back at Lidstrom’s career.
Windsor Star: The Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell got down to brass tacks:
“I’ll let him make his announcement,” Detroit general manager Ken Holland told reporters at the GM meetings in New York Wednesday. “He’s earned that right.”
In his stellar career, Lidstrom won seven Norris Trophies and four Stanley Cups. He also rarely missed a game. The 12 contests he missed this year through injury were the most in one season. However, Lidstrom said at the end of the season that his body felt good and he was confident he could maintain his elite level of play again next season if he chose to play.
“I have to make sure I want to do the off-season work required to prepare for another season,” Lidstrom said. “I know what I have to do. There aren’t any shortcuts. I have to decide if I have the desire to do that. It’s a grind.”
In stepping away from the game, Lidstrom finishes his career a plus-450 with 264 goals, 878 assists and 1,142 points. He played 1,564 regular season games and in his 263 playoff games he added another 54 goals and 183 points.
“I think he’s going to go down as one of the all-time best defencemen ever to play,” said Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman, who was the captain in Detroit before Lidstrom. “You have to watch him closely to appreciate how good he is, what a great athlete he is because he makes the position look so easy. He is a special athlete.”
Lidstrom was also the first European to win the Conn Smythe Trophy and the first European to captain a Stanley Cup champion. He’s a member of the Triple Gold Club for having won a Cup, an Olympic gold medal and a world championship.
The man labelled the greatest European hockey player in history by the Hockey News will take with him a salary of US$6.2 million leaving Holland with a huge jackpot to rebuild the franchise. Detroit has $20.2-million to fill their final five roster spots on their 23-man NHL roster.
Fox Sports Detroit: FSD will air Lidstrom’s presser online, and they commemorated Lidstrom’s career by posting the Wingspan episode about Lidstrom in three parts:
@TuzzisChinStrap Art [Regner] will be there tomorrow and then will be doing a live webcast at UDetroit Cafe after an hour-long show on FSD.
Macomb Daily/Oakland Press: The Oakland Press’s Pat Caputo stated the obvious…
He proved to be a tremendous captain for the Red Wings, filling the skates of Steve Yzerman after he retired in 2006, which seemed to be an impossible task.
Leaders are sometimes defined by their expression. For Yzerman, it was a frown, a stare and terse words that were few in number and low in volume, but loud in meaning. Lidstrom seldom changed his expression. Win. Lose. Pain. Joy. Same expression. He always said the right things publicly. He never ducked questions from the media, but his matter-of-fact answers were like his play — to the point. He carried such respect in the Red Wings’ dressing room, that nobody was willing to let him down.
It was always about example with Lidstrom. The first time he said he was going to do something was the last. He was the type of player who just did it right with unrelenting consistency for two decades.
This past season, he was the key player as the Red Wings roared to an NHL record 23-game home winning streak. Then, he took a shot off his foot, went out of the lineup and never seemed fully recovered. It was the key injury for the Red Wings, who were beaten in the opening round by Nashville. Lidstrom was still the Red Wings best player last season, and it is going to take a lot more than a free agent like Ryan Suter to replace him.
The Red Wings have had many great players down through the years. Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, Alex Delvecchio — the list is endless. But the holy trinity is Mr. Hockey (Gordie Howe), The Captain (Yzerman) and Lidstrom, who lacked the nickname, but he was simply the best defenseman in the NHL for a full generation.
Lidstrom is irreplaceable, and the impact of his departure can’t be understated like the brilliance of his play.
And the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness stuck to the facts:
When Lidstrom, 42, returned for his 20th season in Detroit last year, the club did not hold a press conference to make the announcement, which led to speculation that this could be the end of the road for the seven-time Norris Trophy winner. Lidstrom missed 11 games in the later part of the regular season with a deep ankle bruise and could never get back to full health.
“(I wasn’t) where I wanted to be,” Lidstrom said at the end of the season. “You want to be out there killing penalties, you want to be more in a rhythm, but when you can’t do it, it’s hard to get that rhythm going.”
Lidstrom, who wound up missing a career-high 12 games this regular season, needed injections before games to dull the pain and it didn’t allow him play on the penalty kill.
“I felt it during practice a little bit when we were skating, but I didn’t want to take too many shots (pain killing) for practices,” said Lidstrom, who turned 42 at the end of April. “Once the games were played it didn’t bother me at all.”
Lidstrom said the injury wouldn’t weigh on his decision to return for a 21st year with the Wings. Lidstrom 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.
