Nicklas Lidstrom

PHT’s Pressing Questions: How will Detroit adjust to life without Lidstrom?


Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

For the first time since 1991, the Red Wings will open the season without Nicklas Lidstrom on the roster.

Just think about that for a minute.

The last time Detroit had a Lidstrom-less roster, John Ziegler was the NHL commissioner and Dan Quayle was the Vice President. Nirvana released Nevermind. Tim Berners-Lee built the first-ever website, and Dances With Wolves won Best Picture.

Yeah. Long time ago.

How Detroit adjusts to life without Lidstrom remains to be seen, but the general consensus is it’s going to be tough.

At his peak, Lidstrom was the best defenseman in hockey. In his decline, he was still a vital cog. Last year, at 41, he finished second among Wings rearguards in scoring (34 points) and played 23 minutes a game — this despite being hobbled by a foot injury that cost him 12 games.

He was also the team’s undisputed leader.

After inheriting the “C” from Steve Yzerman in 2006, Lidstrom led an amazing stretch of hockey — Detroit went 294-114-60 in the regular season under his captaincy and made two Stanley Cup finals, winning once.

Now he’s gone.

So, what lies ahead?

Many within the Wings organization have offered up “no replacing Nick” platitudes, which are boring but fair. There is no replacing him.

Yet Lidstrom’s departure has a wrinkle to it. Since the last lockout, the Wings have lost vital pieces — Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Chelios, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby — but also acquired them.

GM Ken Holland has been aggressive in replenishing talent via free agency and trades: Dominik Hasek, Brian Rafalski, Todd Bertuzzi and Marian Hossa, to name a few.

This year? Lidstrom leaves, and the response is…Carlo Colaiacovo.

Yes, it’s unfair linking Colaiacovo to Lidstrom — he of the seven Norris Trophies, four Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe — but that’s the nature of the beast.

To his credit, Holland tried to go big. He reportedly offered Ryan Suter a 13-year, $90 million deal to sign in Motown, but Suter opted for Minnesota.

So Colaiacovo ended up as Detroit’s lone defensive acquisition and, as such, had to field the requisite Lidstrom questions — even if everybody already knew the answers.

“I just want to be straightforward: I’m no Nick Lidstrom, but I think I’m a good complement to what they have there,” he told USA Today. “I just want to come in and be the guy that can help in any way possible.”

Oh, and for those thinking a shortened season has left the door juuuust slightly open for a Lidstrom comeback — sorry.

It’s not going to happen.

According to Swedish news outlet Sportbladet, head coach Mike Babcock already looked into that option on Tuesday.

From Google Translate:

“Yes, [Babcock] called yesterday and asked if I was keen to come over and play. But I said I’m pretty happy with life and my decision from last spring,” says ‘Lidas’ to Sportbladet.

“We talked yesterday and the question was whether I was eager to play again. He wondered if his wife was tired of being at home all the time. But she has not tired of me, not yet anyway, haha. Comeback is not an issue,” says Lidstrom.

So with all the great unknowns in Detroit, the one thing everybody knows is perhaps most worrisome of all:

Whenever the season starts, No. 5 won’t be there.

Kyle Connor expected to be healthy scratch for Jets

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Jets rookie Kyle Connor played just 10:09 in Sunday’s outdoor loss to the Oilers, and tonight in Dallas it appears he’ll be a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career.

Connor was not among the 12 Winnipeg forwards taking line rushes this morning. The 19-year-old has just one assist in his first five games as a Jet. He’s a minus-5 and has also struggled in terms of possession, as evidenced by his 38 percent Corsi.

The 17th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Connor spent one year at the University of Michigan before leaving school to turn pro. He’s eligible to be sent to the AHL this season, something the Jets are no doubt considering.

Winnipeg has a number of potential call-ups on its farm club, including Marko Dano, Quinton Howden, Andrew Copp, Nicolas Petan, and Jack Roslovic.

Babcock’s had his fill of goalie questions, thanks

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Head coach Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on prior to the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Mike Babcock is aware Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good this season.

He’s also aware that Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good the last few seasons.

Thing is, he doesn’t want to talk about it.

“It’s five games in, isn’t it?” Babcock replied on Tuesday, when asked about the Leafs’ shaky netminding so far, specifically the play of Frederik Andersen. “Let’s just take a deep breath here.”

And here’s a transcript of what followed (courtesy Sportsnet)!

Reporter: The guy on Saturday night said the Leafs goaltending has been lousy this year.

Babcock: Who did?

Reporter: The guy on Saturday night — Don Cherry.

Babcock: Oh, OK. Well now that I know where I’m getting my facts from, here we go. Come on. Let’s move on. What’s next here? Holy [expletive].

Reporter: No, but seriously, it’s been an issue for this market probably since Ed Belfour left, and I’m wondering if there’s anything to that.

Babcock: But I’m not dealing with that. This is what I would tell you. We think we have a really good goaltender. At the World Cup I had three outstanding goaltenders, and they all talked about how much time it usually takes to get ready.

Our guy didn’t have that opportunity because of his injury. We’re real comfortable with him. Do we think he’s played as good as he’s capable of playing? No. Do we think he’s going to? Yes.

Babcock’s right to suggest it’s too early to start grading Andersen. First, there’s the adjustment from playing behind a good team in a small market (Anaheim) to playing behind a “growing team” in a massive, pressure-packed market like Toronto.

There’s also the additional pressure that came with Andersen’s acquisition price (a first- and second-round pick) and his subsequent contract extension (five years, $25 million).

The injury suffered playing for Denmark in Olympic qualifying was definitely a setback, as there’s no doubt some games for Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey would’ve better prepared Andersen for the season.

Still, it’s hard to look at his numbers — 1-0-3, .879 save percentage, 3.63 GAA — and not be at least a little concerned.

Unless you’re Mike Babcock, that is.

Related: The list of struggling netminders is a long one, as it’s been goals galore to start the year

Elliott gets the start in return to St. Louis

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Brian Elliott will be in Calgary’s crease against his old team tonight in St. Louis.

Even though Elliott played last night in Chicago, it was an easy decision for Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan. Elliott had easily his best game of the season against the Blackhawks, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory. The 31-year-old turned away all seven Chicago shooters in the breakaway competition, helping the Flames to just their second win of the young season.

“I definitely wanted that one,” Elliott told reporters afterwards. “We haven’t been playing like we wanted to and the guys came out and had a heck of an effort.”

Elliott started 164 games for the Blues during his five years in St. Louis. Last season, he backstopped them to their first conference final since 2001. He was then traded to Calgary in June, paving the way for Jake Allen to become the full-time starter in St. Louis.

Related: The list of struggling goalies is a long one

Crosby on track to make season debut tonight

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 30: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins waits for a face-off against the 
New Jersey Devils during the third period at the Prudential Center on January 30, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, Sidney Crosby participated in a full-contact practice.

Today, it appears he’ll make his season debut when the Penguins host the Panthers tonight in Pittsburgh.

“He had a strong practice this morning,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the club. “Everything is pointing in the right direction. If he’s comfortable, he could play.”

Crosby has missed just six games due to the concussion he sustained during practice on Oct. 7. Given his history with concussions, if he plays tonight, it has to be considered a best-case scenario. Certainly, there had been fear he could be out much longer.

For the record, Crosby told reporters he’ll be a game-time decision.