SAN JOSE, Calif. -- You could almost see Henrik Zetterberg cringe when the subject was brought up. It was simply too painful to even contemplate.
"I really don't want to think about that," Zetterberg said. "He hasn't made a decision yet. For now, he's still a part of the team. I'm hoping he will be here next year."
Zetterberg was referring to fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom, who recently celebrated his 40th birthday and whose contract expired when the Detroit Red Wings suffered a season-ending, 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 5 of this Western Conference Semifinal at HP Pavilion.
Lidstrom, one of the greatest players to ever take the ice, may or may not have played his last NHL game on Saturday night. Nobody knows for sure -- and that includes Lidstrom.
"I haven't thought about that yet," said Lidstrom, a six-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's best defenseman. "That's something I'll think about here in the next few weeks. It's not on my mind right now."
If it is, the game will lose a legend. Lidstrom, a third-round draft choice during Detroit's magical year at the table in 1989, has tallied 1,046 points in 1,412 regular-season games and 175 points in 247 playoff contests.
Six Norris Trophies. Four Stanley Cups. In 2008, he became the first European captain in history to hoist the Holy Grail.
You name it, No. 5 has done it.
He's part of that special group that makes kids want to grow up to be hockey players. More important, he's one of those people you want to aspire to be -- on or off the ice.
"He's one of the greatest players to play the game," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I think he was voted the best player in the last decade. He's been incredible and he's provided great leadership. He's been great to coach. We hope he comes back, but those are big decisions."
How much does Lidstrom mean to this great game of ours? Enough that the opposition wants him to play next season, too.
"I hope Nick plays because he's one hell of a player," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who had the pleasure of working with and winning a championship with Lidstrom during his time as an assistant in Detroit from 2005-08. "You have to be there, I guess, to understand. He's as good a person or a better person than he is a player, so that speaks volumes of him. He's given a lot to the game and a lot to Detroit. He's got a family at home that he'd probably like to spend some time with.
"Personally, I hope he really plays because the game will miss him. The Red Wings will obviously miss him, but the game will miss him. I know when my kids come to the rink, they really enjoy watching him. I hope he plays again."
We all do. Even if he decides in the next few weeks that this was his last game, it doesn't mean he won't receive some phone calls asking -- if not begging -- him to reconsider.
"Of course, we'll try to convince him to stay," Zetterberg said. "It's up to him and it's up to his family. He's going to make that decision. There's nothing more for us than (to) pray and wait and see."
Zetterberg won't be the only one, although as much as Babcock wants to be a part of that group, he's prepared for whatever Lidstrom decides.
If this was Lidstrom's last game, Babcock knows his captain is going out on top. The Red Wings didn't need to win the Stanley Cup in order for anybody to consider Lidstrom as still among the NHL's elite players.
If this was it, he's going out on top. If it wasn't, he enters the 2010-11 season as one of the top players in the NHL.
"I'm not going to do any praying about that," Babcock said. "Nick will decide whatever's best for Nick and his family. Obviously, he's got lots of hockey in him if he wants to (play), but he's also got a family and whatever they decide, we'll support."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL