DETROIT – Nicklas Lidstrom earned a new level of respect from former teammate Chris Chelios on Wednesday afternoon.
Chelios, an advisor to the club’s hockey operations department, invited Lidstrom to spend a day paddleboarding on Orchard Lake. But when the two returned to shore, someone had absconded with Chelios’ flip flops.
“We had some flip flops on the shore and only mine were stolen, Nick's were still sitting there,” Chelios said. “And his were way better flip flops than mine. That just shows you the difference between me and Nick.”
While Chelios laughed off the footwear caper on Thursday, their water adventure was more about business. Chelios wanted to see if Lidstrom was steadfast in his decision to make his retirement announcement Thursday morning at Joe Louis Arena.
“He did talk about the grind of training, preparation,” Chelios said. “I told him, 'Don't lift weights, go mountain biking, go paddleboarding, spend all the time with your kids and then see. But after 30 seconds his mind was made up, there was no changing that.
“I don't doubt that Nick is mentally and physically drained right now. … I'm sure because of all the thinking he's had to do over the past two weeks and what a tough decision he had to make, I didn't even have the heart to try to convince him otherwise.”
Lidstrom had already made up his mind, informing general manager Ken Holland last Thursday of his decision to retire and move back to Sweden with his wife, Annika, and their four sons.
“It was a good one,” said Lidstrom, referring to his talk with Chelios. “We talked about what he went through when he decided (to retire), where he was at his stage of his career, where I'm at.”
Chelios thought paddleboarding would provide the perfect backdrop to fully understand where Lidstrom was in terms of his decision to retire or return to the Red Wings for a 21st season.
“I can't relax as a person, but the water has a calming effect,” Chelios said. “I thought that would be a great surrounding to have him relax and not stress him out because I know I stress my wife out and I don't want to do that to Nick because I know he's been through so much the past three weeks.
“You're sent by Kenny to talk to Nick but you still feel like a player. As management I failed miserably because I think of him as a friend and a teammate.”
Paddleboarding is something that Lidstrom has done quite often in the past at Chelios’ Malibu home near the Pacific Ocean. It was seven years ago when Chelios thought he had Lidstrom set-up to fail with an activity that the Swede knew little about.
Boy, was Chelios sadly mistaken.
“Nick was perfect, he was a rock, you couldn't rattle him,” Chelios said. “Even paddleboarding on the ocean the first time I wanted to see him fall out of control, even when he fell it was in total control. Other guys were throwing their paddle, Nick put his down nice and slow and started all over again. It was crazy, damn it, I still didn't get him.”
Nobody in NHL history has played in more Stanley Cup playoff games than Chelios and Lidstrom, who appeared in 266 and 263, respectively, during their long careers. So for Lidstrom, who better in the world to ask about retirement than someone who has taken a similar Hall-of-Fame path?
“He felt he was done, he was more of a role player at the end,” Lidstrom said. “He felt you're one of the top defensemen in the league, you can still play. He wanted to get a feeling if I was 100 percent committed to doing it. I don't know if Kenny sent him. But he just wanted to get a feel of what I was thinking.”
Upon learning of Lidstrom’s decision, the Wings’ GM told his team captain to take the long holiday weekend and think things over. On Tuesday, Lidstrom sent Holland a text letting him know that he was comfortable with his decision.
“I told Nick he could do it one more time, take the weekend and see if things change,” Holland said. “I sent him a text Tuesday morning at 9:30 saying I thought about him all weekend, hadn't slept much, thought that he had another good year in him, thought that if he came back, making two of three moves, we could have the potential to have a tremendous year.
“Then he sent me a text back and said he was comfortable with his decision. I was in the office and Cheli was in the office, I said Cheli why don't you … I wanted Nick back.”
That’s when Chelios invited Lidstrom to Orchard Lake.
“I wanted to make sure Nick was totally comfortable with his decision,” Holland said. “I was in GM meetings in New York, (a) text came from Cheli, ‘Call me as soon as you can, I just finished paddleboarding with Nick.’ ”
However, Lidstrom suspected something was up when Chelios called.
“I kind of knew the question was going to come,” Lidstrom said. “We've been talking about it the last few weeks, finding a day to go paddleboarding. When I talked to him Tuesday to set it up, he brought (retirement) up and I knew it was coming Wednesday.”
But Chelios also knew there wasn’t a chance of changing Lidstrom’s mind, after all, if his best friend in hockey, Tomas Holmstrom, couldn’t convince the 42-year-old Swedish legend to stay in the game, Cheli’s words would certainly go to waste.
“Nick's done everything right his whole career, I'm sure he's content and happy with his decision now,” Chelios said. “It's just a really tough decision especially when you can play at the level he can still. I'm the wrong guy to give advice on that because I'm the guy who said I'm going to play until there's nothing left in the tank and I was fortunate enough it went perfectly with Detroit.”
As for playing with the greatest defenseman of his era, and sharing in two Stanley Cup titles with him, Chelios can’t say enough good things about his friend and former teammate.
“(Nick's) demeanor was really something,” he said. “When I got to the team, the one thing I learned from Nick, because of the passion I played with, I got too high, too low, Nick kept it at an even keel. Watching Nick and the effect he had on players, not losing his composure, even being two games down, never changed his game plan, being two goals down, never panicked, I slowly but surely, like the rest of the team, caught onto that.”
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