Nick Steps Away

We all knew the writing was on the wall when we received the press release announcing the conference. Re-signings, even when they involve your generational talent and captain, don’t get a press conference. They get a conference call or a simple release. Press conferences are reserved for hellos. And goodbyes.

Unfortunately for every hockey fan on the planet, today’s announcement was to say farewell to one of the greatest players to ever strap on skates. At exactly 11:04am on Thursday, May 31st, 2012, Nicklas Lidstrom was able to walk away on his own terms — and did so by saying the words “after twenty seasons as a player for the Detroit Red Wings, I am announcing my retirement.”

For the first time in more than twenty-one years, the Detroit Red Wings will not have Nicklas Lidstrom watching their backs. You don’t need us to remind you of the accolades that line Nicklas Lidstrom’s trophy room, but we’re going to anyway because I never get tired of writing it:

  • Four-time Stanley Cup winner.
  • Seven-time Norris Trophy winner. Twelve-time finalist.
  • Twelve-time All-Star.
  • Olympic Gold Medalist.
  • IIHF World Champion.
  • Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
  • Holds the record for games played by a European NHLer.
  • Was the first European captain to hoist the Stanley Cup.
  • Best plus-minus rating of anyone in two decades — by a factor of two.

Nearly every single thing that can be accomplished by an individual human being has been accomplished — several times over — by our beloved Nick. Anyone that covers the game will also tell you that he’s the kindest, classiest individual away from the ice. Having met him on a handful of occasions, I have only fond memories of interacting with him and I’d like to invite you to read a post written several years ago (as well as its follow-up from a few months later):

My second time around, in 1991, I noticed a younger looking guy sitting at a table, with no one but a young lady around him. He seemed really shy, kept to himself, stayed seated, didn’t really get into schmoozing so much. I asked my mom if she thought he was a player or if he was just another fan in attendance, like we were. We decided to go over and strike up a conversation.

He had a pretty thick accent, and he introduced us to his beautiful then-fiancee (now, wife). We talked for a good twenty minutes, the two of them couldn’t have been any nicer. Throughout our entire conversation, I don’t remember a single person coming to the table to meet him, but that could just be the memories of a nine-year-old. He said that he hadn’t played in Detroit yet (which explains why nobody was knocking chairs over to shake his hand), but he was excited to join the team and hoped he could stay in Motown for a long time. He told me his name was Nicklas, shook my hand, and signed my jersey right between the shoulder blades, just below where Ted Lindsay had signed. How symbolic.

Almost twenty years later, it’s hard to imagine I ever had that kind of time with such a special hockey player.

But as fantastic as those moments were, they don’t even come close to sharing a private, lengthy conversation with Nicklas Lidstrom. I remember watching some 1991-92 games on television, hearing his name, and saying, “hey, that’s the guy we made friends with!” I always hoped he’d succeed, and for those first couple years, the “guy from that dinner” was how I thought of him.

It didn’t take long, however, for him to go from “that guy from that dinner” to the “future captain,” the “future Hall-of-Famer,” the “perennial Norris winner.”

He seemed genuinely happy that we came by and chatted with him, and when it became time to move on, he seemed a lot more comfortable talking with folks, less embarrassed by his accent, and started making the rounds. I doubt he remembers that chat, but it meant the world to me, a nine-year-old diehard Red Wings fan. Nearly twenty years later, it still means the world to me.

Hard to imagine that he was ever a newcomer. No one in the NHL — particularly today — carries half as much cachet as Nicklas Lidstrom does.

For his brief friendship with a nine-year-old Wings fan, his continued cordiality in our few meetings, and his genuine graciousness aboard Red Bird, I wish that I could properly thank Nicklas Lidstrom in person.

For his dedication to hockey, and particularly the Red Wings, his unwavering stability on the blueline, and the grace with which he’s handled every single thing that’s been presented to him, the entirety of Red Wings Nation should thank Nicklas Lidstrom today.

Congratulations on an absolutely unbelievable career. It’s entirely possible that we’ll never see another player of the caliber of Nicklas Lidstrom.

2012-13 Detroit Red Wings Pro/No: Brad Stuart

Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

For the second off-season in a row, we — as well as our good friends at Winging it in Motown — are taking a look at the Red Wings’ upcoming free agents and asking the community for their input. Read all of the important information and then place your vote — should the Wings try to get Brad Stuart under contract for 2012-13, or has that ship sailed?

THE VITALS
Brad Stuart, Defenseman #23
32 Years Old (November 6, 1979)
6’2″, 215 lbs
12 Full NHL Seasons (876 career regular season games played) – the last four seasons and change with Detroit
Born in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta; drafted 3rd overall in 1998.

