Pro/No :: Nicklas Lidstrom

Welcome to another round of the joint TPL-WIIM series of pro/no profiles, giving you all the details you need to make an educated opinion about each of the upcoming free agents. At the bottom of the entry, you’ll find a voting form — please feel free to leave additional thoughts in the comments either here or at Winging it in Motown!

Nicklas Lidstrom, defenseman, #5
41-years-old (4/28/70)
6’2 :: 185 lbs
19 NHL seasons (all with Detroit)
From Vasteras, Sweden

Regular Season — 82 games, 16 goals, 46 assists, 20 penalty minutes, -2, 23:28 minutes played per game.
Playoffs — 11 games, 4 goals, 4 assists, 4 penalty minutes, +8, 21:49 minutes played per game.

Nicklas Lidstrom is in one-year contract territory from now on, even though Ken Holland was comfortable signing him to a two-year deal this past summer. Given his age, he has decided that he’ll be going year-to-year to decide if he wants to continue playing, and we’re at a similar crossroads as a year ago. Taking a modest paycut (the four years prior, he averaged a salary north of $7.5M) to a number just above Brian Rafalski’s $6M (Lidstrom netted $6.2M for his 2010-11 efforts).

Last year, we didn’t have to wait terribly long for Lidstrom’s decision — he agreed to a one-year pact on June 1st. Here we are on June 16th, and we’re told he’ll have a decision for the Red Wings by next week’s Awards ceremony.

As of July 1st, he will be an unrestricted free agent.

Depth was not a situation for the Wings’ top defenseman — he was one of only two players to play in all 82 regular season games — and repeated the feat in the post-season (the other was Darren Helm). His minutes may have decreased slightly, but he still logged over 21 minutes in the playoffs, and 23 and a half in the regular season.

In fact, of all 891 skaters to suit up in the NHL this season, only 27 played more minutes per game — and only seven of those played in all 82 games.

One would expect Lidstrom’s minutes to continue sliding down should he choose to return — it’s only natural. But he’ll remain the top shutdown threat and one of the best all-around blueliners in the game, if not the best.

1) He’s still one of the best in the game. He’s nominated for the Norris Trophy again, and is expected to walk away with the award… again. You don’t just call it a career when you’re that effective.
2) Brian Rafalski’s sudden retirement means that the team will need to rely on all of the veteran defenseman they can, and that includes long-time leader Lidas.
3) No one in the organization presents the kind of mentoring that Nick Lidstrom can. If Brendan Smith — or some other young defenseman — is going to make the jump to the big leagues, there’s no one on Earth they’d rather have show them the ropes than Lidstrom.

1) Frankly, his age works against him. If the Wings are hoping for a transitional year (and, by all accounts, they are), some of the veteran guys are going to have to step aside and let some fresh blood in.
2) For the first time in his career, Nicklas Lidstrom was a minus player in the regular season.
3) Uh… saving cash on the cap?

For his part, he’s not saying much. He’s bucked anyone that’s asked about his future plans, and has only told Ken Holland that he’ll have a decision in place before the free agency period opens. Coach Mike Babcock is “100% confident” that he’ll return for some of the same reasons we’ve listed above: he’s just too good to stop now.

Last season, he took a paycut, but still remained the team’s top paid defenseman. Only Pavel Datsyuk and his $6.7M cap hit rated higher than Nick Lidstrom’s $6.2M. If anything, Lidstrom earned a raise with his stellar play, but he knows the situation: the less he takes, the more the team can afford to pay other players to plug some holes. Nevertheless, if forced to guess, I’d say he’s come in somewhere around $7M for the 2011-12 season.

Internal :: There’s no one that can replace a player of Nicklas Lidstrom’s calibre anywhere in the world, but with guys like Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith hopefully ready to start logging real minutes — coupled with Niklas Kronwall’s coming out party in the post-season, we may be set up for a nice transitional period on the blueline.
External :: Other top defensemen that are not yet signed for 2011-12 include Ed Jovanovski, Andrei Markov, and Tomas Kaberle.

Thank you for your votes! We’re tabulating now and will have a recap post in the coming weeks!

Photo Credit: Paul Sancya, AP Photo