For Wings' Lidstrom, No Place Like Home
By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 15, 1998; Page B10
Nicklas Lidstrom came to the United States to prove he could play against the best competition in the world. Nearly six years later, the Detroit Red Wings defenseman has become one of the elite players in the NHL. But in the prime of his career, Lidstrom is thinking about leaving and returning to his native Sweden.
"I have one more year left on my contract, so I am going to come back for next season," Lidstrom said yesterday. "But I haven't decided what I am going to do after that. . . . It's something I'll decide during [this] summer."
Lidstrom's postseason play has been nothing short of sensational, helping the Red Wings take a 3-0 lead over the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup finals. Lidstrom, 28, is second in the postseason in scoring first among defensemen with six goals and 13 assists. Despite routinely being matched up against the opposition's top offensive line, Lidstrom and Larry Murphy are tied for the postseason lead in plus-minus, with a plus-12 rating.
"He's so good defensively he just about makes the right move all the time," said Red Wings Coach Scotty Bowman, who gave his team the day off yesterday. "I think what he can do is play in control most of the time. Very seldom is he out of control. . . . If you watch him closely, he has his stick in the right place most of time."
The question for Lidstrom is where the right place is. That is what has him contemplating a permanent return to Sweden after playing out his contract. He and his longtime girlfriend plan to marry this summer in Sweden. They have two sons Kevin, 4, and Adam, 2 and would like them to attend Swedish schools.
Top Swedish players who prefer to play in their homeland instead of the NHL are not unheard of. Former Calgary Flames player Hakan Loob and former Capital Bengt Gustafsson both left the league to return to Sweden.
"My family comes first, I've always said that," said Lidstrom, who led all defenseman in scoring during the regular season with 59 points and is one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league's top defenseman. "That's something I have to think about. . . . We know we are going to live in Sweden when I'm done playing hockey."
Lidstrom, who earned $1.6 million this season, will make $1.7 million next season. However, the Red Wings reportedly are interested in signing Lidstrom to a long-term contract that would keep him around for more than just one more season, offering a three-year extension worth $4 million per season.
Lidstrom said money would not be a factor in his decision, even though top players in Sweden make far less, about $200,000 annually. Swedish teams play a 40-game season, much less of a grind than the NHL's 82-game season and lengthy playoffs. Also, in Sweden there are fewer road trips and less time away from home. In the NHL, there are 41 road games, and two-week road trips aren't uncommon.
"Nothing Nick does would surprise me," said Murphy, adding he is unsure what Lidstrom will do. "He's the kind of guy that if he wants to do something, he'll do it."
In six seasons with the Red Wings, Lidstrom has developed into one of the best two-way defensemen in the league, able to join the offensive fray or hold his own in the defensive end. At 6 foot 2, 190 pounds, Lidstrom isn't the biggest or most physical defenseman, but his contributions are felt many times over. Some teammates have called him the team's most valuable player this season.
"When I first came over, I thought I might stay two or three years," said Lidstrom, who joined the Red Wings prior to the 1991-92 when he was 21. "I just wanted to see if I could play at this level."
Not only has Lidstrom been able to play here, he has excelled. However, Lidstrom who improved by playing with standouts such as Mark Howe and Paul Coffey has learned life in the NHL isn't as rosy as it once seemed.
"When you read about the NHL in the paper [in Sweden], it sounds a little more glamorous than it is playing here," he said. "You don't read about all the practices and all the travel."
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