DETROIT — Nicklas Lidstrom is walking a fine line, trying to play at a high level for the Detroit Red Wings as long as he can without figuring out too late he played one too many seasons.
“You just never know when it’s going to happen,” he said.
Lidstrom doesn’t want to retire too soon. Or, too late.
It looks like he made the right decision to play his 19th NHL season.
Lidstrom has 44 points in 50 games — not too shabby for a 40-year-old defenceman — to rank second in scoring for the Central Division-leading Red Wings.
“I feel as good as I did four or five years ago,” he said.
Sticking around gave Lidstrom a unique opportunity last weekend.
Team Lidstrom beat Team Staal 11-10 Sunday night in the first all-star game with captains choosing the rosters. In a game known for wide-open play and high scores, Lidstrom subtly starred in his own way with a plus-7 in the game.
Lidstrom almost went back home after last season.
The four-time Stanley Cup champion and six-time Norris Trophy winner considered returning to Sweden when his 16-year-old son started school there last fall. But Lidstrom chose to play at least one more NHL season, signing a US$6.2 million, one-year deal and using Skype to keep in touch with his oldest of four sons.
“It was tough in the beginning because I was used to having all of our kids around,” Lidstrom said.
“It was great when he came home for two weeks around Christmas. We’re Skyping almost daily, so we get to see him and talk to him. He’s growing up and becoming a man.”
Lidstrom has some teammates young enough to be one of his boys.
“Some of these guys were only a year old when I joined the league in 1991,” he said. “Sometimes, I think about that.”
Hall of Famer Gordie Howe will never forget skating with the Red Wings during Lidstrom’s rookie year.
“That’s back when I still got out there with the guys sometimes and he was the first one to drop his glove and shake my hand,” Howe said during the playoffs last year. “He’s a perfect gentleman.”
Howe, who played for the Hartford Whalers when he was 52, hopes Lidstrom doesn’t retire any time soon.
“He should play forever,” Howe said. “He’s got the ability and plays a gentleman’s game that tells me he’s got a long way to go.”
The Red Wings hope Mr. Hockey is right.
Detroit general manager Ken Holland, who was a western amateur scout with the franchise in 1989 when it drafted Lidstrom in the third round, marvels at his relentless attention to detail on a daily basis.
“The beauty of Nick is, he’s the same every day and he’s no maintenance,” Holland said. “He might not wow you if you just watch him one game, but his greatness is that he rarely makes a mistake shift after shift, game after game, year after year.
“This is supposed to be a young man’s league, but at the age of 40, I still think he’s the best two-way defenceman in the world. Among all-time defenceman, I’d put him second behind only Bobby Orr.”
Lidstrom was honoured as the NHL’s best defenceman in 2008 for a sixth time, putting his Norris Trophy collection behind only Bobby Orr and Doug Harvey.
“It’s hard to find anybody who has had as consistent career, and almost been mistake-free like Nick has,” former teammate Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s vice-president of hockey and business development, said last year when he was in Detroit for a game. “People always want to dissect his game, prematurely. If your game catches a cold and you’re 30, people say it’s no big deal, if you’re 40, people are ready to get you a coffin.”
The Red Wings would love to have Lidstrom commit to continuing his career beyond this season — he turned down a two-year offer from them last summer — but he plans to wait until after the season to decide whether to come back or call it a career.
“I’ll reassess in the summer, just like I did last time,” Lidstrom said. “Kenny asked me if I wanted to sign a two-year deal, but I just want to take it one year at a time.
“I’m happy that I came back to play this season. We’ve got a pretty good team and it was an honour to be selected as a captain for the all-star game.”