DETROIT -- Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom continues to be an elite talent at an age when most players are retired or their skills have deteriorated considerably.
Seldom in NHL history has a 40-year-old had so much impact on a teamís fortunes.
The Red Wings are Stanley Cup contenders with Lidstrom. They would be hard-pressed to make that claim without him. Fortunately for them, they wonít have to worry about life without Lidstrom, for at least one more year.
A source told Booth Newspapers on Monday that Lidstrom has decided to return for another season. The club is expected to finalize a one-year contract extension this week with the six-time Norris Trophy winner as the leagueís top defenseman
Lidstrom always has kept his cards close to the vest. Even teammates are left in the dark.
But those who have played with him for any length of time, as well as many in the Red Wings front office, have been supremely confident that he would return.
Why? Itís simple, they said. Because he still has a lot of good hockey in him.
Lidstrom, for only the second time in 12 seasons, was not a Norris Trophy finalist in 2009-10. That was because of a slow start. He was one of the top defensemen in the league the second half of the season. He finished tied for eighth in points among defensemen (49) and tied for seventh among defensemen in plus-minus rating (plus-22).
Thatís all the more impressive considering the team surrounding him wasnít nearly as strong the first three-quarters of the season due to a plethora of injuries.
He once again averaged more than 25 minutes a game, playing all situations and against opponentsí top lines.
He played in all 82 games. He has missed only 34 out of a possible 1,693 games, regular and playoffs, since entering the NHL in 1991. That is a remarkable indication of his durability.
It is no coincidence that the Red Wings have qualified for the playoffs in each of Lidstromís 18 seasons (19 in a row overall).
That streak surely will be extended. With high-end players in Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen and a strong supporting cast, the Red Wings remain one of the more talented teams in the Western Conference.
They will start 2010-11 with virtually the same team that lost to the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the playoffs.
Unrestricted free-agent forwards Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi are expected to re-sign. Restricted free agents Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader will be back.
The Red Wings wonít have much salary-cap space. The exact figure will depend on what Lidstrom earns (probably between $5 million and $6 million, a slight reduction from his $7.45 million salary) and how much the $56.8 million cap rises (most anticipate it will be around $58 million).
They will sign a forward, perhaps a third-line player with some offensive potential -- if they have the cap space. If money is tight, they hope to at least acquire a scrappy, inexpensive, fourth-line type.
They might sign a low-priced veteran defenseman to compete with rookie Jakub Kindl for the No. 6 spot, if they donít re-sign Andreas Lilja.
There will be no significant trades or any kind of shake-up this offseason. They expect improvement to come from within.
Lidstrom surely expects they will be better. It undoubtedly factored into his decision.
Wayne Gretzky retired at 38. Mario Lemieuxís last productive season was at age 37. Steve Yzermanís final game came eight days before his 41st birthday, but he wasnít nearly the same player after undergoing radical knee surgery (osteotomy) four years earlier.
Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios and Igor Larionov all were effective into their 40s.
But they didnít have the same impact at that age that Lidstrom does.
When Lidstrom was cleaning out his locker on May 10, he hinted at a return by saying he wasnít sure if he had accomplished everything he wanted.
He simply was too good to retire