It was announced yesterday that legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom will in fact be returning to the Detroit Red Wings for his 20th season with the club. The 41 year old future Hall Of Famer agreed to a one year deal, reportedly worth $6.2 million, the same as last year. Along with this contract, came a unanimous sigh of relief from the entire state of Michigan.
Lidstrom signing means the Red Wings will have one of the game’s all time greats for at least one more season. It also tempers the potential damage that could have been done to Detroit’s blue line this season. With Brian Rafalski already retired, the prospect of Lidstrom calling it quits as well, certainly loomed large over the heads of Red Wings management.
Had the Wings lost their top two defenseman in one summer, their ability to be serious contenders for the Stanley Cup next season would have taken a huge blow. Sure they could have gone out and signed two big name free agents, but make no mistake, Lidstrom is the leader of this team, and with him goes part of the team’s identity.
Now it should be noted that Detroit does have star players who would have been capable of taking up Lidstrom’s mantle (Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to name a couple), but Lidstrom brings a whole other dynamic to this team. He brings stability, experience, skill, and gamesmanship to Detroit’s back end. Most importantly, he’s a proven winner, and that’s not something you can teach to a player brought in via free agency.
One day Nick Lidstrom will retire, and the Wings will have to learn how to succeed without him, but at least now they have one more year to prepare. Now a guy like Niklas Kronwall has one more year to mature before he undoubtedly becomes the team’s next defensive leader.
Now whichever free agent the management brings in will have at least a year to learn the Red Wings system before Lidstrom leaves. Now prospect Brendan Smith has more freedom with his options. He can either spend just one more year refining his game in Grand Rapids, or he may make the team, and be under Lidstrom’s tutelage for at least one season.
Lidstrom’s signing reaffirms that the Wings remain a serious threat in the Stanley Cup race. Let’s face it, a 41 year old player (even one as great as Lidstrom) isn’t going to keep coming back if he thinks the team isn’t going anywhere. He believes this team can win, and he wants to be a part of that.
The Wings do still have quite a few personnel questions to address in the coming weeks, and those have been further complicated by the Jaromir Jagr headlines, but the biggest and most important one was just answered. I don’t want to overstate Lidstrom’s importance to this team, but in the same breath, I don’t think that’s possible. Lidstrom makes this team more confident and dangerous in any situation on the ice.
Lidstrom also has the added bonus of having free agent appeal. This could be a good selling point for the various free agent defenseman Detroit is looking at. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to play alongside a guy like Nick? The Wings could also very well be in the market for a top 6 forward this offseason, and there is no shortage of players out there who would love to come play with a guy of Lidstrom’s caliber.
There may be a small minority out there (a microscopic one) that say Nick shouldn’t have comeback. They may say the Wings need to get younger, and that bringing back a 41 year old was the wrong move. These people are insane. Despite his advanced age, Nick Lidstrom remains one of the game’s elite defenseman.
He could take every defenseman in the NHL to school on how to play with precision positioning and stick checking, and that’s because he’s the best at what he does. Nick Lidstrom is one of the rare players who have truly mastered their positions, and having him in your lineup goes along way towards championship glory in June.