For now, Nicklas Lidstrom is taking it year-by-year.
But judging by the way the Detroit Red Wings veteran defenceman is playing, there is little reason to believe this will be his final year.
“I’m just enjoying myself playing this season,” Lidstrom said. “We’ll see what happens this summer. I’m not going to make any decisions now and I’m not even thinking about it. That will be something that I’ll start thinking about once the season is over.”
Hypothetically, Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers could be Lidstrom’s last at Rexall Place in a Red Wings uniform.
The 40-year-old defenceman is on a one-year contract with the only team he’s ever played for.
But heading into the contest with 37 points in 39 games, it’s unlikely the Red Wings will allow their six-time Norris Trophy winner and soon-to-be Hall of Famer get away if he’s interested in coming back for a 20th season.
“He’s an incredible player,” said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. “Any time you talk about age, if he wasn’t an incredible player, you wouldn’t be talking about him.
“He’s just smarter than everyone else, so he can be in the right position all the time. I think he’s as good this year as he’s ever been on the offensive blue line, he’s playing real well in that area and seems to be having fun.”
Selected in the third round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, Lidstrom ranks fourth in both all time games played and points with the Red Wings. He holds the team’s single season record for assists (64) and points (80) in a season by a defenceman and has the highest plus-minus in the NHL at plus-433 since 1991.
His production seems superhuman, considering how long he’s been at the top of his profession.
“I’ve been lucky not to have too many major injuries and I’ve taken care of myself in the off-season,” Lidstrom said. “Getting your off-season workouts is very important in order to last during a long season.
“I know I’m still looked upon being one of the leaders in the room although my ice time is not up in the high-20 minutes like it used to be. But I still want to contribute both offensively and defensively, play solid defensively, but get a chance to get up in the play when I can.”
Heading into the game against the Oilers, Lidstrom was second in NHL defensive scoring behind Dustin Byfuglien of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Lidstrom is averaging 23:30 minutes a night playing with Brad Stuart and credits part of his longevity to his positional play.
“I think my positional play has always been important, whether I was 25 or older,” Lidstrom said. “That’s always been something that I’ve tried to emphasize, playing solid positionally. I think experience really comes in hand when you’re playing in the league for a long time and you get up there in age.”
It’s to a point now where Lidstrom is going up against players who weren’t even born the year he broke into the NHL.
“I’m well aware of how young some of the kids are that are playing in the league,” he said. “I sat next to Chris Chelios for almost 10 years and I watched him grind it out day in and day out and never complain, so I had a great mentor in Chris Chelios.”
One of the things Lidstrom is most proud off during his outstanding career is not having missed many games due to injury.
He’s played at least 76 games in 17 of his 19 previous years and has suited up in every game for the Red Wings this season.
“He’s an incredible, incredible player,” Babcock said. “And anyone that is plus-450 or something like that, must have done something right.”