For the last 17 off-seasons, Detroit Red Wings fans have had little to worry about who would be anchoring the blue line the next season.
Now, all that is in doubt.
Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom just completed his 18th NHL season, and recently turned 40-years-old during the playoff series with the Phoenix Coyotes. And for the first time in those 18 seasons, it appears the captain is seriously considering calling it quits. Lidstrom recently enrolled his 16-year-old son in a Swedish school in case he retires, which has fueled speculation on the captain's future.
For years it was a question of how much he would re-sign for. Now it's a question of if he'll re-sign at all.
Head Coach Mike Babcock believes that the Wings' captain will return next season, as he told MLive's Ansar Khan today. Players Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen have said they will try to persuade the captain back next year as well.
But ultimately it is not up to Babcock, Zetterberg or anyone on the Red Wings for that matter. It will be Lidstrom's decision to make.
More after the jump
Few times in sports does a player's production not drastically decline when that player reaches the 35-40 year range. Lidstrom is an anomaly when it comes to this however. Lidstrom won three of his six Norris Trophies after he reached the age of 35, a remarkable accomplishment in a physically taxing sport. Unlike his predecessor Steve Yzerman, injuries have not plagued him into retiring.
The question is not whether Lidstrom can play, but rather if he wants to play.
On this rare occasion we may see a player retire while he is still considered one of the best in the game. Even in what he would consider a down year, Lidstrom was a top candidate for the Norris Trophy yet again, although he didn't make the final cut. Speaking volumes to his reputation in the league, Lidstrom was recently voted by his peers to be the league's best shut-down defenseman in a Sports Illustrated poll, garnering 25 percent of the vote.
Lidstrom made just over $7 million this past season, and it is widely believed the Wings will ask him to take a slight pay cut next season. A deal within the $4-5 million range on a one to two year basis seems to be the popular idea.
Lidstrom showed in the second half of this season that he can still play at an elite level, and was well worth the money the Wings shelled out for him this year. Many claimed that he had "lost a step" in the early part of the season, when he went 42 games without scoring a goal. But Lidstrom, who was never known for his speed in the first place, silenced those critics with a torrid January, finishing the year with a respectable 49 points
The only certain thing in this dilemma is that if Lidstrom comes back to the NHL next season, it will no doubt be with the Red Wings. Lidstrom has really been a free agent in name-only throughout his career, and there's really no incentive to bolt for another team this late in his career. Detroit is a perennial Stanley Cup contender and it would make no sense for him to "make one last run at the Cup" with another team when he's already got the pieces in place here.
Lidstrom will end his career as a Red Wing, and his #5 will be up in the rafters shortly after. Hopefully "shortly after" isn't for another couple years.
We as Red Wings fans have truly been blessed to have watched the best defenseman of the modern era for his entire career. Lidstrom is a class act and is respected league-wide, and has alway put the team first. Back in 2007-08, when his contract last expired, Lidstrom took far less money to stay with Detroit than he could have made on the open market. If he retires, it won't be because the club didn't offer him enough money or he wasn't happy with the direction of the team. It will be simply because he doesn't want play anymore.
No matter what the captain decides, he deserves our respect and thanks for a great career.