He became the first European player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2002. He took over the Wings’ captaincy when longtime teammate Steve Yzerman retired in 2006.
Detroit News: The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan revealed how the news of Lidstrom’s retirement was spread, and then offered reactions to the news:
Nicklas Lidstrom, one of the best defensemen to play the game, plans on announcing his retirement at 11 a.m. Thursday, according to sources ranging from Red Wings management, several other NHL team officials and former teammates.
Phone calls made to Lidstrom, 42, were not returned. Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told The Detroit News: “Nick has come to a decision and he’s earned the right to announce that decision.”
Lidstrom has played his entire 20-year career with the Red Wings. Speaking at the general manager meetings in New Jersey before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Lidstrom’s longtime teammate Steve Yzerman told TSN: “If he does retire, he’s going to go down as one of the all-time best defensemen. Having played with him and watching him closely from his first game in the NHL, people know about it now but we saw it all along. He makes the position look so easy.”
Teammates — past and present — didn’t comment specifically on Lidstrom’s future, following Holland’s lead to let Lidstrom’s announcement stand on his own.
“I think he’s going one more year,” texted defenseman Niklas Kronwall, hopeful Lidstrom will return.
Larry Murphy, a Hall of Famer who was Lidstrom’s defensive partner when Murphy arrived in Detroit, marveled at the current Red Wings captain’s consistency.
“I always knew Nick was a tremendous player but at what level, I couldn’t really appreciate until I saw him on a day-to-day basis,” said Murphy, now a Red Wings analyst who wouldn’t speculate as to Lidstrom’s retirement plans. “Offense, defense, just the way he played the position, the consistency is one thing that really jumped out to me. He’s one of the greatest of all time.”
Lidstrom and his wife, Annika, have four sons, and the two oldest, Kevin and Adam, have both committed to play in Sweden’s junior program next season. There was a growing belief Lidstrom didn’t want another season to pass without seeing his two oldest.
The Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa stated the obvious in suggesting that no one will ever fill the shadow Lidstrom cast on the ice—though I’ll spare you from the heavy-handed, “The championship run is over!” crap…
If Lidstrom retires today, as many expect, we are unlikely to see a similar player skating for the Red Wings in the next generation. Add his considerable offensive talent, and Lidstrom is not replaceable through the draft, trade, free agency or, for that matter, among the current crop of players.
What is more, he is the psychological and emotional hub of the team. Largely because of Lidstrom, there is “no panic in the room,” as the Red Wings say repeatedly when it seems to observers as though there could easily be a ton of panic in the room.
He is, beyond what is normal in nature, a consummately balanced athlete. If the definition of toughness is always acting and talking the same way regardless of circumstances, Lidstrom is one tough guy.
Regardless, when the time comes, talk of “replacing” Lidstrom is misdirected. It will never happen.
Krupa goes on to examine every NHL defenseman who’s property of the Wings at present, before offering this assessment of what might happen if the Wings can’t aggressively pursue a free agent (or two) and/or make a trade:
A meaningful trade would be enormously difficult. Regardless, without Lidstrom or Suter the Wings probably would make the playoffs. But the 20-year streak that began with Lidstrom’s arrival clearly would be at greater risk than at any time since.
And a Stanley Cup? The Red Wings would not be anywhere among the favorites.
That’s up to the Wings’ players to determine, and the Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski certainly believes that the Wings are anything but dead in the water while trying to put his finger on why Lidstrom’s chosen to say goodbye this year, this way:
He dealt with injuries but the Red Wings still were good, in the playoffs for the 21st straight season, so why is he retiring? Well, I think he made it look a lot easier than it was. He realized he couldn’t quite match the effort he gave for two decades, and in retrospect, he wore a heavy weariness after the Wings lost in the first round to Nashville. He battled an aching ankle for much of March, missing 11 games, and took pain-killing injections during the playoffs. When it was over, he admitted he never regained the stride he’d lost, and hinted at his career decision without anyone noticing.
“I thought I dropped off a little in the second half of the season, the injury slowed me down a bit,” Lidstrom said after the playoffs. “I wasn’t able to get back up to where I wanted to be. I feel physically I can still play, but you have to have the drive. It’s different as you get older, but I know what I have to do to get ready for a long season. You have to put a lot of sweat into your workouts, and I can’t cheat myself on that.”
Oh he could have, and the Wings would’ve welcomed whatever he gave. But Lidstrom had hedged on his plans when he accepted only a one-year contract last spring. Teammates figured he might return because he still was better than most NHL defensemen, but the abrupt playoff elimination, and Lidstrom’s nagging injury, made everyone nervous.
