As a young man in Sweden, long before he became one of the greatest hockey players who ever lived, Nicklas Lidstrom was a student.
Specifically, Lidstrom studied electrical engineering. While his hockey talent was obvious, even as a teenager, young Nick was smart enough to understand that betting on a Hall of Fame career in the NHL was less than sensible.
For those who don't know, electrical engineering is a terribly difficult subject. It requires a great deal of mathematical knowledge, theoretical application and an extremely detail-oriented mind to make a career out of the discipline.
By all accounts, Nick was as good an electrical engineering student as he was a hockey player.
In fact, it was to be his career until the Detroit Red Wings made the unremarkable and instantly forgettable decision to select Lidstrom in the third round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft.
At the time, the slight, non-physical 53rd pick of that year's draft didn't seem to have a prayer of making it into a league that highly favored gigantic, ogre-type men patrolling the blue line.
However, it was perhaps Lidstrom's engineering-oriented mind, as much as anything else, that helped the young, quiet, European defenseman beat the odds and excel at a position most other teams figured he'd be too small and too weak to dominate.
Why all this talk about Nick Lidstrom's electrical engineering background?
Well, if Lidstrom decides to use his mind to make his decision on whether he should return for another season, he'd have all the tools he'd need to do so.
He could project the statistics he'd likely put up next season, calculate the odds of the Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup, or formulate an equation to decide if he should return (something like 'Yes' over 'No' to the power of 'Duh'), he's got the mathematical chops to do that.
The result of his calculations would almost certainly indicate a return to the ice is imminent.
His point totals this season (62) were enough to land him his 10th Norris Trophy nomination in his 19-year career, and while the Red Wings are not quite as dominant as they were a few years ago, they will still be at the top of 2012 Stanley Cup Champion prognostication lists that will start popping up a few months from now.
By an measurement, calculation or logical derivation, Nicklas Lidstrom should return to the ice for one more season with the Detroit Red Wings.
Despite all of this being said, I submit to you that Nick's mental capacity will not be what he uses to decide whether to hang up his skates forever.
Nick knows he can still play, and he knows the Red Wings are still one of the best franchises in the NHL.
But ultimately, that knowledge may not be enough to convince Lidstrom to return to the only NHL team he's ever known for a 20th year.
I've argued many times on this very site that it is emotion that can spell the difference between a good player and a great player, a great team, and a championship team.
It's a player's heart that makes him who he is as much as his skating and puck-handling skills.
If a player is hitting the ice with anything less than his whole heart in the game, he's essentially worthless to his team.
100 percent of Nick Lidstrom's heart has been in 1,752 NHL regular season and playoff games.
The question he must answer now is, will it be in game number 1,753?
Beyond that, Nick will also need to decide if the constant training, weight lifting, conditioning, physical therapy sessions and strict dietary habits are all worth maintaining for another 82-plus game season in the NHL.
And since we're talking about emotions here, we cannot leave out the prospect of Lidstrom continuing a life spent largely away from his family for up to nine months out of the year.
Lidstrom has already seen his eldest of four sons, Kevin, leave the States last summer to attend a hockey academy in Sweden.
When Lidstrom began his NHL career, he wasn't too much older than his first-born is now and he's spent the boy's entire lifetime on the road, in the gym or at the rink.
As that time has flown by so fast, is he really willing to sacrifice another year of his life being a part-time father in order to be a full-time hockey star?
Many older players have considered all of these aspects of work vs. family and still decided another go-around is worth it.
The thing of it is, those players are usually still searching for their first Stanley Cup, or, at the very least, an opportunity to prove to themselves or the world that they did everything they could to win one.
With four Stanley Cup rings, a Conn Smythe Trophy and six Norris Trophies on his shelf, earning more hardware should probably be the last thing Lidstrom is concerned about when considering what to do with his future.
Lidstrom has won more hardware in his 19 seasons than most other teams in the NHL have acquired in the same time span.
Surely, a return to the ice will have nothing to do with proving anything, to himself, or the world.
I guess this whole mind vs. heart preamble is just a long-winded exposition of what, in the end, is a very simple answer to the question posed in the headline.
Should Nicklas Lidstrom stay or go?
All the facts say he should most definitely stay.
Age aside, he's still one of the best blue-liners in the game and his presence in Detroit will only make an already strong Red Wings squad more of a threat.
Nevertheless, no one, and certainly not some hack writer, has the right to tell Nicklas Lidstrom what he should do.
In the end, one can only speculate on what he could do, and then try to guess what he might do.
For my part, Lidstrom returning to the team seems more likely than not.
Not because he has anything to prove, needs one more piece of hardware to help define his career or is in any way short of cash, but because he still loves the game and still plays it too damn well to call it quits now.
But make no mistake, Lidstrom knows this just as well as I do, but it is not what he knows but what he feels that will decide his and by extension, the Red Wings' future.
It is his heart, not his mind, that needs to be made up about whether to add one more year to his legendary career.
He should do whatever his heart tells him.
Mine tells me we'll see No. 5 on the ice in a few months.
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