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Lidstrom to return for 20th season

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT – The Red Wings got their man when legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom told team officials last week that he will return for a 20th NHL season.

Terms of Lidstrom’s one-year contract were not finalized before today when the 41-year-old captain and general manager Ken Holland got together in Las Vegas. The Wings' pair is in Vegas for Wednesday’s NHL Award Show, where Lidstrom will learn if he won Norris Trophy for the seventh time in his career. He is also a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy and the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

LISTEN: Lidstrom Teleconference

Lidstrom’s return comes as much-welcomed news to the Wings’ front office, particularly on the heels of Brian Rafalski’s retirement announcement earlier this month.

The Wings still must replace the right-handed shooting Rafalski, but knowing that they have Lidstrom on-board gives the club confidence that they have key pieces in place to compete against Western Conference powers for a spot in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Last Tuesday, on the first day of the Wings’ pro scouting meetings at MotorCity Casino & Hotel, Holland told staffers that he had received a call the night before from Lidstrom. “He wants to meet at my house this afternoon,” Holland said.

As Holland prepared to leave for his afternoon meeting, he told his scouts that he would return to pick them up at 6 p.m. for the Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park. That’s when someone in the room quipped, “If you keep going toward the Ambassador Bridge, we’ll know (Lidstrom’s) answer.”

It wasn't so funny at the time, but all laughing aside, Lidstrom’s return now gives the Wings four defensemen under contract for next season, including Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and Jakub Kindl. They also have veteran Doug Janik and highly-touted prospect Brendan Smith assigned in Grand Rapids, which gives the Wings added depth. Smith, a former Hobey Baker finalist, will be given every opportunity to win a top-six defensive role when the team heads to training camp in September.

There are also questions about the futures of Jonathan Ericsson and Ruslan Salei, and whether the Wings will offer them contracts or allow one or both players to test the open market when the free agency period kicks-off July 1.

Clearly, the big piece to the puzzle for the Wings was resigning Lidstrom for at least one more year. Last season, he rebounded nicely from a sub-par 2009-10, defying Father Time again, and becoming the first 40-year-old defenseman to score 60-points in an NHL season, and last December, he scored his first and only hat trick of his illustrious NHL career.

Despite an excellent season, Lidstrom told the team in May that he would take some time during the off-season to mull his future. He told Holland that he would have an answer prior to the NHL draft, which begins Friday in St. Paul, Minn.

“He knows that we want him back and everyone wants him back,” Henrik Zetterberg told reporters following the Wings’ postseason elimination by the San Jose Sharks. “It’s up to him and what’s best for his situation, but he definitely has more hockey in him.”

Lidstrom is near the top of every career list in Red Wings franchise history. He is fourth all-time in games played (1,494), and he should likely pass Steve Yzerman (1,514) and Alex Delvecchio (1,549) on that list in 2011-12.

Lidstrom is also third among Red Wings’ greats in assists (855); fourth in points (1,108); and ninth in goals (253), which is 12 behind John Ogrodnick.

He leads all active NHL players with an astonishing plus-429 rating.

Follow Bill Roose onTwitter | @RooseBill
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