DETROIT — An offseason of uncertainty began Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena as the Red Wings gathered to take their team photo and clean out their lockers for the season.
Two of the Wings’ top defensemen have decisions to make and hockey isn’t necessarily the overriding factor for either.
Captain Nick Lidstrom reiterated that he planned to meet with general manager Ken Holland and then take some time before deciding whether he wants to play for a 21st season.
“I feel physically I can still play,” Lidstrom said. “I can contribute, but you have to be motivated and you have to have the drive and that’s something I will think about.
“Training is part of it. I know what I have to do to get ready for a long year. I’m not willing to sacrifice that to have a good summer or take it easy. I know what I have to do and it’s a grind to go through, which all of us do in here. Then you hit the grind of season. It’s a long year. You play 3-4 games every week for over six months and that takes its toll on you, too.”
Lidstrom’s oldest son, Kevin, has been playing hockey in Sweden the last two years. He said his second oldest son, Adam, is also considering playing in Sweden next year. Having two of his boys back in Sweden could influence him.
Lidstrom’s teammates have already started lobbying him to stay.
“In the end we hope it’ll be a nice decision,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “He’ll do what he needs to do. It’s a big commitment to make if he’s mentally prepared to come back, too. Everyone hopes he’s going to make that commitment.”
Pavel Datsyuk echoed Zetterberg’s sentiments.
“I enjoy playing with him the last 10 years,” Datsyuk said. “It’s hard to say if he play next season. Everyone hope he play another three years. He’s our captain. We hope he come back.”
Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom have been teammates since 1996. The two drive to the rink together but each said the other’s decision will not influence his own.
“We haven’t talked about something like that at all,” Lidstrom said. “I don’t think that will have any bearing on my decision. I’m not sure Homer knows what he’s going to do.”
Said Holmstrom: “For sure I would love to play with him one more year, but I don’t think it matters if he plays or not. I love the game, I would love to play three or four more years. It’s so much fun to come to the rink. It’s just whether the body can take it one or two more years. It’s all about the wear and tear on the body.”
Stuart likely to leave
For defenseman Brad Stuart, who is now an unrestricted free agent, playing in Detroit is great professionally, but personally it hasn’t been so wonderful.
“I’ve been living here, my family’s been in California,” Stuart said. “I’ve got a stepdaughter that needs to finish high school so that’s how it is. There’s really no way to get around that. I guess it’ll be up to me to kind of decide what needs to be done.
“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. Those are things I’d like to consider, at least try to fix.”
Even though the team made allowances for Stuart to travel back to California for a couple of days when they had an off day Sunday and didn’t play until the middle of the week, the situation was not ideal.
“Now flying in for a day is sometimes worse than not coming at all because they get all emotional,” said Stuart, who has four- and five-year-old sons. “I made it through the last few years. It’ll be a decision we have to make whether we can do it again.”
Lidstrom said Stuart has been an important player for the Wings.
“I think he’s a top four defenseman for us,” Lidstrom said. “He’s always out there, killing penalties, playing against the top lines and he’s a physical presence for us too. That’s something we’ve needed back there and he’s been filling that role for us. He’s hard to play against. I’m not sure what Stuie wants to do, but he’s been a big part of our team and hopefully he’ll stay with the team.”
Although Stuart didn’t rule out a return to Detroit, it seems far more likely that he’ll end up with one of the California teams.
“Definitely the last four-plus years that I’ve been here have been great and I felt like I belonged here,” Stuart said. “If it’s all a hockey decision, I don’t want to leave but there’s other things to think about. Again, it’s a game, it’s a part of my life and it’ll be gone one day and I’ll be left with my family so that’s obviously going to be more important than the game of hockey.”
Changes to be made
After two second-round exits and a first-round exit, the Wings acknowledge changes will have to be made.
“It’s a good thing we make the playoffs, but the last few years we don’t go too far,” Datsyuk said. “The second round is not good. We need to improve ourselves for sure. We need at least two steps (to conference finals).”
Lidstrom said he doesn’t believe the team needs a complete overhaul.
“We still have a solid core group of players that’s been part of this team for a while that are still contributing to this team,” Lidstrom said. “I don’t see the team slipping. There’s a lot of parity in this league and if you don’t play as good as you have to you’re going to lose and that’s what happened to our team.”
The two names associated most with the Wings are unrestricted free agents Ryan Suter of Nashville and Zach Parise of New Jersey.
The Wings are quite familiar with Suter, having just played against him in the first round of the playoffs and multiple times during the regular season.
“I think he’s a very good player,” Lidstrom said. “He’ll be a good fit for a lot of teams. We saw the minutes he can play. He’s a top defenseman on their team, can play against the top lines and can be a contributor offensively. He joins the rush. He’s a good skater. He plays well in the own zone. I’m sure a lot of teams, if he’s available, will be looking at him.”
Zetterberg seemed to be receptive to having those two players in Detroit.
“They’re good players,” Zetterberg said. “Great players and seem like two really good guys, too. They’d be a good fit in here. We’ll just have to wait and see where they decide to go.”
Johan Franzen believes an attitude adjustment is more what the Wings need than an influx of new players.
“We need to have more fun out there, get some confidence back,” Franzen said. “We looked like a drained team kind of in most of the games. Get some joy back, believing in ourselves, knowing that we’re a good team and play for each other.”
Wounded Wings update
For Danny Cleary and Patrick Eaves, it was kind of a miserable season. For Joey MacDonald, it had great moments and some bad ones, too.
Cleary started the season with broken ribs and battled knee issues all year. Eaves took a shot to the head and suffered a broken jaw and a concussion at the end of November, forcing him to miss the rest of the year.
Cleary will likely undergo knee surgery at the beginning of May.
“There’s significant issues going on,” Cleary said. “They’ll know more when they get in there. There’s a lot of different things. There’s tears in there, there’s cartilage damage, there’s bone on bone, there’s a lot of fluid. The build-up of fluid was a major issue. I’m hoping that we can get it resolved.”
Cleary said knowing what he knows now, he should have had the surgery in November.
“Just the everyday things, even walking — I walked with a limp since November,” Cleary said. “The games were really hard. I tried as hard as I could, gave it everything I can, but what are you going to do? It’s hard playing on one leg.”
As for Eaves, he believes he’ll be back for training camp.
“I’m having less and less headaches and able to work out a little harder,” Eaves said. “I just got to stay with it. It’s all symptom-related, as soon as symptoms starts to go down I can do more without getting worse then I can move on.
“I’m very confident I’ll be ready. We have some time here I can recover and get treatment. I should be ready to go.”
MacDonald, who has been battling back problems but played well when Jimmy Howard went out with a broken index finger, doesn’t think he’ll need surgery.
“I can see a big improvement over the last couple of weeks and I still believe if we would have continued on here I would have been skating probably within the next week or two (but not playing),” MacDonald said. “I’m going to stick around here for another 3-4 weeks and before I leave here I want to be 100 percent, ready to rock.”
MacDonald said he has had two cortisone injections and feels he’s at 75-80 percent right now.
His main focus now is getting ready for next year.
“I want to be ready in July, start skating,” MacDonald said. “That (being the backup next season) is the plan. I want to stick around here and be 100 percent ready. It’s going in the right direction. I’m 75-80 percent right now.”