NHL Playoffs 2012: Have We Seen the Last Game of Nicklas Lidstrom's Career?

Rob KirkCorrespondent IIApril 21, 2012

The last time the Detroit Red Wings were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs was 2006. The Edmonton Oilers bounced the top-seeded Wings on their unlikely sojourn to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The heavily favored, Presidents' Trophy winners lost their series in the sixth game 4-3 at Rexall Place. The loss also saw the face of the franchise and captain Steve Yzerman skate off the ice for the last time.

As the sands in the Red Wings' playoff hourglass slipped to the bottom, it's hard to think that history won't repeat itself. Yzerman's replacement, Nicklas Lidstrom, didn't miss a beat as Detroit's captain.

Leading the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2008 further cemented Lidstrom's legacy as an elite player, and put him in the NHL record books as the first European (born and trained) captain to lift the Stanley Cup.

Watching the Nashville Predators bounce his team in a year that started with such promise has to be bitter for Lidstrom.

Is there ever a good time to walk away? Is there anything left to prove for a man who has done everything? Lidstrom answered the immediate and obvious questions about his future with the standard, "Wait a few weeks and see how I feel."

The coming weeks will unfold as the playoffs reach their apex, and the Stanley Cup winner will emerge. The playoff runs for upcoming free agents will be of particular interest for the Detroit front office as they will look to reload, not rebuild.

The core of the Red Wings' roster is under contract at least through next season. Some potential extensions and restructuring could be in play as Detroit will certainly be players in the free-agent sweepstakes this summer.

The Wings should have an idea of Lidstrom's intentions well before free agency begins, and the Wings captain has been generous with Ken Holland with his salary-cap friendly contracts. If he does decide to return, chances are it will be with the assurance that Detroit will be adding more quality pieces this summer.

None of us were ready to see this either.
None of us were ready to see this either.

He is still one of the top five defensemen in the league and elevates his defensive partners when he is on the ice. Ian White was a top-tier defenseman when he rode shotgun with Lidstrom, but seemed cautious and flatfooted without No. 5 to his left while he was injured.

Lidstrom's close friend, countryman and car-pooler Tomas Holmstrom is facing similar decisions. The main difference between Homer and Lidstrom, with respect to Homer's contributions, is that Lidstrom is still performing at a top-tier level for his position.

So Red Wing nation must sit and wait, and watch someone else lift Lord Stanley's Cup, again. The silver lining for the Hockeytown faithful is that an early summer vacation for their team magnifies the need for change.

The level of change begins with Lidstrom. If he skates into the sunset, Detroit has a big hole to fill on the blue line, but a much larger gape in leadership. That is the intangible that will be hardest to replace.