The Detroit Red Wings’ year of 2012 will go down in history, but not for something that happened on the ice.
Captain Nick Lidstrom hung up his skates after 20 seasons in the NHL, all of them with the Wings.
The four-time Stanley Cup champion and seven-time Norris Trophy winner did not take too long to decide his future after the Wings lost in the first round of the playoff to the Nashville Predators.
At a news conference at the end of May, Lidstrom announced his retirement.
“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,” Lidstrom said after the news conference. “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.”
Lidstrom, 42, was in the top 10 all-time among defenseman with 264 goals (ninth), 878 assists (sixth), 1,142 points (sixth) and 132 power-play goals (fifth). He also played in 263 playoff games, second all-time to Chris Chelios, who played in 266. His 1,564 regular-season games were second in franchise history to Gordie Howe, who played in 1,687.
In addition to winning Olympic gold and a world championship for his native Sweden, Lidstrom was also the first European player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP in 2002.
Lidstrom and his family returned to Sweden this past summer. He accepted a position as a scout for the Wings.
General manager Ken Holland had always joked that when Lidstrom retired, Holland would quickly follow him out the door. That did not happen, but Holland recognized the challenge ahead of him.
“It’s been 20 special years and my goal is to continue to have the Red Wings compete with the teams in the West, as we all can see you’ve just got to make the playoffs because there’s a sixth seed and an eighth seed in the Stanley Cup Final,” Holland said. “It’s a challenge to make the Stanley Cup playoffs. We have a lot of pieces in place at good age groups. We’ve got a push from below. We’ve got some players that are in their prime, late 20s to early 30s, but we do need to get some more pieces.”
When free agency started, Holland made a competitive offer to high coveted Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter. But Suter and New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise opted to sign together with the Minnesota Wild.
Instead, the Wings settled for some other free agents like defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, forward Jordin Tootoo, forward and former Wing Mikael Samuelsson and Swiss League standout Damien Brunner.
In a way, the only good thing about the NHL lockout is it allows Wings fans to not have to deal with the reality of Lidstrom’s retirement.
Last season, the Wings had some highs and lows. One of the highest moments came in February when the Wings set a new record for consecutive home wins at 21. They extended it to 23 before finally losing to Vancouver in a shootout.
The lows started when the injury bug hit. Starting goaltender Jimmy Howard, Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Ericssson, Kyle Quincey, Darren Helm and Lidstrom were all down at one point or another, many at the same time.
Lidstrom’s injury, originally diagnosed as a bone bruise, was later revealed to be a hairline fracture.
The Wings eventually fell out of the top spot in the Western Conference and into a first-round matchup with the Predators, which they lost in five games.
The Wings are currently mired in the lowest of lows along with the rest of the teams.
The players have been locked out by the league since the previous collective bargaining agreement expired Sept. 15.
More than half of the season, 625 games through Jan. 14, have already been canceled, including the Winter Classic, which was supposed to take place at Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day.
Time is running out on the 2012-13 season. Commissioner Gary Bettman said if the league and players’ union can’t come to an agreement in time to play a 48-game schedule, then another season will be lost.
Whatever happens, Wings fans will remember 2012 as the year they finally lost one of the best defensemen in history.