NOVI, Mich. — The next time Red Wings fans see No. 5 on a winged-wheel sweater, it will be on its way to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena.
Even though some of those fans were hoping to see Nicklas Lidstrom return to play in a lockout-shortened season, the longtime Wings captain has settled nicely into retirement in Sweden.
“It feels great to be back here in Michigan again,” said Lidstrom, who returned to Detroit this past week for special appearances. “It feels good when you meet all the fans. They’re all congratulating me on my career.
“Some wish that I come back and play. Just the nice words from people is very kind to hear.”
Lidstrom has no regrets about his decision to call it a career, but still yearns for certain parts of the game.
“I do miss it sometimes,” Lidstrom said. “I do miss the competing in different situations, being on the ice when the game’s on the line. You want to be on the ice, whether you’re up a goal or down a goal.
“Those important situations are something that I miss, just being in those competitive situations.”
As many retired players say, besides the competition, Lidstrom most misses being around his teammates.
“I’m enjoying being with my family, but sometimes you miss the camaraderie and the locker room,” Lidstrom said. “That’s, I think, been the biggest adjustment — not having that routine of going to the rink and just being around the guys all the time.”
While in Detroit, Lidstrom spent time with one of his favorite teammates of all time, Tomas Holmstrom, who also recently retired. Lidstrom and his wife, Annika, stayed with Holmstrom and his family.
“I was expecting a little more hospitality from Homer,” Lidstrom joked. “No, he’s been great. Had some great times with him and his wife. It’s fun being back, and it’s fun being around Homer again.
“We were close friends when we were playing, and it’s good to be back here again. We talk every now and then on the phone. He visited me over Christmas in Sweden.”
The two friends made their old drive down to the Joe for games Wednesday and Friday.
“It was just fun to go down to the rink, do the drive down, go eat together and just talk,” Holmstrom said. “He just arrived Wednesday and it’s been so busy.
“But it’s just nice to sit down and talk, just catch up.”
It wasn’t that long ago that the two were making that drive nearly every day for practices.
“It was a fun ride down,” Lidstrom said. “It’s different walking in here and coming into this locker room when you’re not a player anymore.
“You’re used to sitting in your stall, used to getting dressed and putting gear on. It’s a different feeling, but it’s good to be back in here again.”
Lidstrom said it was also good being back at Joe Louis Arena in a sold-out stadium for the games.
“It was fun, first of all, to be back at the Joe and see them all packed in; lots of fans, lots of people in there,” Lidstrom said. “It’s different sitting up in the press box and watching the game.
“You get a different view of things. You see plays develop a little differently. That’s fun. I enjoyed doing that.”
The Wings lost both games with Lidstrom and Holmstrom in attendance. It seems that while they adjust to retirement, the Wings are adjusting to life without them.
“It’s a learning experience for the kids, and it’s a great way to get a chance to play with so many guys out [with injuries],” Lidstrom said. “It’s a shortened season, points are important, it’s more of a sprint than you’re used to with an 82-game season.”
The Wings like to keep their players in the family, even when they retire, so they’ve asked Lidstrom to help scout some young players in Sweden.
“It’s fun watching the kids,” Lidstrom said. “I’ve watched 17-year-olds, 18, 19-year-olds that are playing for the national teams and junior hockey, and there’s some tremendous skill out there. It’s fun to watch the speed and the skill that they have.
“But if it’s for me in the future? That’s why I’m kind of trying it out to see if it’s something that I’d like to do in the future, too.”
Unlike the uncanny way he knew exactly where to be on the ice at all times, Lidstrom said trying to project which players might be successful someday is not instinctive.
“It’s not easy at all,” Lidstrom said. “You can see a player that looks very good, then all of a sudden, it’s in a tougher environment and they respond differently.
“I think it just takes time to kind of read that out and see — they’re all talented but in different ways — kind of see who you think can make it. I think it takes a lot of work to get to know how to find talent, too.”
Aside from his scouting duties, Lidstrom is trying to get used to a slower pace of life — one that revolves around his four sons, all of whom play hockey.
“Just the everyday of being home with the family, helping out with kids’ practices and taking them to school in the morning, picking them up in the afternoon,” Lidstrom said. “Just the everyday things you weren’t around for in the past, being able to travel with the family.”
And reunite his family. Lidstrom’s oldest son, Kevin, who turns 19 this year, has been living in Sweden the last two years without them.
“Kevin is very happy to have us back,” Lidstrom said. “He lived with my sister for two years, and now he moved back with us, with the family.
“I think he just enjoys being around his brothers, too, joking with his brothers and seeing them and feeling more part of our family again. I think he missed that a little bit when we were still here.”
Kevin is the only one of the boys playing defense. The other three — Adam, Samuel and Lukas — are forwards.
“There’s only one defenseman in the family now,” Lidstrom said.
Although Lidstrom has been enjoying being around his extended family and helping coach his son Samuel’s hockey team, he said it was a challenge to get adjusted to living in Sweden after being in the United States for so long.
“I think it’s been easier for my boys, the kids, than for me and my wife,” he admitted. “They find friends, they go to school and they adapt quicker than we have.
“So it’s been some adjustment time, but it’s a new phase of life, too, when you’re not going to the rink every day, you’re not doing the grind of playing. And sometimes I miss that, I do.”
Judging by the standing ovation Lidstrom received from fans at Joe Louis Arena this past week, the Wings and their fans miss their former captain even more.