Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom turned 40 during last spring's Stanley Cup Playoffs, but his 19th NHL season has seen him get off to one of the best starts of his career.
As the Red Wings entered play Thursday night against the Phoenix Coyotes, the third-round pick by Detroit in the 1989 Entry Draft had 1 goal and 8 points in his first seven games to go along with a plus-4 rating.
Red Wings GM Ken Holland, a guest on NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman prior to the game, doesn't want to contemplate life without Lidstrom anytime soon.
"I hope he can go another decade," Holland said with a laugh, adding, "I actually have five years in my contract, so hopefully four more years after this one."
Holland continued: "He's one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game. He's not going to wow you by going coast to coast like Bobby Orr. He wows you that he never makes a mistake, and his attention to detail every day in practice, in the game, his ability to make the outlet pass. … He's an incredible, incredible athlete, and I think the other thing is, he's so humble. He's a tremendous leader.
"I think if we have a good year and Nick has a good year, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he wants to play beyond this year. I've said all along, when Nick retires I won't be far behind, so he's gotta keep playing here so I can keep working."
Another 40-year-old who's new to the Detroit roster, Mike Modano, is still trying to find his groove after a two-decade career in the Stars organization, both in Minnesota and Dallas. Modano scored a goal on his first shot with the Red Wings in the season opener but entered Thursday without a point since then and a minus-6 rating.
Holland told Bettman the Wings have had success in the past bringing in players in the twilight of their careers, and he believes Modano, along with linemates Jiri Hudler and Dan Cleary, will start producing soon.
"I think that the last three or four games he's getting better, the line is getting better -- they just seem to have a real good shift and all of a sudden at the end of the shift there's a turnover and the puck ends up in our net," he said.
"We're looking at it as an 82-game regular season marathon, and over the course of time he's going to get better, we're going to find some chemistry. We think he's going to be an important guy for us, obviously, in the locker room. He's got instant credibility and respect because of what he's done in his career."
When NHL action began Thursday, all five teams in the Central Division sat among the top eight in the Western Conference with at least 10 points. The Red Wings, off to a 5-1-1 start, know they must continue to put together what Holland called "good 10-game segments" in order to keep themselves in prime playoff position moving forward.
"It used to be a division (critics) were sort of chortling at, but it might be as good a division as there is in the National Hockey League today," Holland said. "We haven't started to play our teams -- we still have six games with those other four teams in our division, so it's going to be a real scramble to make the playoffs."