Lidstrom decision: return or retire
When Nicklas Lidstrom took off his Detroit Red Wings uniform and unlaced his skates Saturday night, the defenceman didn't wonder whether he would wear the winged wheel again.
"I swear, I didn't," he insisted.
The 40-year-old Lidstrom deflected every question from reporters about his future after getting off the team plane Sunday afternoon, about 15 hours after his season ended. The San Jose Sharks eliminated Detroit on home ice in Game 5 of their second-round series.
"I haven't thought about it yet," he said. "It's not on my mind right now. I don't have a timetable."
But Lidstrom acknowledged knowing the Red Wings want an answer from him before free agency begins July 1.
Detroit general manager Ken Holland hopes to meet with every player, including Lidstrom, in the next two weeks and wants to re-sign Lidstrom.
"We want him back," Holland said. "I don't know what process he's got to go through."
Lidstrom didn't publicly provide any clues, saying he hasn't even privately discussed the options with his wife and kids. He has spent his entire 18-season career with the Red Wings.
The Swedish superstar seemed to slip from great to good this season, contributing 49 points — his second-lowest total in 14 seasons — then his mistakes were noticed for a change in the playoffs. For just the second time in more than a decade, he wasn't a finalist for the Norris Trophy.
Just two years ago, he was honoured as the NHL's best defenceman for a sixth time to put him behind only Bobby Orr's and Doug Harvey's total.
"I don't think I'm that far away from where I was two years ago," Lidstrom said.
Lidstrom played in his 247th playoff game Saturday night, matching Patrick Roy's mark and trailing only the Chris Chelios record of 266. But he doesn't plan to play long enough to challenge the longevity of the 48-year-old Chelios.
"If I'm going to continue to play, that's not going to be a goal of mine," Lidstrom said with a smile.
Detroit's goal was to simply make the playoffs this season after losing players last summer who combined to score 88 goals, then being forced to compete without key players because of injuries for the much of the season.
The Red Wings rallied to be the fifth-seeded team in the Western Conference finals with the best post-Olympic break record in the league, earning a spot in the NHL's 19th straight post-season to extend the longest streak in sports.
That still didn't take away the sting of defeat.
"It's always disappointing when you don't go all the way," Holland said. "Some good things happened for us. Jimmy Howard is a big story for us. We got a 26-year-old goaltending. He was tremendous for us (in Game 5).
"It's harder and harder to make the playoffs. That's not the standard we set, but I think we've got the nucleus to take a legitimate run at it again next year."
Besides Lidstrom, forwards Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Williams along with defencemen Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebda are eligible to be unrestricted free agents.
"It's going to take a process prior to July 1 to decide who we're going to keep," Holland said.
The Red Wings potentially could lose vice-president Steve Yzerman if a team such as the Tampa Bay Lighting tries to lure him away. The Hall of Fame player, who has only been employed by the Red Wings in the NHL, led Canada to men's hockey gold as Hockey Canada executive director at the Vancouver Game and has learned how to work in an NHL front office under Holland and assistant general manager Jim Nill.
"I enjoy working and being a part of this organization and helping out where I can," Yzerman said. "Someday, I'd love to run a team and if the right opportunity came along, I would consider it. I'm in no hurry to leave. If something good came along, great."