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Nick Lidstrom to Return for 2010-2011 Season

This morning, it was announced that Nick Lidstrom signed a one-year contract extension for $6.2 million. As soon as the news broke that he’d be returning for his 19th season in the Winged Wheel, there was a collective sign of relief throughout Red Wings Nation. We haven’t agonized over a retirement decision this much since Steve Yzerman was debating hanging up his skates four years ago. I’m not ashamed to admit that when I heard he’d re-signed, I ran over to our local Ikea to pick up a nice cold bottle of sparkling lingonberry juice for a celebratory toast. (Yes, I actually did this. It was fantastic.)

The deal is a bit of a pay cut from his previous salary of $7.45 million, which gives the Wings a bit more cap flexibility. It’s been brought to my attention that there is a handful of Wings fans out there who are upset that he didn’t take more of a pay cut. I’m not sure what cave they’re living in, though. The man took a 17% haircut to come back and do the same job he’s been doing for as long as I can remember: be the best defenseman in the league. I’m assuming these dissenters are the same folks who keep talking about how his play has declined and he’s lost a step. There’s no doubt that last season wasn’t his best offensively, but he remains as solid as ever on the defensive end of the puck. At the age of 40, his fellow NHL players voted him to be the best shut-down defenseman in the league. He’s been the rock anchoring the Wings’ blueline and powerplay for over a decade. If he had demanded $7.45 million for another year, I would’ve been behind every penny. Without Lidas, the Wings’ blueline is in scary shape. This isn’t some charity contract awarded out of a sense of nostalgia for a legend who’s clinging to the past to stick around for one more year. This is the team’s best player taking a discount to come back for another year and contend for the Stanley Cup.

Last night, I twittered that I thought he would be retiring. It was a gut feeling and I was uncomfortable with the whole “week to decide” thing. I’m not even sure why I said it last night. I typed the tweet and backspaced it a couple of times before I finally sent it. I’ve often been called a know-it-all, an intellectual snob. My friends and family can attest that I have a great love of saying, “I told you so.” Please believe me when I say that this is the happiest I’ve ever been about being wrong.

Lidstrom returning means that there’s less salary cap room with which to go after free agents. It means that there won’t be any flashy off-season signings for the Wings. It also means, though, that there will be another Stanley Cup run next season. Without Lidstrom…well, that’s not really a scenario I want to dwell on just yet. For as long as I can remember, Nick Lidstrom hopping over the boards has been the signal for Wings fans to breathe. When he’s out on the ice, there’s a greater sense of calm. It feels like the situation’s under control. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen an opponent get a break toward the Wings’ end and feel that sense of panic that all hockey fans can relate to only to see the camera pan over and reveal Nick Lidstrom perfectly positioned to break up the play and send the puck back up the ice. In Detroit, we call him The Perfect Human or TPH for short. He’s almost robotic with his positional play and hockey brilliance. A smart guy this season told me that when I went to the Joe to see a game, I should spend at least one shift just watching Lidstrom—ignore the puck, and just focus on him as he goes about his business—because I would be amazed at the little things he does without the puck. Doing that had never occurred to me before, but I gave it a shot. It was fascinating. Watching him think through a game is incredible to watch.

There’s absolutely no reason why Lidstrom won’t enjoy the same amount of success next season. There’s no on-ice reason why he can’t play for another 2-3 years after that. He’s been blessed with good health throughout his career, and in this season in which the team was plagued with injuries, he didn’t miss a single game.  While I’m sure opposing fans aren’t thrilled about knowing that he’ll be out there shutting down their star forwards again, deep down, hockey fans should be excited that they get to see him play more.  We get to be treated to another year of the greatest defenseman of this generation, possibly all time.  That right there is a gift from the Hockey Gods.

This is the best news we’ve gotten in a long time. TPH is back for more hockey and I couldn’t be happier. Now if the team can just get Holmstrom signed…

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