For Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, if there is a player who has the right to skip the NHL all-star game it is his captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
Lidstrom and fellow 41-year-old Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks asked the league not to select them for all-star duty this week in Ottawa so they could spend the four-day break with their families.
Neither was included on the list of 38 stars and 12 rookies released last week, a group that has already had a run of changes due to injuries and saw Washington's Alex Ovechkin opt out because he is serving a three-game suspension.
The game had already lost Jonathan Toews, Mikko Koivu and Dustin Byfuglien to injuries, while the biggest star of all, Sidney Crosby, has been out most of the season with a concussion.
“At 41 years of age and with seven Norris trophies and going to the all-star game every year, I think if (Lidstrom) needs four days off, the National Hockey League respects that,” Babcock said Wednesday as the Red Wings prepared to face the Montreal Canadiens in the only game scheduled on the final night before the break.
“There was no fooling around. It was done up front. He deserves the time off.”
It turns out that Lidstrom may not have been able to play in Ottawa anyway. He took part in the Wings' morning skate, but left early and did not speak to the media because he has a cold. The team later announced he would not play against the Canadiens.
Lidstrom has attended 11 all-star games and Selanne 10 in their careers.
But three years ago in Montreal, Lidstrom and teammate Pavel Datsyuk were forced to sit out the first game after the break after refusing to play the all-star game.
That rule was brought in that year after a handful of no-shows at the 2008 game in Atlanta sparked anger from the NHL over players' obligation to fans, league sponsors and rights holders to support the league's showcase event.
Crosby avoided suspension by flying in at the last moment, if only to participate in off-ice activities and not the game.
Lidstrom and Selanne got around the rule this year because they were never named to the team, so they are not turning down an all-star invitation. At least Lidstrom, if not both, would surely have been named to the roster.
Datsyuk, along with Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, was named to the team and said he's looking forward to it, even if the 33-year-old admits that, as a rule “it's better to have a vacation a few days and not play. We have a lot of travel.”
Lidstrom was captain of a team at last year's all-star game in Carolina.
Despite his advanced age for an NHL player, Lidstrom still averages 23.43 minutes of ice time per game and his level of performance does not seemed to have dipped at all. His 10 goals ties Nashville's Shea Weber for best among the league's defencemen.
The Red Wings' concern is to convince him to continue playing beyond this season.
General manager Ken Holland said recently he wouldn't hesitate to sign him to a two or three year contract, but after talking over his future with his family the last two summers Lidstrom has signed only one-year deals, each at the bargain price of US$6.2 million.
Babcock is optimistic he will play again in 2012-13.
“I would think (he will) if he's good and the team's good,” said Babcock. “Nick's not going to play on a bad team and why would he?
“If his game falls off I don't think he'll play either. But he likes it, he enjoys the day in, day out routine of the league. He seems to be having lots of fun. If he plays well and we play well I think he'll be back.”
Centre Henrik Zetterberg said the whole team holds it's breath each summer waiting for Lidstrom to announce he will return.
“We hope he can play for many more years,” said Zetterberg. “This summer was a nervous time for all of us.
“He waited a long time before he made his decision to play again. Hopefully he'll make a quicker decision this summer and decide to come back and play another year. It all comes down to him and his family and how he feels and how his body feels and whether he's healthy enough to play another year. He works hard off the ice and that's one reason he can still play at the top level.”
Lidstrom has played on four Stanley Cup teams and had a large role in keeping the Red Wings among the NHL's elite teams for the last 15 years. Some wonder if that will start coming undone the moment he retires.
“It's going to be different for sure when he leaves,” said Zetterberg. “We would have to pick it up and players would have to step in, but it's tough for one player to do that. All the guys have to chip in when he leaves and try to fill his spot.
“It is amazing the way he still plays at 41. I think Gordie (Howe) played until he was 50. Hopefully he can go like that.”
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