Posted 30 May 2012 - 05:49 PM
Here is an article from ESPN Insider I thought was interesting.
There was a stretch of games late in the Detroit Red Wings' season that Nicklas Lidstrom sat out because of an injured foot. He missed a good majority of March, not surprisingly a month in which the Red Wings struggled to string together wins.
One scout watching Detroit play during that time turned to the guy sitting next to him and made an observation many of us were thinking.
"This is a different hockey club without Lidstrom," he said.
And now, we find out how different.
As reported by colleague Pierre LeBrun, Lidstrom will announce his retirement on Thursday morning during a news conference in Detroit, immediately starting the clock on his entry to the Hall of Fame. He'll go down as the best defenseman of his generation and one of the best of all time.
He's not a player you replace in one offseason.
"He's the heartbeat, the backbone of their hockey club," said an NHL scout. "He's Denis Potvin of the New York Islanders. He's Larry Robinson of the Montreal Canadiens. You don't replace those guys. There's been many, many great defensemen over the years and he's one. You don't replace these guys."
They'll have to try.
The Red Wings were shaky without Lidstrom this season and not that much better when he was playing hurt during the playoffs, as evidenced by their five-game exit at the hands of the Nashville Predators. The advantage the Wings have now is time.
As you would expect from a class act like Lidstrom, he has given Detroit plenty of notice to move to Plan B. And it's something Ken Holland and his management staff have been working toward for years. It may be painful, but it's not like Detroit is being blindsided. And one former Wing sees a strong group of young defensemen who will try to step up to fill the hole.
"Sitting from outside now and looking in when we assess other organizations and their depth, they have some excellent young players not in the NHL coming forward, Brendan Smith and whatnot coming in," former Lidstrom teammate and current Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told ESPN.com at Thursday's GM meetings. "They're going to be a strong organization. It's going to take time to rebuild your defense when you lose a player of that caliber, if they do lose him. But I still analyze their organization like we do everybody else and there's good players coming up from within."
When I spoke with Holland in early September about the possibility of replacing Lidstrom, he was very realistic about the process.
"Nick Lidstrom is one of the three, four or five best defensemen to play the game in the 90-year history of the National Hockey League," he said at the time. "We're not replacing Nick Lidstrom. I don't know if there's a Nick Lidstrom in the league."
Holland pointed out that the Red Wings had been stockpiling young defensemen through the draft, including the talented Smith, to help ease the transition. Smith will play in Detroit next season. Acquiring Kyle Quincey at the trade deadline was another move that was made with one eye on today and another on the future.
Ryan SuterJohn Russell/Getty ImagesThe Red Wings will likely press hard to sign free agent Ryan Suter.
In September, Holland also reminded me that money won't be an issue in rebuilding the blue line.
"We've got cap space," he said. "We're obviously going to be involved more actively in the unrestricted free agent market than we have been the last couple years."
Which brings us to Ryan Suter. Suter was already on the Red Wings' radar, but now he becomes a must-sign for Detroit if he opts not to stay with Nashville. With Lidstrom's retirement along with the likely departure of Brad Stuart to a team closer to his home in California, Detroit is flush with cap space. According to CapGeek.com, the Red Wings have over $20 million in cap space, which is more than enough to sign Suter and New Jersey Devils wing, and impending free agent, Zach Parise.
Suter isn't Lidstrom but ...
"I think he's the closest," said one NHL scout. "Suter can do it all. He's in the prime of his career, or just reaching the prime of his career. The need in Detroit becomes very strong."
It also makes Detroit an interesting option for Justin Schultz, the talented University of Wisconsin defenseman who still hasn't signed with the Ducks. Chances are he won't, which means he'll hit the market as a free agent who will draw as much interest as anyone this offseason.
The competition for him will be intense, but Schultz may be intrigued by the possibility of being part of the next wave of young defensemen in Detroit. If Holland can put together a defense for next season that includes Suter, Niklas Kronwall, Ian White, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Smith, Quincey and Schultz, the Wings are in great shape. But unlike when they watched Yzerman step away, there isn't an heir apparent ready to take Lidstrom's mantle as the Red Wings' lead blueliner.
"It was a little bit different when I retired," Yzerman said. "You had Pav [Pavel Datsyuk] and Hank [Henrik Zetterberg] -- two center men just hitting their prime. I think it's fair to say and it's by no means a criticism, but they don't have Pav or Hank on the blue line ready to step in. It's still a good group of defensemen. And they're smart and resourceful, they'll have a good defense next year.''
Either way, it's going to be a team effort to replace Lidstrom, even if part of that team is someone as talented as Suter.
"No doubt. The pressure of somebody trying to take on those minutes -- they have to disperse those minutes amongst the group and include the guys they add via trades or free agency," said an NHL source. "You can't sign one guy and replace Nick Lidstrom. That poor guy has no chance. No chance."