DETROIT – When Wings general manager Ken Holland heard that his All-Star defenseman wanted to meet last Thursday he had a feeling it was to deliver a decision he wasn’t ready to hear.
Holland was correct.
On that Thursday, Nicklas Lidstrom told Holland that he was going to retire after 20 seasons in the NHL, all of which were spent in Detroit.
A week later at Joe Louis Arena, Lidstrom made it official.
“I think it was a combination of mentally and I started working out, exercising and just the combination of not being that motivated and not being able to do things that I wanted to do and I knew I had to do,” Lidstrom said. “I felt the relief once I made the decision.
“The last couple years, as you get older, were difficult too,” Lidstrom added. “This was even more difficult. With my age, just being a little bit older and not having that motivation I’ve had in the past and not having the drive and fire that I’ve had in the past not being there for me, made it a harder decision – especially saying goodbye to something I’ve done for 20 years. It’s become a lifestyle. You’re used to getting up in the morning, working out, coming down here, skating, traveling with the team and just the competitiveness of playing games. I’m going to miss all that too, but if I don’t have that fire I can’t be to the level I want to be at.”
But Holland wasn’t will to go down without a fight.
“I was a little concerned the decision was a lot quicker than it was last year which set off some alarms for me,” Holland said. “We visited for a few minutes and then he told me he had made a decision to retire. I talked to him about the timing of a press conference, but I told him to take the weekend and get back with me on Tuesday because I told him I was hoping he would change his mind. I texted him Tuesday morning, telling him he was on my mind all weekend and I thought he had one more really good year left in him and we had a lot of pieces in place with him in the lineup and with some moves we could continue to be a contender. About an hour later he texted back and said he was very comfortable in his decision.”
Then he enlisted the help of Chris Chelios, who went paddle boarding with Lidstrom on Tuesday.
“He called me at the GM meetings and told me that the paddle boarding didn’t change his mind either,” Holland said. “For me I just wanted to make sure when Nick was on the podium he was comfortable with his decision. He’s very comfortable in his decision.
“He gave us 20 incredible years and you have to feel good for Nick that he gets to walk away from the game on his own terms,” Holland added.
The seven-time Norris Trophy winner missed 11 games in the later part of the regular season with a hair fracture in his ankle and could never get back to full health when the playoffs rolled around.
Lidstrom, who wound up missing a career-high 12 games this regular season, needed injections before games to dull the pain and it didn’t allow him to play on the penalty kill.
“It did slow me down and that was still hurting when I was playing, especially when you have to do a lot of stops and starts in your own zone,” Lidstrom said. “When you can’t do that, it’s hard to be effective. But I think that it feels so much better now, if I had the determination and the will to do this again, I believe I could still be back up there. But when I don’t have that and if I still try to go out there and play, I don’t think I could play as well as I’d have to.”
The Macomb Daily learned during the regular season that Lidstrom had just finished building a lavish home in Sweden and that his son had told coach Mike Babcock’s son that he was not going to be signing up for travel hockey in the fall.
Lidstrom spent his final six seasons as the Wings’ captain after taking over for Steve Yzerman, who was the longest-serving captain in NHL history.
“We’ve had 20 special years,” Holland said.
Lidstrom, who won his seven Norris Trophies in 10 seasons starting in 2001, is a member of the exclusive “Triple-Gold” club, winning both an Olympic gold medal (2006) and an IIHF World Championship (1991) with Sweden in addition to the four Stanley Cups he won with the Red Wings.
“Seven Norris Trophies, that’s not by accident, he’s just that good,” Babcock said. “We’re going miss having him. He’s been so good and that’s how he wanted to play. It was very fitting he said, ‘I didn’t want to cheat myself. I wasn’t motivated enough to do the work.’ What a message to every athlete.
“For Nick it was always about the team,” Babcock added. “You never had any trouble with Nick as the coach because he was always prepared and motivated. Nick brings it every single day, sets an example for all of us in professionalism and perfection and work ethic and being a good human being and doing it without ego.”
Lidstrom, a 12-time NHL All-Star, became the first European player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2002.
He led the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup finals appearances in 2008 and 2009 and became the first European player to captain a Cup champion in 2008.
Lidstrom, who was selected in the third round (53rd overall) by the Wings in 1989 and made $6.2 million each of the last two seasons, is one of five Wings who played on all four of Detroit’s Stanley Cup championship teams since 1997.
In 1,564 regular-season games, Lidstrom finished with 264 goals and 878 assists. In 263 playoff games, which is a team record, he totaled 54 goals and 129 assists.
Only Wings legend Gordie Howe (1,687 games) has appeared in more Wings’ games than Lidstrom.
Lidstrom, who was selected for 12 NHL All-Star Games and was named to the league’s first All-Star team 10 times between 1998 and 2011, missed only 46 out of a possible 1,873 games since launching his NHL career in 1991.
Lidstrom’s career plus/minus of plus-450 ranks eighth in league history. He posted a minus rating only once (minus-2 in 2010-11).