The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/06/11 at 06:04 PM ET
Updated at 6:05 PM: The Detroit Red Wings may or may not be playing in the final game in which Nicklas Lidstrom, Mike Modano, Kris Draper, and Chris Osgood are members of an NHL team’s roster tonight, but USA Today’s Kevin Allen does not believe that Lidstrom will retire, and he employs five reasons to bolster his claim:
1. Although Lidstrom and his wife, Annika, look forward to the time when they can move back to Sweden, they aren’t in a rush to leave Michigan. Both readily concede it will be very difficult to leave a place that has been their home for almost two decades.
2. The relationship between Lidstrom and the Red Wings is probably as close to perfect as you could get. Lidstrom says he enjoys what he terms “fireside chats” with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland at the end of the season about the direction the team is heading. Essentially, the way contract negotiations between Lidstrom and the Red Wings work is Holland explains the Red Wings’ salary cap situation, and they ask Lidstrom what number he can live with. The Red Wings don’t play hardball with their captain. There’s a mutual respect. They understand his importance, and he knows his value.
3. Seems like it would be difficult to walk away from the level of salary Lidstrom still commands. He’s making $6.2 million this season, and it would seem as if the Red Wings wouldn’t ask him to go below that because defenseman Brian Rafalski will make $6 million next season. You can’t pay Lidstrom less than Rafalski. Earlier this season, Holland said he would be willing to give Lidstrom a two-year deal if he wanted one.
4. Lidstrom still loves the game. You can tell that by watching him play. He still competes every shift. He says he doesn’t move up into the play as much as he used to, but video might not support that call. He still loves to sneak into the slot, or the back door, and rip a shot past a surprised goaltender. There has been no indication from Lidstrom this season that he was contemplating an exit from the game.
5. Lidstrom is a finalist for the Norris Trophy, meaning at 40 he is among the top three defensemen in the game. His minus-2 plus-minus rating was more a reflection of how the team played than how Lidstrom played. He had 62 points this season. He’s not just hanging on. He’s excelling. The Red Wings would be significantly harmed by his retirement. Lidstrom is simply playing too well to retire.
The one reason GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock might be more concerned about the future of the six-time Norris winner now is this: Lidstrom opted for a one-year contract last year, instead of a two-year deal. That’s the only tangible clue, in my mind, and it’s outweighed by his good health and his family situation. A year ago, his oldest son, Kevin, was heading to Sweden for school and hockey, and Lidstrom contemplated whether the family should go with him. Now, he says Kevin is living with relatives in Sweden and has adjusted very well. So, perhaps that issue has lessened. Asked if he was more likely to return for all those reasons, Lidstrom again didn’t tip his hand.
“No, it’s kind of the same boat as last season,” he said. “I think looking at the lineup we have, the depth we have and the core group in their primes right now, I have no doubt they’re gonna be a successful team.”
Asked if he thought he might be playing his last game in Joe Louis Arena, he was non-committal.
“Tough to answer. I hope not. I want to continue to play this playoff and just keep going with this team.”
That’s smartly vague, and I don’t think it’s a sign one way or the other. I doubt his choice of words is a major clue, either. Lidstrom wants to wait again, see how he feels again, discuss with his family again, and then decide. As one of the franchise’s all-time greats, he certainly has earned the right to take his time.
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