“I think Nick Lidstrom retires when he thinks he’s not a good player anymore,” coach Mike Babcock said late in the season. “I think he’s been a pretty darn good player. Why wouldn’t you keep playing?”
Pretty darn good isn’t good enough for a player as efficient and precise as Lidstrom, long ago dubbed the Perfect Human by teammates. His off-season regimen is exhausting. His oldest son is going to school in Sweden, and at some point, I imagine Lidstrom will take his family back there.
He never wanted a farewell-tour season, and I’m not sure he even wants to stay in hockey. Although the Wings were ousted early in the playoffs, Lidstrom isn’t bailing on an ailing team. He strongly stated he liked the direction and the talent, and only hoped he could handle the grind. The ankle injury gave him pause, and the slow recovery really made him think. And now he leaves with his legacy wonderfully intact, the first European captain to win the Stanley Cup. Lidstrom shattered annoying stereotypes about European players, soft-spoken leaders and smooth skaters. He was the perfect successor to Yzerman, and the next Wings captain almost assuredly will be Henrik Zetterberg, who fits the same mold.
Detroit Free Press: The Free Press offered “flashbacks” from Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s trip to Lidstrom’s “Bars and Stars” bar in Sweden and a column Michael Rosenberg wrote Just before the playoffs began, as well as an 84-image photo gallery of Lidstrom’s time with the Wings, before Helene St. James engaged in a conversation with Wings director of pro scouting Mark Howe about Lidstrom’s career and brilliance:
“Ever since I’ve been scouting, I’ve had him rated the best defenseman in the league for pretty well the whole time,” Howe said Wednesday. “We always knew in Detroit how important he is to the team, and to the game of hockey.”
Howe recalled a time last year when he was asked to put together a six-man team of the best players he’d seen. He named his dad, former Wings great Gordie Howe, as well as Terry Sawchuk, Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Lidstrom.
Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, sent a text to the Free Press calling Lidstrom “a class act. Great player, classy from Day One. A winner, a stud.”
Lidstrom leaves a void not easily filled. The Wings will look to free agency to find a replacement for the blue line, and to center Henrik Zetterberg, it is expected, as the next captain. Lidstrom, 42, took over as the team’s official leader in 2006, after the retirement of Steve Yzerman. Yzerman often spoke of what a difference Lidstrom made to the Wings, of how he took them from pretender to contender, of how he was the team’s best player, night in and night out.
Lidstrom retires with four Stanley Cups and seven Norris Trophies recognizing him as the game’s best defenseman. He also has a Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2002 playoffs, and in 2008, he became the first European born-and-trained player to captain a team to the NHL championship. In 2006, he scored the goal that secured an Olympic gold medal for Sweden.
The Wings announced the news conference Wednesday afternoon, saying simply that Lidstrom and general manager Ken Holland would be attending. Lidstrom didn’t respond to attempts to reach him. Holland said from New York, where he was attending GM meetings, that he would stay mum on the matter, that after all his years of service, “Nick has earned the right to make the announcement his way.”
The Wings, who drafted Lidstrom 53rd overall in 1989, are certain to retire Lidstrom’s No.5, and it is just as certain Lidstrom will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.
“I know the kind of preparation it takes to play the kind of minutes he did,” Howe said. “But on top of just being in incredible condition, you take his smarts and his intelligence, and the fact he didn’t waste much energy. He was just that much better than everybody.”
St. James also discussed the difficult task that is filling Lidstrom’s void as much as the Wings are able to in another conversation with Howe:
“You don’t replace a guy like Nick,” Mark Howe said. Howe, himself a former defenseman and, since last year, a Hockey Hall of Famer, is the Wings’ director of pro scouting. So here’s a guy who’s watched oodles of NHL games, and knows that there isn’t a guy out there who can be the next Lidstrom.
“You can get another person that can come in and can do a good job and be good in their own right,” Howe said, “but to expect him to be a Nick Lidstrom or do what he’s done? Nick has to be one of the best defensemen ever. Can you replace that? No. But if lose a guy like that, you can use the money and hopefully add other assets. You can make your team a little deeper, but not as good in that one area.”
