DETROIT (AP) - Nicklas Lidstrom is so used to being great that the star defenseman refused to settle for just being good.
Lidstrom retired after 20 quietly spectacular seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, leaving a legacy of greatness on and off the ice along with perhaps another $6 million he could have made with a third straight one-year contract.
The four-time Stanley Cup champion and seven-time Norris Trophy winner fought back tears as he made the announcement Thursday. He said he knew it was time to end one of the best careers in NHL history when he started to work out recently.
“My drive and motivation are not where they to need to be to play at this level,” Lidstrom said.
The 42-year-old Swede set an NHL record by playing 1,564 games with a single team. He had put retirement on hold in each of the previous two years by signing one-year contracts.
“I’ve been dreading this day since I became manager in 1997,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said.
When Lidstrom told him last week that he was retiring, Holland said he could have the weekend, weeks or even months to think about it more in the hopes that he would change his mind. Holland now has $20-plus million in salary cap space to attempt to sign a standout defenseman, perhaps Nashville’s Ryan Suter if the Predators can’t re-sign him before July.
San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, though, said what everyone in the Motor City is thinking.
“You don’t replace players like that,” Wilson said.
No, you don’t.
Even when Lidstrom didn’t have one of his best years, such as last season, he was still the storied franchise’s best player on the blue line and one of the better defensemen in the league.
Lidstrom had 34 points and a plus-21 rating that ranked among the league leaders, and for his career wound up with 264 goals and 1,142 points. After being incredibly durable for 19 seasons, he missed a career-high 11 games last season with a bruised right ankle and was out for another game with the flu.
“That didn’t sway me one way or another,” Lidstrom said. “A couple weeks after the season is over, you start working out. Once I started doing that, I didn’t have the push I need, and I can’t cheat myself.”
He plans to move his family to Sweden and hopes to have an off-ice role with the Red Wings.
“Retiring today allows me to walk away with pride, rather than have the game walk away from me,” said Lidstrom, whose oldest of four sons went to Sweden two years ago to attend school and play hockey.