Getty ImagesTomas Holmstrom, shown here in his natural habitat, is a 39-year-old with a 93-year-old's body (in hockey terms). He's also a folk hero for the Detroit Red Wings, scoring the dirtiest of dirty goals in playing a primary role on three Stanley Cup winning teams (appearing on a fourth).
As Helene St. James of the Freep notes, unrestricted free agent Holmstrom could decide his career is at an end, or he could desire to play another year with the Red Wings after scoring 11 goals in 74 games last season.
The question is whether GM Ken Holland wants him taking a roster spot from a young, faster offensive player. Via Ansur Khan at MLive.com:
"I told (Holmstrom) a couple of weeks ago we won't decide anything until after the pro scouting meetings,'' Holland said. "We want him to decide if he's healthy and if he has the passion and the energy to play another season.
"It's not strictly his call. We have to look at our team and decide what we're doing.''
That includes deciding whether there's a better offensive alternative on the roster or in the system.
Speed is of an essence in today's game. The Wings have young players knocking, guys like Gustav Nyquist, even Tomas Tatar, though the odds are against Tatar because he has a year left of waiver-exempt eligibility. But as it stands right now, the Wings already have 11 forwards under contract for next season, counting Nyquist, and counting Patrick Eaves, who is recovering from a concussion. And the Wings want very much to upgrade up front, to add a top-six forward via free agency.
Under coach Mike Babcock, there's been an emphasis on expanding the team's net-front presence to include guys like Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi, especially on power play units. Holmstrom keeps making the cut because he does it better than anyone, but his effectiveness has been limited as years of playing punishing hockey has taken its toll.
Complicating matters is the relationship between Holmstrom and captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
If Lidstrom wants to give Detroit a 21st season, it's reasonable to assume Holmstrom would give it a go again. It's also reasonable to assume that Lidstrom might, ahem, suggest bringing his close friend back next season would clear the runway for his own return to the Red Wings.
As Coach Mike Babcock said after the season: "Are they a pair? I don't know the answer."
Best scenario for the Wings? Holmstrom retires and Lidstrom returns. But is that realistic?