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.
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.
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.