STATISTICS
Regular Season – 81 games played, 6 goals, 15 assists, 29 PIM, +16, 21:03 TOI per game
Playoffs – 5 games played, 0 goals, 1 assist, 0 PIM, -5, 19:22 TOI per game

CONTRACT SITUATION
In the three seasons following the lockout, Brad Stuart played on six different teams. The Sharks traded him to Boston as part of the deal that sent Joe Thornton to San Jose. The next season, the Bruins flipped him to Calgary because Stuart was not interested in re-signing in Boston. At the end of that season, he signed in Los Angeles — we now know that he prefers to be on the Left Coast because of a situation involving his wife and daughters. In LA on a one-year deal, and the Kings finding themselves in last place in the league, Stuart was a deadline day trade to the President’s Trophy winning Detroit Red Wings, where he promptly helped to win a Stanley Cup.

Instead of heading back West, he signed a four-year deal worth $15M (the annual cap hit was $3.75M). Now, those four years are up and he’s in need of a new deal for 2012-13.

DEPTH SITUATION
Stuart was an everyday player for the Red Wings, and will be an everyday player no matter where he ends up. Most of his time was spent paired with Niklas Kronwall on the second pairing. He’s a legit top-four defenseman in the NHL, and may very well be a top-two defenseman for any number of teams that could benefit from having him patrol the blueline. Brendan Smith is ready to make the jump to the NHL full-time, but Brad Stuart’s job would not be in danger — no matter what happens with Nicklas Lidstrom. His contract situation will be a personal decision — whether he wants to endure more time away from his family, or if he’s ready to take his ring and move back West.

CASE FOR STUART
1) For the bulk of the four-plus seasons he spent in red and white, Brad Stuart has been an extremely reliable defenseman. He was a healthy scratch a grand total of zero times — and only missed one game this past season (illness). In 2010-11, he missed 15 games after having his jaw broken by Tom Kostopoulus. In 2008-09, he missed 13 games with torn rib cartilage. In 2009-10, he suited up for all 82 games. Steady on the blueline, and brutally strong with the physical play, he was good for twenty-ish points each season, which is tough to find on this year’s open market.
2) With captain Nicklas Lidstrom’s future uncertain, potentially losing half of the top four blueliners would be a really tough hit to take. This year’s crop of free agents isn’t particularly impressive (two of the six “biggest name” defensemen are current Red Wings), so the back end may take a step backwards losing Stuart.
3) Building on that, there’s not really anyone out there that’s capable of replacing Stuart right now. A lot of Wings fans are hoping that Ryan Suter finds his way to Motown, but if he re-signs with Nashville (or somewhere else for that matter), the best player available for the Wings’ needs is, in fact, Brad Stuart. Uh oh.

CASE AGAINST STUART
1) As the season wore on, it became more and more apparent that Brad Stuart had checked out. It’s no secret he’d prefer to be playing hockey nearer to his family (more on that in a second), and his play dropped off significantly after the Wings’ mid-March trip to the West Coast, almost like he’s given up and just wanted to stay behind.
2) Continuing that string of mental unpreparedness was his playoff performance. He was a team-worst -5 in the five game series against Nashville (tied with… WAIT FOR IT… Todd Bertuzzi). I wrote following the playoffs that his bags were probably already packed and he cracked open a brew to watch the second round from his living room in California. I’d like to make it clear that I don’t blame him for wanting to play closer to home, and I don’t think he owes the Red Wings anything: he was a good soldier for four years and it’s no secret that being that far away from what makes you happy chips away at your conscious and soon enough you find yourself yearning to make a change. That’s where Brad Stuart is in his life at the moment.
3) While they may not be immediate replacements for Brad Stuart, there are a handful of young defensemen within the organization that would benefit from having a great chance to prove their worth on the big club. Brendan Smith, who’s very likely going to start the season on the NHL roster, may have been in Grand Rapids a little longer than he needed. Jakub Kindl, who’s been shuttled back and forth from the press box, would benefit from having a constant place in the active lineup. The Wings are in decent shape to replace some players who may be departing.

WHAT HE’S SAYING
For his part, Brad Stuart has been surprisingly forthcoming regarding his thoughts about the future. Via Brendan Savage of MLive, as well as Helene St. James of the Fress Press, Stuart had the following to say immediately following the Wings’ loss to the Predators:

I love it here. If it was a purely hockey decision, I would stay. But I’ve got other things to consider and factors other than just hockey. Those are things I guess I’ll have to figure out in the next month and a half.

It’s a great organization from the top to the bottom and everybody enjoys playing here and they’ve got a great core of players and some of the best players I’ve ever played with. It’s pretty easy to figure out why it’s such a good team.

