DETROIT – As players shook hands last Friday at Bridgestone Arena, Nicklas Lidstrom received a request from Nashville coach Barry Trotz that caught the Red Wings’ legend by surprise.
“He said please don’t retire when we shook hands,” Lidstrom said. “I was kind of flattered to here that from the opposing coach.”
Trotz isn’t alone is his desire to see perhaps the league’s greatest defenseman of all-time – with his four Stanley Cups and seven Norris Trophies – return for a 21st season.
“I just think he's too good to quit,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I talked to him today at the team picture and he told me that he's going to take a couple weeks and kick it around in his own mind and decide what he wants to do.”
Lidstrom will turn 42-years-old this Saturday, said Tuesday that he’ll talk with general manager Ken Holland in the coming days before taking a few weeks to make a decision prior to July 1, which is the start of the league’s free agency period.
The toughest thing about coming back next season, Lidstrom said, is getting motivated to make the necessary commitment to the off-ice workouts in the off-season.
“I know what I have to do to get ready for a long year,” Lidstrom said. “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 3-4 games every week for over six months and that takes its toll on you too.”
But the prize at the end of the road is paved in silver.
“It's there in the back of my mind,” said Lidstrom, about the desire to win another Stanley Cup. “You've won before and getting that feeling of winning and finishing on top so it's always in the back of player's mind of winning another Cup.”
Lidstrom battled through the most agonizing injury of his illustrious career this season when a rim-around shot by Colorado’s Jan Hejda struck him on the outside of the right ankle on Feb. 25. Lidstrom missed a career-long 11 straight games. And though he returned two weeks before the start of the playoffs, he wasn’t quite at 100 percent in the Western Conference quarterfinals series.
“You're still disappointed losing out, so mentally you're not happy with how things ended,” he said. “Physically I feel OK. My ankle was hurting me late in the year and a little bit in the playoffs, but we have good doctors and it really didn't bother me when we started playing games.”
Though he played in the fewest games of any single season since the 1994-95 lockout-shortened season, Lidstrom still managed to collect 11 goals and 23 assists with a plus-21 rating.
“I'm happy with how I played the first half of the season,” he said. “I felt I dropped off a little bit in the second half, then I got hurt with 60 games into the year. I think that slowed me down I bit. I wasn't where I wanted to be after I got back from that injury.”
But don’t think that the injury will weigh into his decision to return next season.
“I feel physically I can still play,” Lidstrom said. “I can contribute, but you have to be motivated and you have to have the drive and that's something I will think about.”
Lidstrom’s teammate and close friend Tomas Holmstrom is also facing uncertainty in the twilight of his career that has spanned 1,026 games. The veteran forward, who has made a name for himself as one of the league’s premier net-front players, has health issues which may decide his hockey fate.
“I love the game, I would love to play three or four more years,” Holmstrom said. “It’s so much fun to come to the rink. It’s just whether the body can take it one or two more years. It’s all about the wear and tear on the body.
“I just know that mentally, the last couple of years, I’ve had to go through stiffness, soreness, aches and pains. It can be pretty tough during the regular-season.”
A significant decrease in the amount of ice-time he got this season was a disappointment for Holmstrom, but he proved his worthiness by scoring at least 10 power-play goals for the sixth out of the last seven seasons.
“If I’m going to play next year, am I going to play on the fourth line and get 7-9 minutes of ice time a game, that’s tough to do,” said Holmstrom, who has battled through bad knees for years. “Of course, you’ve got the power play, too, but it’s not that easy to get out there and make something happen when you’re getting limited ice-time.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose