LAS VEGAS -- Pavel Datsyuk took in the question, which figured to go down like milk that is 30 days past its expiration date. One look at the Detroit Red Wings center's face confirmed this notion.
"What will it be like to play without Nicklas Lidstrom this coming season?" Datsyuk was asked at the NHL Awards media gathering on Tuesday at the Wynn hotel and casino.
Datysuk, up again for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward, had already given this question some thought it seemed.
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"It's been like a dream. A bad dream. A nightmare," he replied. "I keep thinking I'll see him again soon in [training camp], just like always. I keep telling myself this, thinking it will come true. I can't believe this has happened."
Datsyuk looked around the oak-paneled room of the restaurant formerly known as Alex that is now without a new assignation inside the cavernous Wynn. Lidstrom was not there, nor were any other Red Wings. This event was once known for having lots of red, and not just for the color of the carpet or the visitors' before-after bank balances.
Now, however, Datsyuk and the Wings must ponder a future without the comforting sight of Lidstrom on their side. The legendary Swedish defenseman called it quits recently, after a 20-year career in which people sometimes questioned his mortality.
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"I sometimes thought, like others, 'when will he get old?' I never saw this," Datsyuk said. "I believe he would be one of the best defensemen in the NHL if he played this coming season."
It's possible that the Russian center could become the next captain of the Wings, which would make sense for a franchise that has long been a leader in the employment of his countrymen. Such a prospect seemed to bring forth a blush, however. Datsyuk has been a Red Wings mainstay for more than a decade, but a successor to Lidstrom wearing the C?
"I mean, I don't know about that," said Datsyuk, who would probably still win a player poll on the question of who is the NHL's best two-way forward. "We had [Steve] Yzerman, and then Nick. Those are two great captains, for a long time. It will be very hard to be like them."
Datsyuk, who will be 34 on July 20, thought he would have a third Stanley Cup ring by this time. The Red Wings have been as dominant as ever in recent regular seasons -- 12 straight of 100 points or more, an NHL record -- but they failed to get past the first round for the first time since 2006, after a loss to Nashville this spring.
That was with Lidstrom. The future without him looks as worrisome as the furrow on Datsyuk's brow, but help may be on the way. Nashville defender Ryan Suter could be headed to the open market on July 1, and if the rumors of his wanting to go back to his Midwestern roots are true, Detroit could be the perfect landing spot. But with plenty of competition for Suter's services, nothing seems certain anymore for the Big Red Wing Machine that is still reeling from Lidstrom's surprise retirement.
"We thought, as players, he would come back. We did not know this, that he [would retire]," Datsyuk said. "It's a big shock, but we have to put this aside now. We have to start a new book for our team. Maybe this will be good for us in a way we don't know."
Datsyuk seemed to have convinced himself of this possibility. Then that moment passed, and the sour look was back on his face.