May 31, 2012
Lidstrom calls it a career'It's been a great, great ride'
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
DETROIT - A new era has begun for the Detroit Red Wings.
It began Thursday when one of the greatest defenceman and hockey players in National Hockey League history announced his retirement.
"Today after 20 years as a player with the Detroit Red Wings, I am announcing my retirement," said Red Wings defenceman and captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
"It's been a great, great ride."
Those words marked the end of a glorious era for the Red Wings, an era that was led by the popular Swede, a hopeful era but one not without uncertainty.
A packed room at Joe Louis Arena was just as packed emotionally.
Speculation on Lidstrom's future began during the season. There was hope that Lidstrom would ignore his age (42) and decide to return for another year.
But performing at less than 100% is not the way Lidstrom operates.
"It's not that the tank is completely empty, it just doesn't have enough to carry me through every day at the high level I want to play at," Lidstrom said. "Retiring today allows me to walk away from the game with pride, rather than have the game walk away from me."
It was a difficult decision for Lidstrom. Once he made it, there was no looking back.
"The last two years I waited until after the season was over to assess my ability to play another year," Lidstrom said. "Sadly, this year, it's painfully obvious to me that my strength and energy level are not rebounding enough for me to continue to play. My drive and motivation are not where they need to be to play at this level.
"I am aware that some people think my skills have only diminished some and I can still help the Wings to win games. I appreciate their support."
Ken Holland, the Red Wings vice-president and general manager, was one of those people.
"I feel very comfortable with my decision," Lidstrom said. "Ken and I talked about it a couple of weeks ago. He told me, 'Take the long weekend to think about it.' I got back to him a couple of days later and told him my decision was the same."
Television stations and newspapers from Sweden made the trip to cover the announcement.
Lidstrom's voice cracked several times, but he managed to hold it together while teammates looked on, recognizing the significance of the announcement.
It will be probably the most documented move of the off-season, but it will by no means be the last.
But this day belonged to one of the classiest and well-liked players ever to have put on a hockey uniform.
"I didn't want to cheat anyone," he said.
His wife Annika and three of his four sons were present at the news conference. "This is the day I've been dreading since 1997," said Holland.
Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch called Lidstrom the Wings' "Rock of Gibraltar." Former Wings defenceman Chris Chelios, now a member of the team's front office, says there was no greater athlete than Lidstrom.
"You think of M.J. (Michael Jordan,) (Wayne) Gretzky," said Chelios. "None of them are better than Nick. They may be right up there, but none of them are better."
As Lidstrom fulfilled every interview request, he faced the usual "what if" questions. What if he decided to come back after half a season? What if the Winter Classic featuring the Red Wings proved too strong an attraction? What if, like many retired athletes, he felt once again the lure of the spotlight?
To all of those suggestions he responded the same way.
"My family and I are completely comfortable with the decision," he said.
"Annika told me if I wanted to play another year we could make it work.
"But I feel comfortable with the decision I've made."
Lidstrom said he would still like to be part of the Red Wings organization and he's spoken briefly with Holland about that possibility. No doubt it will happen. But when his kids finish school here, Lidstrom and his family will move back to Sweden.
With the announcement came the usual speculation of how the Wings would fill Lidstrom's spot. Detroit already had ample salary cap space and Lidstrom's departure will free up $6.2 million more.
They are expected to pursue the Nashville Predators' Ryan Suter, a pending unrestricted free agent, among others.
None of that seemed to matter Thursday.
It's going to take a while to adjust and figure out how to deal with life after Lidstrom.