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Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun weigh in on Nicklas Lidstrom's decision to return to the Red Wings for the 2011-12 season:
Burnside: Well, my friend, there is something comforting in knowing that the greatest defenseman of his generation (and maybe the greatest defenseman ever) will return for one more kick at the can.
Detroit's all-world captain Nicklas Lidstrom announced Monday he would return for presumably a final NHL tour in the hopes of adding to his illustrious résumé, one that includes six Norris Trophies (and maybe a seventh this week?) and four Stanley Cup championships. Given his remarkable level of play this past season, I'm not surprised Lidstrom will return, but it will be interesting to see what the Red Wings’ roster looks like next season, given the departures of Brian Rafalski and, presumably, Mike Modano and veteran netminder Chris Osgood.
One assumes Lidstrom had to have assurances from GM Ken Holland that Detroit will ice a team that will continue to challenge for a Cup, even though the Red Wings have been knocked off by San Jose in the second round the past two springs.
|Nicklas Lidstrom agreed to a one-year, $6.2 million deal with the Red Wings.|
LeBrun: On Lidstrom’s media call today, I specifically asked him about whether he had talked to Holland regarding the team's direction, and not surprisingly, the Wings captain said he grilled the GM. OK, “grilled” is likely a little much, but Lidstrom wanted to make sure Holland would be on the prowl to improve the team. The Wings have never had this much cap money to spend in the post-lockout world, so Lidstrom can rest easy.
Holland said on the call today he would look to add one or two defensemen, whether that's via trade or free agency. That's easier to do now that Lidstrom has decided to return on a one-year, $6.2 million contract for next season. It's a stronger sales pitch to other players when you have Lidstrom on the roster. With Lidstrom Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall, Holland needs to fill one major hole on defense; but if UFA spending gets too crazy July 1, Holland’s other option is to look for second-tier UFAs and hope youngsters such as Brendan Smith or Jakub Kindl can also make the jump next season.
Still, in my mind, Holland’s No. 1 priority will be to go after the top UFA blueliners, such as Christian Ehrhoff or Tomas Kaberle, to see if there's a fit.
You mentioned Osgood. I'm told Ozzie is leaning toward coming back for another season. That will depend on what the Wings want to do. My guess is the Wings will explore the market to see what's out there before returning the backup job to Osgood.
Burnside: Interesting options for Holland now that Lidstrom is in the fold. The Wings have always been the standard bearers for attracting players willing to take less for a chance to wear the Winged Wheel. I thought Eric Brewer really revived his career in Tampa Bay during the playoffs after coming over from St. Louis at the trade deadline. The Wings may be able to offer more money than Tampa Bay, given the Lightning's need to get Steven Stamkos under contract and other issues, such as the Vincent Lecavalier deal.
There is also the option of taking on a contract other teams might want to shed. I know Mike Komisarek has been a disappointment in Toronto, but you have to believe Detroit is the kind of place in which players might thrive, even if they've been disappointments elsewhere.
As for the goaltending … I would think, given Osgood's health issues, Holland will want a more solid Plan B behind Jimmy Howard, who probably played more than Detroit coach Mike Babcock would have liked during the regular season (he played 63 games and was injured for a time).
LeBrun: Either way, Holland is a man wearing a perma-smile today. He said on the call today that had Lidstrom retired right after Rafalski, it would have been “devastating'' for them. No kidding. And this time around, Lidstrom made the Wings sweat it out a little more than usual. That's not surprising, given his age. Lidstrom said that the older he gets, the more difficult a decision it becomes, so he did a lot of soul-searching and had a lot of discussion with his family. He needed to convince himself he still had the motivation to put in the required work this summer that he believes is required to get his body ready for another grind.
Once he convinced himself of that and got the answers he needed from Holland, he made up his mind and informed the GM of his decision Sunday. Holland could breathe again. The Wings GM joked today that when Lidstrom does retire, he'll have a retirement announcement of his own.
Burnside: Well, with all due respect to Doug Harvey and Bobby Orr and Scott Niedermayer, et al, it's going to be hard to dislodge Lidstrom from the very pinnacle of NHL defensemen, given that he has shown almost no slippage in his level of play. It's incredible when you think about it. I recall talking to Babcock during training camp, and he was hoping to roll all six of his defensemen in almost equal increments of time to try to keep his older legs as fresh as possible for the playoffs. It didn't quite work out that way with injuries to Rafalski and others along the blue line, but there was Lidstrom, showing up for all 82 nights for the second straight season.
Have to figure Babcock will be looking for that same kind of collective effort in the coming season, so expect filling that blue-line hole will be top priority for Holland. Still, it’s hard to look at the Wings’ lineup now and not think “Stanley Cup contender,” thanks to Mr. Norris' return.
LeBrun: Lidstrom's 62 regular-season points were second in the NHL among blueliners. He had a better year this past season than he did in 2009-10 and Lidstrom said that was also part of the equation in his decision to return. Had he regressed, my guess is he would have packed it in this summer. Instead, he bounced back with a Norris-worthy season.
Before we end this, Scotty, I wonder if Lidstrom asked Holland where things stood on the Jaromir Jagr front. Sources told me this morning that Detroit and Pittsburgh and two other unidentified teams remain in mix for the 39-year-old's services. Jagr would be a nice boost to the Wings’ power play despite his age. Jagr and his agent, Petr Svoboda, were scheduled to huddle today to decide their next move. Stay tuned.