Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Lidstrom's retirement could affect Wild's pursuit of potential free agent Ryan Suter

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild off-season news Updated: May 31, 2012 - 10:04 AM

Nicklas Lidstrom, arguably the best defenseman of his era, will retire in a few minutes at a news conference at Joe Louis Arena. The smooth-skating, unbelievably reliable, amazingly smart, incredibly durable hockey player and consummate professional and class act retires with four Stanley Cup rings, seven Norris trophies and a Conn Smythe.

He just did everything so well. So efficient, so consistent, so good. He made being a superstar look so easy. He made being a reporter so easy.

He was a ridiculous +450. The Red Wings didn't miss the playoffs one time in Lidstrom's 20-year career. Just a sad day for Detroit, for hockey.

But as I've been saying on the radio and writing the entire second half, Lidstrom's potential retirement could throw a wrinkle in the Wild's offseason plan to heavily pursue Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter -- if he becomes a free agent July 1.

It's been abundently clear for awhile that the Red Wings also plan to pursue Suter in an attempt to make him Lidstrom's heir apparent. In fact, the NHL usually scoffs at big announcements during the Finals. Patrick Roy retired during the 2003 Finals. Rick Dudley was fired out of Florida and Jacques Martin and Mike Keenan came in as a tag-team during the 2004 Finals.

I don't think it's a coincidence at all that the awkward timing in Lidstrom's announcement comes when it's been so public the last few days that the Predators and Suter are about to continue talks to see if a contract can be ironed out.

The Red Wings can't talk to Suter, but he now knows for sure that if he has any interest in playing in Detroit, there's a job opening there.

Obviously, the Red Wings would present very difficult competition for Minnesota in its pursuit of Suter. The big decision Suter would have to make is if he really wants to be the guy to replace a legend in Lidstrom. Fair or not, those would be the comparisons he'd always have to live with.

It would certainly be an easier fit for him in Minnesota or elsewhere, and you can bet the Wild will try to make the case to Suter and Zach Parise (if he becomes a fre agent) that with seven prospects about to turn pro, the Wild's future is bright and maybe even brighter than an aging Detroit team.

It'll be interesting to see what happens with Suter. I do think that even though the Predators are about to offer Suter the keys to the city, he will test free agency.

The Wild may have an in -- Suter's wife hails from Bloomington. And maybe Tom Gilbert, a Madison resident like the Suters, can execute a sales pitch, too. There is no doubt the Wild believes Suter is a bona fide No. 1/2 defenseman, and I've talked to two NHL coaches this week that went on and on and on and on about how good Suter is and can be -- so much so, that I've bought in.

There will be so many teams going after Suter, this might be one of those cases where GM Chuck Fletcher might want to get ahead of everybody and try to trade for Suter's exclusive negotiating rights in advance of July 1. It would be a risk because he'd have to give up assets with no guarantee of signing Suter, but since many folks believe Suter and Parise wouldn't mind playing together, this might be the smart route for any GM interested in both potential free agents.

And if you know Nashville GM David Poile's history, he quite often trades the rights to free agents he knows he cannot sign. He seems to do that all the time with Philadelphia, and the Flyers are also said to be interested in Suter. So again, Fletcher, if he really wants Suter, may need to be very aggressive here.

In other Wild news:

-- It has until 4 p.m. CT Friday to sign 2010 sixth-round pick Johan Gustafsson, or he can re-enter the draft. The Wild could also trade the goalie's rights if there's a market. As of last night, there was nothing to report from either side.

-- Also, Guillaume Latendresse (@thetender48) tweeted yesterday, "Doc send me home saying that im at 100% and better than before my concussion, he predict my best season haha really exciting."

Latendresse has played 27 of 164 games the past two seasons due to groin, hip and hernia problems two years ago and a concussion last year.

He has taken in $5 million in salary during that time. Latendresse can become a restricted free agent July 1 if the Wild tenders him a $2.5 million qualifying offer later on in June. The Wild has intimated that won't happen. It would either try to negotiate a lower-priced, short-term contract with lesser risk or not qualify him so he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Here's Fletcher from my May 20 blog: "We'll have a good conversation to see where he's at with his health and where he's at with his conditioning, and what he wants to do," Fletcher said. "I want to get a sense of how healthy he thinks he can be next year and where his head's at."

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