Nicklas Lidstrom, 42, set an NHL record by playing 1,564 games with a single team. He helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups.
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DETROIT -- For Nicklas Lidstrom, the spirit was less than willing. Never mind the flesh. When given the chance to play another season, Lidstrom instead chose to walk away from the game on his own terms.
Lidstrom didn't reconsider the decision to end a 20-year career with the Detroit Red Wings that included four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies as the NHL's top defenseman, and the six-year captaincy of an organization that's part of the gold standard in professional sports. Not even after the few days that Red Wings general manager Ken Holland gave him to think about the choice.
Flanked by Holland and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, and with his wife and three of his four sons in attendance, Lidstrom officially announced his retirement from professional hockey Thursday at Joe Louis Arena. His drive and his motivation, he explained, wasn't at the level necessary to continue to compete in the NHL, unlike the past two seasons when he had mulled retirement but chose to continue playing.
"I can't cheat myself," said Lidstrom, who scored 11 goals and 23 assists in 70 games this past season, his lowest career output since the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season "If I cheat myself and come back, and not play at the level I expect, that's on me. And that's not what I want to do."
Lidstrom, 42, set an NHL record by playing 1,564 games with a single team.
He plans to return to Sweden with his family and has not made a decision on his immediate future in or out of hockey, though he has had discussions with Holland about his future and he said he'd like to remain within the Red Wings organization in some capacity.
Another prolific Red Wings defenseman, Chris Chelios, believed Lidstrom has cemented his legacy.
"With the expectations he had, if he felt he couldn't compete at the top level, this was the decision he was going to make," said Chelios, who played for the Red Wings from 1998 to 2009. "But he's going to go down as the greatest defenseman."
Lidstrom reflected upon his most memorable moments with the Red Wings, including the final seconds of a 2-1 win in Game 4 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Red Wings' first championship since 1955.
He also discussed the impact former Red Wings standout and current Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman made on him as a player, an impact Lidstrom hoped he made on the Red Wings' younger players.
"When you see a player like [Yzerman] it's easy finding guys to follow," Lidstrom said. "That's something I tried to do, as well. I tried to work hard and I tried to do things right, and good things will happen for you. That's been my message to the players. Work ethic is just so important, and that's what sets players apart. Once you do that, determination comes into play. You keep doing that, day after day, that determination takes over and you start to push yourself even more. I try to be that player."
Red Wings left wing Drew Miller explained Lidstrom's presence and the experience he brought to the team dynamic.
"When the game's not going your way, you looked to him to see how he'd conduct himself in that situation," Miller said. "He calmed the room and his professionalism is something that I looked up to. Nothing really seemed to faze him and to us, you looked at that and it was very reassuring."
Teammate Niklas Kronwall believed Lidstrom would return for a 21st NHL season.
"Maybe I was just hoping," Kronwall said.
"But nobody really wanted to face the facts that this could be the possible outcome. You take it for granted that he's on the ice, and now, it's not going to be that way."
Holland and Lidstrom discussed Lidstrom's intention to retire last week, and Holland told Lidstrom to take the weekend to consider his decision, but that the Red Wings would plan on holding a Thursday press conference.
Tuesday afternoon, Holland sent a text to Lidstrom.
"He texted me back," Holland said. "He said, 'I'm very comfortable with the decision.' For me, I wanted to make sure Nick was at that podium and completely comfortable with that decision."
Thursday afternoon, Lidstrom was at the lectern, on his own terms.
"Retiring today allows me to walk away with pride, rather than having the game walk away from me," he said.
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