For an elite defenseman that's won four Stanley Cups and six Norris trophies, it's hard to imagine Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) having difficulty in conjuring up a competitive fire. But the Detroit Red Wings captain took a few weeks before making his decision to return to the team for a 20th season, in order to be positive that inspiration was still there.
"I wanted to make sure I found the motivation and I was ready to go through the workouts to get ready for next season," said Lidstrom, who announced with GM Ken Holland that he's signed a 1-year deal with the Red Wings after contemplating retirement.
What about the motivation of falling short of the Cup last postseason, with the Wings losing to the San Jose Sharks in the semifinals?
"It could have been easier to walk away when you're on top," said Lidstrom. "But when you get knocked out of the playoffs, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth."
Lidstrom agreed to a 1-year, $6.2 million deal, which is the same salary he made last season. He bounced back in 2010-11 with 62 points in 82 games, after dipping down to 49 points in 82 games in the previous season. (He did drop to a minus-2 after being a plus-22 one year earlier.)
Lidstrom said that had his numbers continued to slip, this may have been a different decision.
He's attempting to win his seventh Norris Trophy this week at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas. (If he wins, that would set him up to tie Bobby Orr's record of eight Norris wins with another trophy next season. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, right?)
His return to the Red Wings for the 2011-12 season helped the team dodge a catastrophe: Losing both of their top defensemen in the offseason.
Brian Rafalski(notes) retired in May after 11 seasons, citing injuries as a factor. It was a decision that loomed large over the Red Wings' attempts to coax Lidstrom back for another season, as both the GM and the player noted.
What GM Ken Holland chooses to add to this blue line, either through free agency or trades, will be one of the more intriguing subplots of the summer, given the cap space freed up by Rafalski. AHL defenseman Brendan Smith(notes) will get a strong look in camp. Doug Janik(notes) will also get a look as a veteran with a 1-way contract.
"We're looking to be active and we have money to spend," said Holland.
Lidstrom said that like in previous years, he asked Holland about the team's plans for next season before committing.
"I've always asked that question, but I never doubted Kenny," he said.
Holland assured Lidstrom the Wings would remain a team that "spends to the cap" and in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.
Lidstrom has played in 1,494 regular-season games, scoring 1,108 points (253 goals, 855 assists). He's a plus-429 for his career, which is tops among active players — the next closest player is Patrik Elias(notes) of the New Jersey Devils at 194.
Lidstrom currently ranks second all-time with 258 career postseason games played (Chris Chelios(notes) — 266) and is second all-time among defenseman with 183 playoff points (Paul Coffey — 196). His 54 postseason goals rank him third all-time among NHL blue-liners.
So we'll all have another chance to watch one of the greatest players in NHL history (seemingly) effortlessly play his position with the highest effectiveness.
Lidstrom refused to say this was a last hurrah, signing another 1-year deal and revaluating after the coming season, which makes it hard for fans to give him the proper victory lap in every city the Red Wings visit this season. He deserves one, as a legend; is there anyone that doesn't respect the hell out of this guy?
If the Detroit Red Wings make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2012, Nicklas Lidstrom will be playing NHL hockey through his 42nd birthday.
And still playing better than most of the League's defensemen, no doubt.