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Lidstrom's return ensures at least one more run at Stanley

Inhale, exhale.

It's alright Red Wings fans, the captain is here to comfort you for one more year.

Motown let out a huge sigh of relief today as Nicklas Lidstrom officially inked a $6.2 million deal to return to the Red Wings for one more season.  

Even though Lidstrom recently turned 40, it was imperative that Detroit re-sign the 18-year veteran that has anchored the Red Wings' blue line since 1991.  Lidstrom is still considered the best defenseman in the league even at his age, and the loss of Captain Nick would have devasted the Red Wings chances at another Stanley Cup championship, at least in the short term. Sure, the Wings have Olympian Brian Rafalski back there making a cool $6 million himself, but Rafalski has become turnover prone in his own end lately, a flaw that would have been magnified by an "early" retirement by Lidstrom.

Lidstrom started a mini-panic in Michigan in May when he enrolled his 16-year-old son in a Swedish school, a step that was necessary in the event he retired.  While it certainly set nothing in stone, it appeared Lidstrom was at least considering calling it quits for the first time in his career, although many in the organization never seemed worried.  Even Lidstrom himself didn't seem like he was ready to give up just yet.

But there was always that voice in the back of our heads telling us this might just be it.

Instead, Detroit will basically keep its' entire blue line intact, depending on who they decide to re-sgin between Andreas Lilja, Derek Meech and Brett Lebda; Detroit also has promising youngster Jakub Kindl waiting for his chance in Grand Rapids.  Lidstrom and Rafalski will continue to form one of the top two defensive pairings in the Western Conference, assuming Brad Stuart continues his solid play from 2009-10 and Niklas Kronwall stays healthy.

But the biggest thing Lidstrom's contract brings to the table is flexibility.  By signing for $6.2 million, just about $1 million less than he made last year, Lidstrom's will remain the highest paid player defenseman on the team, but at the same time will leave around $8 million in cap space for next season.  They can now use that extra money to re-sign key free agents such as Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi, both of which the Red Wings are interested in bringing back.  It also helps the return of Jiri Hudler, whose $2.875 million deal for this season is significantly more than what Jason Williams made, the man he is replacing in the lineup.

With the captain signed on for another season, the Red Wings are guaranteed at least one more run at the Stanley Cup.  There is no doubt that Detroit could have made the playoffs for a 20th consecutive season without Lidstrom on the roster, but the Wings' Cup chances would have taken a serious blow.  Lidstrom's combination of defensive skill and offensive firepower is unmatched in the league, and that gives Detroit a significant edge over most of their opponents. Without that in the lineup, Detroit would not have as nearly a potent power play, and the resurgent penalty killing last season would have taken a gigantic step backwards.

It was the Cup factor that ultimately brought Lidstrom back to the team.  As he told MLive's Ansar Khan earlier today, Lidstrom felt that if the team were rebuilding it would have been a different story:

If the team was looking to rebuild and get rid of older players it might have been a different situation,'' Lidstrom said. "But they’re in it to win it. Kenny kept telling me that, too. He said, ‘We want to have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

But now we can put all those worries behind us.  Number 5 is back for another go around, thanks to another solid performance by wizard Ken Holland.  Now the real work will begin, as Holland will try to fill out another Stanley Cup-caliber squad around the centerpiece of the franchise.

We already lost one Captain last week.  Holland made sure we weren't going to lose another this week.