The Wings have a touch more than $20 million in salary cap space. Even before their hopes of Lidstrom returning were dashed, they planned to pursue, first and foremost, Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter. He isn’t expected to re-sign with Predators, even though they’ll try hard to make it happen, because their priority is to get their captain, Shea Weber, signed to an extension. Weber, a Norris Trophy finalist, is eligible to become a restricted free agent Suter is only 27, and he’s considered one of the game’s best defensemen. He’s a very good puck-mover, which the Wings need for their offense. Suter said earlier this month he’s looking for long-term stability, and the Wings are capable of giving him both the money and the years he wants.
The problem is, Suter will have a suitor in nearly every team. The Wings, though, should be attractive to a young player still looking to win: No other club can boast having made the playoffs 21 straight seasons. And no one else can give Suter the chance to play with Pavel Datsyuk, one of the game’s most creative players, and with Henrik Zetterberg, one of the game’s best two-way players.
Another possibility could be Justin Schultz, a blue-chip defense prospect who’ll be 22 in July, and is considered to be NHL ready. If the Ducks don’t sign him or trade his rights by late June, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. Again, he’ll have lots of pursuers. Other options are Dennis Wideman, Filip Kuba, Matt Carle and Barret Jackman.
The Wings’ defense is also likely to lose Brad Stuart, who wants to play closer to his family in California. The current cast is headlined by Niklas Kronwall, along with Jonathan Ericsson, Ian White, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl. The Wings expect to re-sign restricted free agent Kyle Quincey. Kronwall, 31, is a solid top-four defenseman, but he’ll be the one who most feels the loss of Stuart, who has been Kronwall’s partner almost exclusively since 2008. The Wings will need Ericsson, 28, to take a step—a big step—forward, something that’s overdue. Smith, 23, is a highly regarded prospect who mostly impressed in the 14 games he played this past season, but he’s still learning the game and that that he can’t take the same risks in the NHL as in the minor leagues. Kindl, 25, is coming off a so-so season, appearing at times to have progressed, but also at times to have regressed. Quincey, 26, had a rough start after being acquired a week before the trade deadline, but he should be helped by starting training camp with the Wings next season.
The “heavies” in Mitch Albom and Drew Sharp weighed in as well, with Albom suggesting that Lidstrom is, “As close as a man gets to a hockey god”...
later this morning, he will put that skill to rest and put skates on the shelf, the Free Press has learned. He has lived between countries—extended family in Sweden, immediate and hockey family in Detroit—and last year he said that when retirement came, he would return from whence he came and bring things together.
“That’s been the plan the whole time. Eventually, when I’m done playing, I’ll take my family back and raise my kids in Sweden. Being close to family. That’s what makes it attractive to us to go back.”
If he does, you can’t blame him. He has given Detroit two decades of his career. He has waved at fans through four championship parades. He took the captain’s mantle from Yzerman and wore the “C” proudly and admirably. And not once did he let us down. If Lidstrom were in “The Avengers,” he’d be Captain America, and that’s saying something considering he’s Swedish. But who wouldn’t want him wearing their flag? In 20 seasons, he never had a whiff of controversy, never had a coach outwardly criticize him, never had an ego issue or a loyalty issue.
Captain Nick hands in his stick. It had to come and everyone knew it. No extra cookie this time. No extra fairy tale. His career was amazing. And today it goes in the books.
You know what? That book just got a lot fatter.
But I guess it should come as no surprise that Evil Drew Sharp, who declares Lidstrom the best athlete in town not named Gordie Howe, Al Kaline, Barry Sanders or Joe Louis, is the ever-present pessimist, believing that Lidstrom’s retirement has nothing to do with himself and everything to do with the “championship window closing”:
He sees what it takes the rest of us a few paces later to realize. The Wings must rebuild. They’re no longer that team capable of simply tweaking a few roster spots and suddenly becoming a Stanley Cup contender.
When asked relentlessly over the last several seasons what criteria he would employ when debating whether he would return for another season, Lidstrom always said that the viability of the Wings’ championship chances would help determine whether he was interested in fully committing himself for the necessary off-season conditioning.
It sounds as if Lidstrom doesn’t think the Wings are as close to seriously challenging for the Cup next season as others might think. The window has closed. The final chapter has been written. The longest continuous streak of North American professional sports playoff participation just might come to a conclusion next season as the Wings recover from losing the one constant over the last 20 years of playoff relevance.
Scotty Bowman once told me that if Bobby Fischer, the world’s preeminent chess player in his lifetime, was a hockey player, he would be Nicklas Lidstrom.
That wouldn’t spawn immediate genuflection because how many people of a certain age had even heard of Fischer? But it spoke to Lidstrom’s cerebral approach to a sport that too many still too easily associate with the goons dropping gloves and throwing fists. You can’t truly be a great hockey player unless you’re prepared to fight, right?
