Lidstrom's decision will dictate Wings' path

May, 9, 2010

So, is this the end of an era, or simply a reset moment in Detroit?

Well, that depends on Nicklas Lidstrom.

Red Wings GM Ken Holland once joked to me, "When he retires, that's when I step down as GM."

Holland won't step down, but you get the gist. It just isn't fun to think of the Wings without Nicklas Lidstrom.

The 40-year-old blueliner and six-time Norris Trophy winner isn't the Nick of old, but over the last 30 games of the regular season and the playoffs, the Wings will tell you he was again their best player.

The Wings want him back, just not at the $7.45 million he earned this season. But if Saint Nick does decide to return, how much less does he take?

Lidstrom isn't the only free agent in Hockeytown. The Wings have around $13 million coming off the books, and that's with the return of Jiri Hudler ($2.875 million salary) accounted for. Holland with $13 million to spend? Watch out, NHL! The best GM in hockey has some toys to play with!

Of course, he'll want to keep some of his own unrestricted free agents, led by Lidstrom. Also slated to be UFAs July 1 are forwards Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Holmstrom, Jason Williams, Brad May and defensemen Andreas Lilja, and Brett Lebda. The restricted free agents include Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves. A good portion of that $13 million will be re-invested, to be sure.

Still, Holland has some cap flexibility moving forward, which allows him to scan what's on the free-agent market, or perhaps take a few calls from fellow GMs desperate to unload a contract. Either way, it won't be a boring summer in Hockeytown.

The core of the team, with or without Lidstrom, is pretty much locked up. Forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula and Daniel Cleary are signed long-term, while Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall all have two years left apiece.

That's a nice core to build around. This team is playoff-bound for many more years to come. But will it be Cup-bound? Again, we bring you Lidstrom's decision and its impact, both on and off the ice for the Red Wings. The loss of his leadership would be an impossible hole to fill. But if I was a betting man (and I am) I'd bet on Lidstrom returning.

Off the ice, there could be a few personnel defections. Assistant coach Paul MacLean is believed to be on the interview list for the Columbus Blue Jackets' opening. The real big potential exit would be vice president Steve Yzerman, who is on Tampa's wish list, among others, for its GM vacancy. Here's what I do know: one of the best coaches in the game will return in Mike Babcock.

A terrific core, even without Lidstrom, is locked up. The best GM in hockey has money to play with this summer. I wouldn't be too concerned if I was a Wings fan.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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