Nicklas Lidstrom isn’t expected to retire after this season

While we cannot enter the heads of professional athletes, it’s interesting to follow the likelihood of Mike Modano’s retirement and the opposite expectations for Nicklas Lidstrom. After all, they’re about the same age; Lidstrom recently turned 41 while Modano will reach that age in June.

Yet their on-ice effectiveness explains the distinction. Modano just doesn’t have the same finishing touch or blazing speed while Lidstrom’s intelligent defensive game translates well to advanced age.

I’ve noted several times that I think the Norris Trophy race should come down to Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber*, but the fact that Lidstrom is even in the discussion is amazing. His 62 points ranked second among NHL defenseman behind Anaheim Ducks blueliner Lubomir Visnovsky’s 68.

It’s no guarantee that Lidstrom will be back. He might look at Modano and other players who stayed too long and decide that he wants to retire while his elite game is still more or less intact.

No one would begrudge him for staying for another year (or two?) though, especially not the Red Wing organization. USA Today’s Kevin Allen ranks among the many who believe that Lidstrom will stay, giving five reasons to match Lidstrom’s No. 5 jersey. Here are a few excerpts from that column.

The relationship between Lidstrom and the Red Wings is probably as close to perfect as you could get. Lidstrom says he enjoys what he terms “fireside chats” with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland at the end of the season about the direction the team is heading. Essentially, the way contract negotiations between Lidstrom and the Red Wings work is Holland explains the Red Wings’ salary cap situation, and they ask Lidstrom what number he can live with.

(snip)

Seems like it would be difficult to walk away from the level of salary Lidstrom still commands. He’s making $6.2 million this season, and it would seem as if the Red Wings wouldn’t ask him to go below that because defenseman Brian Rafalski will make $6 million next season.

(snip)

He’s not just hanging on. He’s excelling. The Red Wings would be significantly harmed by his retirement. Lidstrom is simply playing too well to retire.

Ultimately, though, it will come down to whether or not Lidstrom feels healthy and driven enough to keep playing. His cerebral game keeps him from taking many hits, but he’s played a ton of hockey in his outstanding career. I would expect him to be back – again, he’s still one of the best players in the entire NHL – but would admire his choice either way.

In a statement that probably echoes the theme of his great career: he really can’t lose either way.

* – That’s another discussion for another time, but in a nutshell, Chara and Weber played much more minutes and more crucial roles for their teams than Lidstrom did in Detroit.

Ekblad out again, this time with a sore neck

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It’s not concussion-related, Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe told reporters today — but defenseman Aaron Ekblad woke up this morning with a sore neck and will miss tonight’s game against Arizona.

Ekblad had only just returned to the lineup after missing four games with a concussion. He logged 18:14 in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Carolina.

And now he’s out again.

Certainly, the timing of Ekblad’s latest injury, not to mention the fact it’s a sore neck, will lead many to doubt Rowe’s assertion that it’s not concussion-related.

But Rowe said before the Hurricanes game that the club was being cautious with its 21-year-old star defenseman.

“We didn’t want to rush him back because he’s such a young guy,” said Rowe, per the Miami Herald. “With a concussion, we didn’t want to rush him back.”

Stars’ Janmark won’t play this season, and there’s a ‘question mark’ about next year

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In a season filled with injuries, one of the biggest Dallas suffered this season was Mattias Janmark‘s knee issue.

The 24-year-old Swede has missed the entire season thus far, but recently resumed skating and practicing with the club. That said, Janmark confirmed he won’t play this year — meaning he’ll miss the entire 82-game campaign.

And what’s more, he might miss games next season as well.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” GM Jim Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.

Losing his services was a big blow for Dallas. After surprising onlookers by making the team out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Janmark’s contract situation complicates things. He’s a pending RFA, currently in the last of a two-year, $1.6 million deal with an $733,750 cap hit. The Stars would (presumably) like to keep him, but the uncertainty regarding his health might made negotiations difficult.

Fehr injures hand, spotted in cast following Leafs debut

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Eric Fehr finally played his first game as a Maple Leaf on Wednesday night, suiting up for the first time since being acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline.

It didn’t go especially well.

Fehr, who logged 10:44 TOI in a 5-2 win over Columbus, suffered a hand injury while blocking a shot in the third period and was seen afterward wearing a cast, per TSN.

According to the Toronto Sun, the 31-year-old forward confirmed he spent the night in hospital.

While a break or fracture might rule him out for the remainder of the season, it’s worth noting Fehr won’t be done entirely in Toronto. He’s in the second of a three-year, $6 million deal with a $2M cap hit. Prior to joining the Leafs he appeared in 52 games for the Pens, scoring six goals and 11 points while averaging just under 11 minutes a night.

He was also a regular in last year’s Stanley Cup run, scoring three times in 23 games.

Though his role decreased, Fehr was still frequently used by head coach Mike Sullivan — albeit in a more limited capacity. He is a good PK contributor, and can play both center and wing. Those were some of the attributes the Leafs were hoping Fehr could bring down the stretch and, should they make it, into the postseason.

He’s back: With 10 games left, Isles recall Halak

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The Isles are in full playoff push mode, and on Thursday made a move to bolster their chances.

Jaroslav Halak, the veteran netminder that’s been in AHL Bridgeport since early January, has been recalled ahead of New York’s crucial three-games-in-four-days stretch, the club announced.

It’s the latest in what’s been a tumultuous move for the 31-year-old. Halak opened the year as part of an uncomfortable three-goalie rotation — along with Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube — and was soon on the trading block after agent Allan Walsh criticized the setup on Twitter.

With no takers — and after then-head coach Jack Capuano called him out for his poor play — Halak was placed on waivers, and sent to the minors.

Halak has been really good in Bridgeport. He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, there’s a shot Halak could be making a start for the Isles soon.

As mentioned above, the club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in last night’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles head to Pittsburgh on Friday, then host the Bruins on Saturday, then host the Preds on Monday. The Boston game looms large because, after last night, New York found itself just two points back of the B’s for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Per Newsday, there’s a real chance Halak will face the Pens on Friday, which would open the door for Greiss to take on the Bruins the following day.