Lidstrom proved that you still could think your way to hockey brilliance, finesse over fisticuffs. He forever will stand as affirmation that classiness and dignity not only still have a viable role in sports, but can serve as a testament that nice guys still can finish first.
The Free Press’s sports staff also offers “extra points” regarding Lidstrom’s retirement, with the following “nagging questions” sticking in their craws…
Things to ponder about Lidstrom’s retirement:
• You’re just pulling our leg, right?
• How long before they retire the No. 5 jersey?
• Who gets the “C” next? Henrik Zetterberg?
• How much did Ryan Suter’s pricetag go up?
• Will the stoic Lidstrom shed a tear at today’s announcement? As much as Ken Holland?
And the Free Press’s Steve Schrader took note of Steve Yzerman’s comments to Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika, made from the NHL’s General Managers’ meetings in New York:
The last Red Wings captain who retired tipped his hat to Nicklas Lidstrom, who’s supposed to say good-bye today.
“If he does retire, he’s going to go down as one of the all-time best defensemen ever to play,” Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman told yahoo.com. “Having played with him and watched him closely from his first game in the NHL—people know about it now, but we said it all along—you have to watch him closely to appreciate how good he is, what a great athlete he is, because he makes the position look so easy. He was just a ... he is a special athlete.”
Then Yzerman put on his GM hat, and talked about what the loss will mean to the Wings’ brain trust of Ken Holland and Jim Nill. Is it like, say, replacing a Stevie Y?
“A little bit different,” he said. “When I retire, you’ve got Pav and Hank, two centermen just hitting their prime. I think the Red Wings have good young players. Depending on what happens this summer, you can fill that void. But I think it’s fair to say, and it’s by no means a criticism, but it’s fair to say they don’t have Pavel or Hank on the blue line ready to step in. But it’s still a good group of defensemen they have. Kenny and Jimmy, they’re smart. They’re resourceful and they’ll have a good defense next year.”
Also via RedWingsFeed, here’s WXYZ’s report about Lidstrom:
WXYZ’s Brad Galli asked fans to weigh in on the next captain:
Hank’s the Guy: Henrik Zetterberg has spent all eight of his NHL seasons with Detroit, scoring 252 goals, good for tenth all-time in team history. He was the 2008 Conn Smythe winner during the team’s Stanley Cup run.
Zetterberg has long been viewed as a leader in the locker room. The assistant captain is media savvy and arguably the team’s most well-known player, behind the retiring Lidstrom.
During the 2008-09 season, he signed a 12-year, $73 million contract extension to stay in Detroit. He’s long been key to the team’s success. He will have to be the leader if the Red Wings usher in another unprecedented era of greatness in the Motor City.
From Nick to Nik?: Niklas Kronwall also signed a lucrative extension to ensure he wouldn’t leave anytime soon. This past season, the defenseman agreed to a seven-year extension worth $33.25 million .
The former first-round pick is another homegrown talent in the Red Wings system who has served as an assistant captain. He’d continue the whole “Swedish defenseman” aspect, but more importantly, his commanding play often sets the tone for the team during respective playoff series.
His booming hits and aggressive play is reminiscent of the great Vladimir Konstantinov. His prowess on the power play is comparable, if not better, than Lidstrom’s presence on the man advantage in his prime.
What about Pav?: Pavel Datsyuk is the most talented player to hit Hockeytown since Sergei Fedorov dominated the 1990’s. He’s been with the team a year longer than Zetterberg, and has scored 240 goals in his nine seasons.
Quiet in demeanor and far more than a jaw-dropping scorer, Datsyuk has amassed 478 assists, sixth best in Detroit history. He has taken home the Selke Trophy three consecutive seasons from 2007-10. He won four straight Lady Byng Trophies from 2006-09 and was nominated for the league’s Hart Memorial Trophy as the MVP in 2008-09.
Despite the accolades, it’s that quiet demeanor and quite frankly, his fluency with the English language, that may prevent him from taking over as Captain. His play, effort, and attitude undoubtedly prove his worth. It’s the language barrier that unfortunately keeps him a distant third in the running. As steady as he goes, Datsyuk’s probably just fine with that.
The Wings will go with Zetterberg. Kronwall’s stepped it up, but Zetterberg’s been groomed from the start to be the next captain, and Datsyuk…Likes to be the quiet man wearing the “A.”
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