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Will Lidstrom retire or return? He won't say

by Brian Hedger /

DETROIT -- Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about whether Nicklas Lidstrom should come back for a 21st season or retire. The only guy who doesn't, at least publicly, is the legendary Detroit Red Wings captain himself.

"I try and push (it aside) during the regular season and even in the playoffs, but I get reminded by [the media] a lot," Lidstrom said Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena as the Red Wings cleared out their lockers and took the team photo. "You don't want that to become a distraction to the team or to myself. I push that aside."

Nicklas Lidstrom
Nicklas Lidstrom
Defense - DET
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 23 | PTS: 34
SOG: 148 | +/-: 21
He kept pushing it aside in his own mind, too, after Detroit made a quick exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by losing a Western Conference Quarterfinal series to Nashville in just five games. Lidstrom went through the traditional post-game handshake line like he's done many times before, both on the winning and losing sides.

"[I] never thought [in the last few seconds] that this was going to be my last game," said Lidstrom, who turns 42 on Saturday and has gone through this postseason process about retirement a couple of times before. "I didn't get into those thoughts at all."

At least, not until he got to Predators coach Barry Trotz -- who shook Lidstrom's hand and put in a request that Detroit's players, coaches and front office have probably said just a few times in the past three seasons.

"He said, 'Please don’t retire' when we shook hands," Lidstrom said. "I'm not sure what he's thinking. I was kind of faltered to hear that from the opposing coach."

Just wait until some of the sales pitches start rolling in from his teammates, who all hope he opts to return for a 21st NHL season rather than retiring.

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock put it in the simplest terms -- "I just think he's too good to quit," -- while other Wings players put their own spin on the situation.

"In the end, we hope it'll be a nice decision," fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg said. "He'll do what he needs to do. It's a big commitment to make, if he's mentally prepared to come back. Everyone hopes he's going to make that commitment."

Another one of Detroit's Swedish stars, Johan Franzen, even went so far as to say he'll try to influence both of his aging countrymen -- Lidstrom and 39-year old Tomas Holmstrom -- to return. How does he plan on bribing them?

"Maybe, unpacking the hockey bags every day or something," Franzen joked. "I always bring candy. [Holmstrom] likes candy, so I always bring candy and stuff like that [anyway]."

Not even the candy trick, however, could pry a definitive answer from Lidstrom about the big question. He met with reporters for nearly 15 minutes and took a lot of questions -- all mostly pertaining to his decision, which he said will happen prior to the start of free agency on July 1.

Aside from that, Lidstrom wasn't giving away many other clues as to which way he might be leaning.

He did say that money won't factor into his final decision and hasn't the past two years. He also said the sting of losing to the Predators isn't close to worn off yet, which he wants to clear before assessing his motivation to return.

Lidstrom also dealt with a painful deep ankle bruise for the last month of the season and playoffs after taking a shot off his skate in late February. The injury, he said, won't play a big part in whatever his decision turns out to be.

"I'll do the same as I did last year," said Lidstrom, who informed Red Wings general manager Ken Holland that he was returning for his 20th season prior to the start of free agency last summer. "I'll take my time, having a meeting with Kenny -- an exit meeting like all the players have -- and go from there. I won't make a decision soon. I won't put a timetable on it. I'm sure Kenny would like to know before July 1 to see what's going on. That's what we did last year."

It's just the longer it goes without a decision, the more people will wonder what he'll decide.

Is his motivation solely about winning the Stanley Cup now? Does he think the Red Wings are too far away from contending to make it worth returning? Would he be willing to take less money next season if it meant Holland could add another solid player to the mix via free agency?

"I'll do the same as I did last year. I'll take my time, having a meeting with [general manager] Kenny [Holland] -- an exit meeting like all the players have -- and go from there. I won't make a decision soon. I won't put a timetable on it. I'm sure Kenny would like to know before July 1 to see what's going on. That's what we did last year." -- Nicklas Lidstrom

All of those things were asked along with plenty of others, such as: "Will you even know when you've just played your last game ... and if not, will it bother you to not get a nice standing ovation in your last game?"

That one seemed to catch him a little off-guard.

"Not at all," he said in a matter-of-fact tone. "I'm not like that."

How about one of those "last season" bon voyage tours around the League? Has he ever thought about that option?

"I don't think so," Lidstrom said, while surrounded by a gaggle of TV cameras, microphones and recording devices in the Wings locker room. "That hasn’t crossed my mind either. I just want to play out the season, not have that to think about or be reminded about that all the time, just go out there and play and make that decision in the offseason. I don't want to lock myself in."

Or make a hasty decision and be left out of something special.

The Red Wings should have plenty of money freed up under the League's salary cap to go after some impact players in free agency -- and how that turns out could significantly alter Detroit's lineup and chances to win it all, at least on paper. Lidstrom hasn't forgotten what it's like to hoist the Cup, either -- since he's done it four times in his illustrious career.

"It's there in the back of my mind," he said. "You've won before and getting that feeling of winning and finishing on top, so it's always in the back of a player's mind of winning another Cup."

It's located right next to the other things that weigh on a player's mind this time of year: the motivation, desire and dedication to go through the grueling off-season training regimen.

"Training is part of it," Lidstrom said. "I know what I have to do to get ready for a long year. I'm not willing to sacrifice that to have a good summer or take it easy. I know what I have to do and it's a grind to go through, which all of us do in here. Then you hit the grind of the season. It's a long year. You play three to four games every week for over six months and that takes its toll on you, too."

Missing out on family life also takes a toll. Lidstrom already has one son, Kevin, who's gone to Sweden for the last two school years to play hockey. He also has three younger boys growing up quickly.

"I'll sit down and talk to my family, as well, and see what we want to do and go from there," said Lidstrom, who is currently 10th all-time in regular-season games played with 1,564. "I feel physically I can still play. I can contribute, but you have to be motivated and you have to have the drive ... and that's something I will think about.

"I want to take a few weeks and get over this," he said of the loss to Nashville. "It's hard when you're a few days away from losing."

Babcock, however, was quoted recently as saying at least one member of Lidstrom's family, his wife, might get sick of him hanging around the house all the time if he retires.

"Someone told me that," Lidstrom said with a laugh. "She might have been the one to tell me about it. She didn't concur, so I'm not sure."

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