I’ve been living here while my family has spent a lot of time in California,” Stuart said. “I’ve got a step-daughter that needs to finish high school. That’s how it is. There’s really no way to get around that. I guess it will be up to me to decide what needs to be done, because it’s been a tough couple of years. As much fun and as great as it’s been to play here, it’s been equally as tough on the family side of it.

SALARY RANGE
Stuart earned a moderate raise after his audition with the Red Wings in ’08. He’s likely to get another one of those if he hits the open market. Players of his caliber — and defensemen in particular — are commanding five, six, seven million a season for their services. However, if he’s desperate to return to Los Angeles, or San Jose, or Anaheim, that may work against him — forcing him to take a little bit of a haircut (compared to what he could make), although I’d be shocked if he makes less than $4.5M next season regardless of where he plays.

POTENTIAL REPLACEMENTS

Internal :: Kyle Quincey was likely brought in as a contingency plan for Stuart’s departure. He’s a restricted free agent but will very likely be re-signed and inserted in Stuart’s position on the top four. Brendan Smith, who will play his rookie season next year, as well as Jakub Kindl are both ready for more minutes.
External :: Ryan Suter is an obviously desirable replacement, but he’ll be highly sought after if he reaches July 1st. Other potentials hitting the market are Dennis Wideman, Pavel Kubina, Filip Kuba, Bryan Allen, and Greg Zanon.

WHAT DO YOU THINK
Use the form below to give us your take on whether the Wings should try to get Brad Stuart back at a reasonable rate. Then, sound off in the comments with your thoughts. Has he been a good soldier who has earned the right to play on the West Coast and be closer with his family — or does he owe the Wings for helping him find his game? Graham asked if I was going to post some free agent loss candy with this one — since it’s basically a foregone conclusion that he’ll be departing — but we’re still interested in seeing if the fanbase is holding out hope that he’ll be retained.

Pro/No Justin Abdelkader

If you remember last summer, we — along with our very good friends at Winging it in Motown — took turns exploring expiring Red Wings contracts and then took a vote of the Wings’ faithful fans to see where they stand. Do you want him back? Do you think the Wings are better off without him? We’ll be doing the same this season — starting at WIIM with Justin Abdelkader, who is a restricted free agent as of July 1st.

Head to Winging It to read all of the important Gator information and cast your vote! Come back to TPL on Friday morning to see a rundown of Brad Stuart. After that we’ll be alternating with WIIM — they’ve got the forwards, we’ve got the blueline and goaltender — so check every few days and make your voice heard.

The Wings will have somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-ish million dollars to spend, depending on what the cap rises/drops to after the new CBA is ratified. For a little bit of our reading about the expiring contracts — check out the following links:

Goaltenders and Defensemen

Forwards

Photo Credit: Rebecca Cook, Reuters

Vote Pavel: Megatron Approved

This photo, sent to us by our very good friend @Will_Posthumus late last night, gives us proof that the Detroit Lions’ own Calvin Johnson — himself an upcoming EA sports cover boy — fully supports the movement to get Pavel Datsyuk on the cover of EA Sports’ NHL ’13.

There are eight athletes left, and you can vote for our beautiful boy — Pavy Dangles — by clicking right here. He’s facing stiff competition from here on out — the Isles are pumping John Tavares something fierce, but if Datsyuk can edge him out, he’ll face the winner of Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne. Claude Giroux and Evgeni Malkin are finalists in the other half of the bracket.

Vote Datsyuk for NHL13 cover

Pavel Datsyuk finds himself a 1 seed against T.J. Oshie in the opening round of EA Sports’ cover voting tournament. With some luck, Pasha can become the second Detroit athlete to grace the cover of an EA Sports’ 13 game and some could argue that there’s no better choice — what with his video game moves in real life and all.

PR Coordinator Rick Bowness has a story at DRW with some additional details and facts, which features some pretty kick-ass cover art mocked up by our very good friend @Will_Posthumus. It took me a few viewings to notice that the traditional EA font “13” was replaced by Datsyuk’s sleeve. TRICKY LITTLE DEVIL YOU ARE, WILL.

The top seed has won in each of the prior four match-ups on the bracket. Claude Giroux beat out PK Subban, Scott Hartnell took out Tyler Seguin, Evgeni Malkin defeated Steven Stamkos, and Anze Kopitar beat David Perron…just like he’s about to do in the playoffs.

Upcoming matchups include Henrik Lunqvist/Erik Karlsson, Pekka Rinne/Patrick Sharp (no word yet if they’ll be using a photograph of him spearing someone in the testicles), and Jordan Eberle/John Tavares. Those sixteen players made it out of a preliminary round featuring choices from each team. Just like real life: no one cares about the Blue Jackets.

Click on over to EA’s site, give Pavel a vote or ten, and anxiously await the results when our very own Dangles could grace the cover of your next purchase.