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Winter Classic's free-agent impact

Updated: February 9, 2012, 6:23 PM ET
By Craig Custance

ANN ARBOR, MI -- Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom stood on the football field at Michigan Stadium and looked around at the massive empty stands around him. The Winter Classic will be at the Big House next year. That's been decided.

Whether or not Lidstrom will actually play in it hasn't been decided, although he was intrigued by the surroundings on Thursday.

He hasn't announced his retirement plans yet, and despite our best efforts to find out if he'll be playing in the actual Winter Classic or the alumni game, Lidstrom wasn't about to tip his hand.

"Oh, I don't know," Lidstrom said with a laugh when asked which Winter Classic event he'll be participating in. "I guess I have a chance to play in either one. I guess we'll wait and see."

Mike Babcock isn't waiting. He joked with Lidstrom that, if he's going to retire, he should at least wait until Jan. 2. But the Red Wings' coach doesn't believe it'll come to that.

"He'll be back," Babcock said. "He's too good to quit and our team's too good. I was concerned this year might be his last if our team wasn't good, and our team is good enough."

All things being equal, the Winter Classic might be the game that tilts Lidstrom's decision. It also could be a nice recruiting pitch this summer for both the Red Wings and Maple Leafs. Both teams will have money to spend in free agency, and general managers Ken Holland and Brian Burke are expected to be aggressive. In a salary-cap system, free agency is about the recruiting pitch as much it is about the money.

"We think we have a great story to tell from a recruiting standpoint in Toronto anyways," Burke said when I floated the theory of the Winter Classic attracting free agents. "First off, we're Big Blue. We do everything first class or we don't do it. Our travel, hotels, our practice facility. We're the only team that has our farm team in our home city. We're Big Blue; we think we have a great story to tell. Absolutely, this is part of it. Absolutely."

While one outdoor game isn't going to make the decision for a free agent, Holland thinks it adds to the total package these two Original Six franchises can offer.

"For both franchises ... the more things you're involved in, the longer you get in a playoff run -- we went to Europe, played in Sweden. The more opportunity you have to give memories of a lifetime [the better]," Holland said. "That's one of the reasons why some players have come here, one of the reasons why the ones that are here for the most part have stayed here. They're happy. They like the experiences."

So it got us thinking. Who are some big-name candidates to play in next year's Winter Classic who aren't currently on Toronto and Detroit rosters? Here are five:

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