DETROIT – Nicklas Lidstrom expects his next game-day trip to Joe Louis Arena to be like any other—even though it might be his last.
The Detroit Red Wings captain planned to carpool and have dinner with Tomas Holmstrom before Game 4 against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night.
While eating their usual meal of spaghetti—meat sauce on half and palmina sauce on the other—with chicken on the side, neither Swede plans to wonder if that will be their last supper in the Motor City as teammates.
If the Predators win and take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, though, it might be.
“I don’t try to think too much about it,” Holmstrom said Monday. “We have to enjoy this playoff and we have to win one game to get back in the series.”
Before the first-round series started, Lidstrom reiterated he hadn’t thought about whether this will be his last NHL season.
How does he keep that topic off of his mind?
“I’ve gotten pretty good at it the last two years,” Lidstrom joked.
The four-time Stanley Cup champion and seven-time Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenceman has put retirement on hold in each of the past two offseasons. He signed one-year contracts, after dodging questions about his decision during the regular season.
Detroit defenceman Brad Stuart has a stall near Lidstrom’s in the dressing room and is left to guess, like everyone else, about Lidstrom’s future.
“Nobody here knows if Nick is coming back, and I don’t think he knows,” Stuart said.
Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy last year, putting him within one of Bobby Orr’s record of eight, and was subtly stellar again this season. He had 34 points and a plus-21 rating, a statistic that equaled Nashville’s Shea Weber to rank among the league’s top defenceman.
“He’d probably tell you he doesn’t recover like he did when he was 20 or 25 or even 35,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “But he’s still a pretty good player and important to us.”
A week away from his 42nd birthday, the smooth-skating Swede with a great shot doesn’t look as though his skills have diminished much.
“It’s pretty amazing,” the 26-year-old Weber said. “I’d give a lot to be able to play the way he does at his age. He’s a complete player—very smart—and still among the best defenceman in the world.”
Nashville general manager David Poile insisted he hopes Lidstrom chooses to keep playing—even though his retirement would help the Predators—because the game needs him.
“He’s arguably the best ever at his position, even though he’s not as dynamic as Orr. I think he’s the most efficient player at any position in the history of our game,” Poile said. “Do you think anybody in hockey doesn’t think Lidstrom wouldn’t be effective again next season? I don’t.”
The Predators hope Weber is back next season on their blue line because he could leave as a restricted free agent.
Weber was awarded $7.5 million for one year in arbitration after failing to agree on a long-term deal. Both sides decided to put talks on hold until after this season, and he is glad they did.
“It can be a stressful thing,” Weber said. “I learned a lot about that last summer, going through negotiations and then arbitration.”
The franchise made a great save in November by keeping goalie Pekka Rinne off the market by signing him to a seven-year, $49 million contract. Poile is hoping to do the same with defenceman Ryan Suter and Weber soon after the season.
“We have a number of free agents that we have that we obviously want to keep,” Poile said. “That’ll be our top priority.”
Weber will be a big part of Detroit’s game plan Tuesday night, but identifying what he can do is not as easy as stopping him.
“He’s 6-4 every shift, he’s 220, he’s got a skill set, he’s got a bomb,” Babcock said. “He’s competitive, he’s getting better every day.”