The Detroit Red Wings delivered a belated Christmas gift to five-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom on Wednesday. It was only one day after the actual holiday, but I doubt he minded.
Prior to the Red Wings' road game in St. Louis, the team announced they signed Lidstrom to a two-year contract extension through the 2009-2010 season. According to yesterday's edition of The Detroit News, the deal is worth $14.9 million. The 37-year-old Swede has spent his entire National Hockey League career with the Original Six team and was a key member of the Red Wings' three most recent Stanley Cup championship teams in 1997, 1998 and 2002. Lidstrom has shown no signs of slowing down and has been quite productive for Detroit as he leads the NHL in assists (30) and points (34) by a defenseman in 37 games this season. He is second in the league in the plus/minus statistic (+23).
Seriously, you're not convinced? Well, if you are among the ridiculously few on the planet that aren't, you might want to check out an excellent overview of Lidstrom's place in Red Wings history put together by The Detroit News staff prior to the start of this season.
Lidstrom took over the captaincy following the July 3, 2006 retirement of another lifetime Red Wing in future Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman, who was then named the team's Vice President. His career resume goes beyond his impressive tenure in the Motor City as he played for the Swedish national team in the 1991 Canada Cup, the 1996 and 2004 World Cup of Hockey tournaments and was a part of the 2006 Gold Medal-winning Olympic team. He even holds the distinction by being one of only three Swedish-born players to amass 600 assists in his career. That is certainly an achievement no one can fail to take notice as one of the game's most valuable defenseman in the NHL and one of the most durable, too. Entering Wednesday's 5-0 victory over the Blues, he had reached the 900-point plateau while missing just 22 games in his entire career. Truly remarkable, especially for a defenseman. Then again, we could always ask his teammate Chris Chelios about that, who will turn 46 years old on January 25th.
"Nick has been the best defenseman in the world for several years," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said in the team press release. "He's a great captain and role model who does everything right both on and off the ice. We're proud to have him continue as a Red Wing for another two years."
Without any shred of doubt, this man has earned it. What probably made Lidstrom's decision to play another two more seasons beyond this one a bit easier is how the 2007-2008 campaign has fared. That we as hockey fans know has been an outstanding one in the first three months. Detroit has been the clear cut best team in the entire league to date as they've been red hot especially in December with 11 wins. They have won 13 of their last 15 games overall. Following their 4-2 road victory over the Colorado Avalanche just hours ago, the Red Wings improved to 28-10 on the season with 59 points, easily the most in the NHL. Only the East-leading Ottawa Senators (54) have at least 50 entering the final week of the 2007 calendar year. Lidstrom is primed to make his ninth All-Star Game appearance next month in Atlanta.
But what also led to his decision to prolong his potentially Hall of Fame career is his desire to lead the Red Wings to another Stanley Cup title and with them among the elite teams in the NHL right now, who wouldn't want to play on?
"I take a lot of pride in being captain of one of the Original Six teams," Lidstrom told David Goricki and Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News earlier this month. "There's so much tradition here."
Lidstrom's teammates undoubtedly are thrilled their captain will be staying in Detroit for the rest of this decade, especially Kris Draper.
"It's a great move by the organization, not to even let this go any further," Draper said to Detroit Free Press sports writer George Sipple on Wednesday. "To be able to get a guy like Nick Lidstrom sealed up for two more years, it basically puts him in a situation to retire a Red Wing. I think that's great."
As many journalists would do immediate after the team they covered wins a championship and asks if they can repeat, Sipple slipped the "inquiring minds want to know" question to Lidstrom. That would be will he play beyond 2010?
"I don't know," Lidstrom explained. "All I know is I gotta play for another couple years and that's my focus right now. I'll reassess everything when a two-year deal is up. We'll see. But I'm very happy and pleased with the two-year deal that I got."
Either way, in taking a page out of Stevie Wonder's songbook, the Red Wings have him signed, sealed and delivered. And he's theirs. What question remains between now and when he retires is whether or not he'll be raising the Stanley Cup over his head again. This season he has a good chance of all goes well from here on in.