Nicklas Lidstrom announced his retirement Thursday during a press conference at Joe Louis Arena, officially putting an end to one of the greatest careers in NHL history.
“Today, after 20 seasons as a player for the Detroit Red Wings, I’m announcing my retirement,” Lidstrom said, while sitting between GM Ken Holland and owner Mike Ilitch. “When I signed with the Wings back in ’91, I never envisioned myself playing for 20 years. It’s been a great, great ride.”
The 42-year-old Swedish-born defenseman had served as the Detroit Red Wings’ captain since Steve Yzerman retired at the end of the 2005-06 season. Since taking over that post, Lidstrom has helped guide the Wings to two Western Conference titles and one Stanley Cup victory. That championship came during the 2008 season, when the Wings knocked off the Penguins in six games. It was Lidstrom’s fourth Cup win — he and the Wings previously celebrated together in 1997, ’98 and 2002.
“It’s not that the tank is completely empty, it just doesn’t have enough to carry me through at the high level I want to play at,” Lidstrom said. “My family and I are completely comfortable with this decision. Walking away from the game today allows me to walk away with pride, rather than having the game walk away from me.”
The Red Wings had been holding out hope that Lidstrom would come back for his 21st NHL season — coach Mike Babcock said during the year that he would be “shocked” if Lidstrom hung ‘em up, citing his defenseman’s still-elite talent level.
“It’s one of the most emotional days in Red Wings history,” Ilitch said. “Nick has been our Rock of Gibralter.”
His decision to walk away leaves a gigantic void on the Red Wings’ blue line. Since entering the league in 1991, Lidstrom has played less than 76 regular-season games just twice — in 1994-95, during the strike-shortened season; and in 2011-12, when a deep bone bruise on his ankle cost him 11 games.
Lidstrom had been playing for the Wings under one-year contracts in recent seasons, choosing to wait until the offseason to decide if he would return for another year. It was right around this time in 2011 when the Wings announced that their captain would be back for the 2011-12 season. This time around, they weren’t so lucky.
“I’ve been dreading this day since I became (general) manager in 1997,” Holland said, before turning to Lidstrom. “Thank you for 20 incredible years of service to our organization, to our city.
“When you think about Nick, it’s about class. Everything that he did was first-class. He treated the game with respect, treated his teammates with respect.”
Part of Lidstrom’s decision no doubt revolved around his family. His oldest son, Kevin, is in his final year at a hockey school in Sweden, and Lidstrom and his wife, Annika, have three other boys: Adam, Samuel and Lucas. Lidstrom said that his family would move back to Sweden now, but that he hopes to have a future with the Red Wings organization.
“I’d like to thank my family and especially Annika for raising four boys,” Lidstrom said, while getting choked up for the first time during the press conference. “It’s not easy when you have a husband that’s not home all the time, it’s not a normal 9-5 job … she’s been amazing, she’s an amazing woman.”
By opting for retirement Lidstrom will miss out on playing in the Winter Classic next Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The Red Wings’ game against the Toronto Maple Leafs could set an attendance record, with more than 100,000 fans expected. Lidstrom may choose to participate in the alumni game during that week’s festivities, which will be played outdoors at Comerica Park.
Henrik Zetterberg is the likely candidate to take over the captain’s “C” in Lidstrom’s absence — a tall task, given that the Wings have had just two captains, Yzerman and Lidstrom, since 1986.
Lidstrom’s decision to walk away means that Holland faces an even tougher challenge trying to remake the Red Wings this offseason, though without the $6 million or so Lidstrom was expected to earn, Holland has even more money — potentially upwards of $20 million — to play with against the NHL’s salary cap.
On this week’s episode of The Detroit Sports Show, we discuss what Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement means for the Red Wings … and their fans: