NEW YORK -- Nicklas Lidstrom, the best defenseman of his era and one of the greatest of all time, will announce his retirement, an NHL source indicated to Yahoo! Sports. The Detroit Red Wings have called a press conference for 11 a.m. Thursday.
"I think Nick should announce his decision," said the Wings' Ken Holland after the NHL general managers' meeting Wednesday in New York. "He's earned that right."
Lidstrom has won the Norris Trophy seven times, one short of the record held by Bobby Orr. He won the Norris in 2010-11, decided to come back and played at a high level this season.
But he is 42 now, and he's coming off one of the few injuries of his career -- a deep ankle bruise -- that made him look mortal down the stretch and into the playoffs. He has always set a high standard for himself, and if he feels he can no longer meet it, if he feels he no longer has the motivation to train for another long season, he will walk away from the NHL even when he could still play well and make millions.
Holland said he spoke to Lidstrom a couple of days ago and three or four times in the past week.
"I've told him all along I really needed to know prior to the draft," Holland said. "I wanted to make sure that he had all the necessary time. I mean, it's a major decision for him. He's obviously come to a decision."
The loss of Lidstrom is a major blow to the NHL's most consistently successful organization. The Wings have made the playoffs 21 straight seasons. Lidstrom has played the last 20 of them. That's no coincidence.
"If he does retire, he's going to go down as one of the all-time best defensemen ever to play," said Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, Lidstrom's predecessor as captain in Detroit.
"Having played with him and watched him closely from his first game in the NHL -- people know about it now, but we said it all along -- you have to watch him closely to appreciate how good he is, what a great athlete he is, because he makes the position look so easy. He was just a … He is a special athlete."
This potentially could alter the balance of power in the Western Conference. A reporter started to say, "If Nick does retire …" and Doug Wilson, GM of the rival San Jose Sharks, finished the question: "I hope he does," Wilson laughed.
He was joking -- or maybe-half joking.
"I hope he doesn't retire," Wilson said. "He is the standard of how we want people to play the game. Ultimate professional. … You don't replace players like that. You don't."
This is the toughest test the Wings have faced since they lost Yzerman in 2006, and when they lost Yzerman, they had young centermen Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg coming into their primes at the same position.
"It's by no means a criticism," Yzerman said, "but it's fair to say they don't have Pavel or Hank on the blue line ready to step in."
That said, Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill have been able to rebuild the Wings on the fly. They have won Stanley Cups in 1997, '98, 2002 and '08 while turning over their personnel. They have kept winning while losing a long list of superstars that includes Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan.
The Wings have some players in the pipeline, such as defenseman Brendan Smith, and they have the potential to make moves. They already had ample salary-cap space, and Lidstrom's departure will give them $6.2 million more. They are expected to pursue the Nashville Predators' Ryan Suter, a pending unrestricted free agent, among others.
"They're a great team every year," said Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman, speaking in general terms. "I'm sure they've got things planned out."
The timing of this announcement helps their planning. It also gives plenty of heads up to any free agent wondering about the situation in Detroit or any team looking to make a major deal.
"It's not easy. It's been a unique run," Yzerman said. "It's going to take time to rebuild your defense when you lose a player of that caliber, if you do lose him. But I still analyze their organization like everybody else, and there's a lot of good young players coming up from within. … Kenny and Jimmy, they're smart, they're resourceful and they'll have a good defense next year."
Holland didn't look despondent Wednesday. He kept his sense of humor. He has said in the past that when Lidstrom retires, he will retire along with him.
"Yeah, I did say that," Holland said, smiling. "This might be my last press conference. I'm not sure. You know what? I'm going to let Nick decide tomorrow what his decision is. From there, we'll see."
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- Nicklas Lidstrom
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- Steve Yzerman