20 June 2011

"Retire? Not so quick!", says Nick

At age 41, and after 19 seasons in the NHL, Nicklas Lidstrom remains one of the best defensemen in hockey.

His motivation to play is still strong, as is his belief that the Detroit Red Wings will continue to be an upper-echelon team.

That is why Lidstrom is returning for his 20th season, signing a one-year extension Monday for the same $6.2 million salary he earned last season.

“Why (his decision) took so long was I wanted to make sure I found the motivation and the commitment to work out for next season,'' Lidstrom said during a conference call. “I wanted to make sure I'm motivated, still able to play at a high level at my age. I have to be motivated to play, can't just show up and play 15-20 minutes a game.''

He added, “It gets a little bit tougher every year. After the playoff run you're drained, mentally fatigued. You need to find that fire to be able to play.''

Lidstrom has a chance to win his seventh Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman Wednesday at the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas, where he also is a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy (sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct) and the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

It was a critically important decision for the team.

“Nick is coming off a tremendous season,'' general manager Ken Holland said. “Nick continues to be one of the elite defensemen in the game.

“He's such an incredible player, an incredible leader, such an important part of the team. I don't even want to think about him retiring.''

Lidstrom finished second among all defensemen in 2010-11 with 62 points (16 goals, 46 assists). He continues to be remarkably durable, playing in all 82 games in each of the past two seasons.

“That (having a good year) was important, coming off last season (2009-10) I thought I could play better,'' Lidstrom said. “I wanted to prove I could still be an important player for the team.''

Lidstrom's ice time was trimmed last season (from 25:26 per game to 23:28) and was further reduced in the playoffs (21:49), when he wasn't used to kill penalties. It enabled him to stay fresher late in the season.

“I admire (former teammate Chris) Chelios, playing into his upper 40s,'' Lidstrom said. “His ice time dropped and he accepted it. I couldn't do that. I have to be at a certain level to play to my expectations.''

Lidstrom return became even more vital for the club following defenseman Brian Rafalski's unexpected retirement last month. Lidstrom said he was surprised that Rafalski retired and admitted that factored into his decision slightly.

“I knew they wanted me back even more when he retired,'' Lidstrom said.

Lidstrom said he never doubted the club's commitment to putting together the best squad possible. Holland said they'll spend up to the salary cap, which is $64 million.

“I really like the team we have,'' Lidstrom said. “That helped my decision.''

Lidstrom said he again will decide on his future after the season.

“I'm taking it year by year to make sure I'm motivated and can play at a high level,'' Lidstrom said.

Lidstrom ranks fourth on the Red Wings' career list for points (1,108), ninth in goals (253), third in assists (855) and fourth in games played (1,494).

“Today's announcement is a big step towards building a defense that allows us to be competitive,'' Holland said.

The Red Wings have four NHL defensemen under contract: Lidstrom, Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall and Jakub Kindl.

Holland is continuing contract talks with Jonathan Ericsson, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He said a decision on whether to offer veteran Ruslan Salei a contract will come in the next 10 days.

The club is counting on top prospect Brendan Smith to make the team next season after one year with the Grand Rapids Griffins. And veteran Doug Janik, who has a one-way contract for 2011-12, could make the roster as the seventh or eighth defenseman.

Holland said they're considering carrying 13 forwards and eight defensemen instead of the usual 14 forwards and seven defensemen.

The Red Wings will look to acquire a top-four defenseman through free agency.

“We got some cap money,'' Holland said. “We plan to be aggressive on July 1 and sign a defenseman or two. But we're not going out there to spend a bunch of money just to have a press conference. We're going to find players that fit our team, fit our system.''

Holland also expects trade talks to heat up Friday and Saturday at the entry draft in St. Paul, Minn.

“Teams know we have a need on defense and we have cap space,'' Holland said. “I received a few calls last week. We're going to explore ways, either on the trade front or free agency.''

The Red Wings have 17 players signed for 2011-12 at a salary cap figure of slightly more than $48 million (not including Smith and Janik). The cap is expected to rise from $59.4 million to $64 million.

That gives them roughly $15 million (they need to stay at least $600,000 under the cap to recall a player in the event of several short-term injuries) to spend on six players. They are contemplating signing Jaromir Jagr and hope to re-sign forwards Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller. They need to sign a back-up goaltender. And they'll need two or three more defensemen.


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