DETROIT – Why would Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) show even the slightest hesitation when asked if he might retire? Why would he even consider it when, at age 41, when lesser men are losing their hair or growing fat or struggling to hit a golf ball off a tee, he can still do things like this?
Henrik Zetterberg(notes) spotted Lidstrom sneaking into the slot and tried to pass the puck over an opponent’s stick. He tried too hard, and the pass should have been too hot to handle – flying through the air about a foot off the ice. But it wasn’t too hot for Lidstrom, the one they call the Perfect Human, whose hand-eye coordination allows him to routinely bat down pucks along the boards and at the blue line.
Lidstrom blocked the puck with his left shin pad. Then, before the puck hit the ice, he swatted it out of the air with his stick blade. The puck skipped off the ice and up into the net for his second goal of the game – giving him 54 career playoff goals, third-most in NHL history among defensemen, and 182 career playoff points, second-most in NHL history among defensemen.
When it was over and the Wings had won, 4-3, forcing a Game 5 on Sunday night in San Jose, Lidstrom was the first star. Two goals. Plus-two. Six shots. An immeasurable impact as the captain.
“He stepped up and led his team,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, a former Wings assistant. “That’s what captains do. Their captain did. He has a calming effect on his team. He had a hell of a night.”
Said Wings coach Mike Babcock: “You guys were talking about retirement. I think he answered that pretty good.”
Yes, I asked Lidstrom about retirement Thursday. But it wasn’t because I thought he should retire. The man is a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman. If he wins it for the seventh time, he will tie Doug Harvey for the second-most ever – only one behind Bobby Orr. Obviously he can still play. As teammate Todd Bertuzzi(notes) said: “The guy is magical.”
I asked because he has taken it year to year for a while now, the Wings were facing a 3-0 series deficit and that meant there was at least a chance that Friday night’s game could have been his last at the Joe. Lidstrom said it was a tough question to answer and he would decide after the season. General manager Ken Holland said he had no idea what Lidstrom would do.
The real point is that whether Lidstrom retires this year or next year or whenever, that day is coming, so the Wings had better take advantage of their playoff opportunities with one of the best defensemen of all time while they still have him.
The Wings have never missed the playoffs since Lidstrom broke into the NHL in 1991-92. He is the one star player who was part of all of their recent Stanley Cup teams – 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008.
Seemingly indestructible, he has played almost every game his entire NHL career. He hasn’t missed a game the past two seasons. He’s in top shape and doesn’t even have gray hair. He looks like he could play another four or five seasons.
“I don’t know,” Lidstrom said, smiling. “We’ll see about that after the season.”
The feeling is that Lidstrom will return as long as he feels he can play at a high level and the Wings can compete for the Cup. So if he’s still good enough to be a Norris finalist and the Wings still have a core that includes Pavel Datsyuk(notes) and Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen(notes), why the hesitation?
Is it family? He has a son going to school in Sweden. Is it business? His contract is up, but that would be a formality. He and Holland have sat down after every season and come up with something that makes sense.
“Well, that’s something I’ll think about when the season is over,” Lidstrom said. “I don’t think about it right now.”
In the end, maybe it’s as simple as that. Timing. The season isn’t over yet, and that mentality is part of the reason the season isn’t over yet.
“We felt that we had more to give,” Lidstrom said. “We could play better. Even though they came back late in the game, we were still a desperate team that still wanted to play hockey. I think that really came out late in that game.”
The Wings blew a 3-0 lead Friday night. They broke down defensively and let the Sharks tie it in the third period. But as the clock counted down, the crowd roared, and the Wings pressed, generating chance after chance after chance.
“Some guys may not be back,” Helm said, referring to Lidstrom as well as Mike Modano(notes), Chris Osgood(notes) and Kris Draper(notes), other venerable vets with uncertain futures. “This might be one of our last chances to have a really good team. So yeah, you want to win and play hard for everybody in here. It’s about the logo on your chest.
“There’s a lot of pride in this dressing room, and guys knew it was a desperate situation, and they didn’t want to be embarrassed by being swept. We feel like we have a good chance here. We have an opportunity to win Game 5 in San Jose, and hopefully we can keep those guys around a little longer.”
How much longer will Lidstrom be around?
“When he’s had enough,” Babcock said, “he’ll have had enough.”
He hasn’t yet.