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Lidstrom the Legend

Lidstrom the Legend

Nicklas Lidstrom…take a moment to think about all this man has accomplished.  4 Stanley Cups, IIHF World Championship in 1991, NHL All-Rookie Team in 1992, 12-time NHL All-Star, 10-time, NHL First All-Star Team, 2-time NHL Second All-Star Team, 7-time Norris Trophy winner (they may have to consider renaming the trophy), Conn Smythe Winner (after the Red Wings 2002 Cup win), Olympic Gold with Sweden in 2006 (making Lidstrom a member of the Triple Gold Club), Olympic All-Star Team also in 2006, and 2-time Viking Award winner for the best Swedish player in North America.  An entire paragraph comprised just of his accomplishments.  What more can you say about the man?  He is the most humble person in all of hockey, self-less, charitable, the perfect teammate, a leader on and off the ice, a role model for all hockey players to look up to, and a dedicated player.  If he does call it a career this morning, it will be for family reasons, not money.  Money always seemed to come second to Lidstrom, behind his family and team.  If you didn’t already know, Nick is a family man. He has a home in the Metro-Detroit area along with his home in Sweden.  He has 4 children, of which at least one of them is attending school in Sweden.  And according to quanthockey.com, from 1917 to today, the age when the most players retire is 24.  Lidstrom is 42 years young, and physically, he knows he can last another year or two playing at the elite NHL level.

Nicklas Lidstrom captained the Detroit Red Wings to a 2008 Stanley Cup victory.
(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Nick entered the National Hockey League in 1987, after being drafted 53rd overall (that means 52 players went before him!) and he has gone on to become the second best (if not the best) defenseman ever to play the game.  The competition is close with Bobby Orr (although it’s hard to compare the two, because Orr was only able to play until age 30, whereas Lidstrom had a much longer career).  Orr won the Norris Trophy 8 times.  However, Lidstrom just won his 7th last year at age 41.  All I can say is that Nick must be eating some of Chris Chelios’ chili to still be able to play in today’s NHL into his 40s.  Chris played at age 48, but that’s a different story.  Every hockey fan has seen Nick on TV.  How many mistakes did you ever see him make?  If he ever did, it was always overshadowed by his stellar defensive efforts, his uncanny ability to effectively and successfully stickcheck the puck from opposing players without accidentally tripping them.  I hate to use the word “graceful” when talking about hockey, but did you ever see another player skate and transition more smoothly?  I didn’t think so.

The NHL today is entirely different than when Lidstrom entered the league in ’87.  It’s faster with the help of light-weight skates and lighter equipment, the flow of play is quicker with the removal of the red line, and defensemen are turnstyled on a nightly basis by speeding forwards deking with perfect hand-eye coordination.  It’s all different now.  But Lidstrom has been taking mental notes each season, and he never shows any signs of aging on the ice.  He trains just as hard as every other player if not harder.  Nick was never known to make errand passes due to panic or rushed plays.  He calmly dished the puck as smooth as a piece of bread being buttered.  But aside from his amazing defensive play, his offensive skills were just as good.  In 1,564 NHL games played (10th all time), Lidstrom scored 264 goals and 878 assists (21st all time) for 1,142 points (50th all time).  He was also a career +450 (10th best all time) in the regular season.  In 2004 Nick recorded 38 points, but after the lockout, he came back and surprised everyone with his career-best 80 point season in 2005-06.  To add to those impressive regular season stats, his playoff totals include 54 goals and 129 assists for 183 points in 263 games played.  He was a +61 in the playoffs.  Remember when he scored this hat trick in 2010? He was the oldest defenseman in league history to score 3 goals in a game at age 40.  If you want to know when his last (and only) NHL fight was, you’ll have to think back to the 1991-92 season, according to hockeyfights.com.  If there was any video proof of that, he succeeded in erasing that cassette.

It’s hard to think of the Red Wings being without Nicklas Lidstrom.  He was one of the most integral pieces to the Stanley Cup runs in all 4 Cup wins.  He was so good on the blueline, that sometimes he even decided to play the other positions too.  And of course we all remember the moment when Nick gave Dan Cloutier the embarrassment of a lifetime, in the 2002 playoffs.  He even decided to reenact that same goal against the Nashville Predators in the 2008 playoffs.   Heck, he almost tied game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals with a booming slap shot to end the game.  It won’t be easy for the Red Wings team, players, personnel, and fans to recover from the huge void this would cause for the Wings organization.  He will surely return either way for the 2012 NHL Winter Classic at the Big House (Michigan Stadium) in Ann Arbor, Michigan on January 2nd, it’s just a matter of which game he will play in, the Alumni, or the game that counts.  At this point it appears as if the Alumni game at Comerica Park in Detroit will be his choice.  Hopefully this doesn’t mean that Tomas Holmstrom will be leaving as well, considering they were best friends and drove to every game together.  Thinking back to all of the hockey greats I have met in my life, I have not had the pleasure of meeting Lidstrom, even though I have gotten his autograph through a private signing.  But you don’t need to know him or meet him to know that he will always be one of the most respected men in all of hockey.  He will eventually join the likes of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay in the Hockey Hall of Fame, where he belongs.  He will be remembered for his leadership and self-less attitude.  Since the Norris Trophy is named after James Norris, the former Red Wings owner, it’s only fitting for the trophy to be renamed the Nicklas Lidstrom Trophy right?

This article pretty much wrote itself, considering I bleed red and white, and I could go on forever, but I think you get my point.  He is a hockey legend, and the perfect model for all young players to look up to.  Leave your own personal tribute in the comments below.

I will leave you with this video tribute to the great Nick Lidstrom:

What does this mean for the Detroit Red Wings?  Well, if Lidstrom does in fact retire, and if Brad Stuart moves back to California to be with his family (and maybe re-sign with the Sharks?) then the Red Wings will have a lot of cap space.  The current restricted free agents include Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, and Kyle Quincey, and the unrestricted free agents would include Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom.  If I was Ken Holland I would resign Helm and Abdelkader for sure, and give Holmstrom one more year.  I would probably let Hudler go, and give Quincey an extension since we’ll be short on the blueline.  But with the leftover cap space from those moves (plenty left over), there are some big names that you will hear a lot of buzz about come July 1st.  Zach Parise (star forward on the New Jersey Devils) and Ryan Suter (star defenseman of the Nashville Predators) will likely be on the move, seeing as they are both unrestricted free agents.  Ken Holland would be smart to make the push for at least one of them, if not both.  Suter is the more important player for the Red Wings to sign.  Think of a younger Bryan Rafalski.  The Predators still have 15 players to re-sign, and with the large contract they gave to goaltender Pekka Rinne, money will be tight.  Captain Shea Weber will likely demand a lot of money, so it is safe to assume that Suter will likely be playing for a team other than the Predators next season.  The Devils have 12 players to re-sign, which means they are in the same position as Nashville, but with less cap space already.  In my opinion, Marek Zidlicky is not a 4 million dollar player, and neither is Anton Volchenkov or Henrik Tallinder (anyone else find it weird that Ilya Kovalchuk’s salary is $6,666,667 per year?).  Parise is arguably the best two way forward in the game right now, and Suter can score and play a solid defensive game.  Should the Red Wings acquire both of these valuable assets, just one, or neither?

Follow me on twitter @yungspork.

Kevin Sporka
Kevin Sporka is the Senior Media Analyst at HOHM, and also the Detroit Red Wings writer. He is also the author of the Weekly Wraparound, Fantasy Hockey Fridays, and Milestone Monday (to debut next season) segments.
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