TO KEEP LIDSTROM, I’D MOVE MOUNTAINS

IAM HERE in Sweden. I sit in my bulldozer. I wave at my foreman.

“Keep the men digging!” I holler.

“How deep?” he yells.

“Deep enough to lift the buildings!”

Today we work on Stockholm. Tomorrow, Gothenburg. It’s a big project. It may take all summer. But we will get it done. Oh, yes. We will get it done.

“You want the whole city hall, or just the offices?” my foreman yells.

“The whole thing,” I answer. “Pack it up. Spare no expense.”

Shouldn’t that be the philosophy? Spare no expense? Isn’t that why I’m here? The Red Wings, eliminated from the playoffs after two Stanley Cups, now face a big problem. The man many call their best player, Nick Lidstrom, all-star defenseman, is thinking of moving back to Sweden.

I have a better idea.

Let’s move Sweden here.

“Don’t forget that statue!” I yell to my foreman, as the men dig up the town square. “And the fountain, too.”

“With or without the water?” he asks.

“Hmm. Good question. Is there something special about Swedish water?”

There is obviously something special about Sweden. Why else would Lidstrom, only 29, in the prime of his career, turn his back on a two-time Stanley Cup winner? Why else would he walk away from the potentially richest contract of his life? We’re talking $5-6 million a year. And he’s still reaching for his passport? There must be more to Sweden than meets the eye.

“Better bring the water, too,” I say.

“Roger,” my foreman says, opening the tanks.

How Swede life is

Now, I realize this is a big task, moving a whole country across the ocean. But I do it for the good of hockey fans in Michigan. The truth is, the Wings cannot afford to lose Lidstrom. You just don’t find great defensemen like him. You certainly don’t find guys who play 30 minutes a game like him. You don’t find men who work the stick like him. You don’t find men who rarely injure like him. You don’t find men as humble as him. And you don’t find men with all those qualities who also anchor your power play and finish every season amongst the team leaders in points.

Let’s face it. If the Wings should lose Lidstrom, the hole would be huge.

Maybe as huge as …

“The town library!” I say. “Start packing it up, book by book.”

“Book by book,” says the foreman. “Roger.”

“Especially the stuff by August Strindberg.”

“Who?”

Never mind. Just take the books. And take all the Ingmar Bergman videos. Lidstrom has been saying all year that he wants to go home because he has a wife and young children, and they prefer to live a Swedish life.

I can understand that. We all want to feel at home. Which is why I figure, what the heck, let’s dig up Sweden and make a home for the Lidstroms right here. Come on. It’s not that big a country. We can find a nice empty stretch of northern Michigan that wouldn’t mind going Swede for a few years.

We can put up signs, “Aplena, 30 miles …Malmo, 35 miles.” We can import Swedish teachers. We can hire Mats Wilander as a tennis pro. Meatballs for everybody!

“Scoop up those blondes,” I yell to my foreman.

“Which ones?” he says.

“The ones who like hockey,” I say.

Hard-luck defensemen

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, hey, Mitch, as long as you’re there, does Britt Ekland want to come over?

Well, that’s what you’re thinking if you’re a guy. What you’re thinking if you’re not a guy, or if you’re not a hockey fan, is this: Sir, you have lost your meatballs.

Not true. I simply recognize danger when I see it. The Wings have had terrible luck with defensemen. They lost the irreplaceable Vladimir Konstantinov to tragedy. They lost the irreplaceable Slava Fetisov to retirement. They tried Uwe Krupp, who could not stay healthy. They had to give away Anders Eriksson in the recent trades. Larry Murphy is old. Ulf Samuelsson is old and a free agent.

Defense wins championships. In other words, Lidstrom cannot leave.

In other words, keep digging.

“You want these mountains, too?” my foreman asks, pointing at Lapland.

“Just the big ones,” I say.

“Whew,” he says, wiping his brow. “We’re gonna need more equipment.”

Then get it. What’s a few more bucks? The Wings are prepared to spend a fortune. Everyone loves the guy. Steve Yzerman, the Wings’ captain, said over and over after the last game against Colorado, “Nick is the best player on the team. Nobody can do all the things he does. We can’t lose him.”

I agree. Today, Stockholm; tomorrow, the reindeer. We’re packing up cottages, windmills, rowboats, milk cartons, Ingemar Stenmark and the local smorgasbord.

If it’s all for Lidstrom, it’s all worth it. The Wings want to know his plans. His agent wants to know his plans. The fans want to know his plans.

I am way beyond that. What I want to know is where he wants his mother’s house put down. That’s what I want to know.

MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 1-313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Listen to “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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