Thursday, May 31, 2012: the day Detroit Red Wings fans have been dreading for years. Nicklas Lidstrom has finally hung up his skates.
What can be said about this legendary defenseman that hasn't already been said? How about the legacy he leaves behind?
Many fans may have guessed it toward the end of this past season. Lidstrom fell to a lengthy injury -- a deep ankle bruise -- that kept him from being back to his normal defensive self on the ice. And when Lidstrom, The Perfect Human as fans call him, is only playing at 70 percent capacity, something is wrong.
Lidstrom reported to a Swedish newspaper that he lacks the drive and motivation to make it through another season, let alone the preparation in the off-season to get him ready. And why push himself? He's accomplished more in his career than many players ever will. He leaves the ice as one of the top defensemen in the history of the National Hockey League.
Nicklas Lidstrom may be one of the classiest players that the NHL has ever witnessed, which is why it's a shame he never won the Lady Byng. When no one can say anything legitimately condescending about him, you know they are something special.
Put aside the awards. Put aside the All-Star appearances. Put aside the Stanley Cups. What Lidstrom has done on a daily basis is truly remarkable.
Game in and game out, the Red Wings didn't have to worry about their first defense pairing. A two-on-one against them with Lidstrom back? He's got it under control -- and he does it so calmly, it's almost inhuman. You could hear it in Ken Daniels' voice calling the Red Wings games, "It's a two-on-one with Lidstrom back!" With No. 5 out on the ice, everything always seemed to be under control.
He was a player you really didn't touch. Occasionally, yes, he was manhandled (let's try to forget the spearing by Patrick Sharp), but rarely was he intentionally rammed into the boards or at the painful end of an open-ice hit. He was someone every player respected (see answer for "Best Role Model").
And Lidstrom leaves Red Wings fans with some happy memories. To name only a few...
- His first career hat trick completed his title of "The Perfect Human" and came at the young age of 40...which makes him the oldest player to record a hat trick.
- The fact that he was probably robbed of at least 50-100 goals in his career thanks to the ever-present-at-the-front-of-the-net Tomas Holmstrom.
- How he probably lied in this Detroit area commercial for Lasik, because The Perfect Human doesn't really need eye surgery.
- How he could easily freeze defenders on a power play just by stick handling for a moment or two. And also how he always seemed to have his stick in the right place on the ice, whether it be holding a puck in at the blue line or stopping a cross-ice pass to stop an odd-man rush.
- His OT game-winning goal against the Calgary Flames on November 21, 2010, that sent Joe Louis Arena into a huge celebration. Anytime the captain of a team can clinch a game (especially pinching in so low on the play), it makes for a great highlight -- especially when he doesn't shoot initially on a wide open net.
- Remember his center-ice goal on Dan Cloutier and the Vancouver Canucks during the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs?
- The fact that any hockey fan 21 years and younger has never seen a Red Wings team without Nick Lidstrom gracing the roster is fairly impressive.
- Of course, let's not forget the 20 straight years making the playoffs to a team that was otherwise dead in the water. Not once in his career did Lidstrom miss the playoffs.
The NHL will never hold another player as good as Lidstrom -- at least not for many, many years. And while we should block out all thoughts of a Lidstrom-less Red Wings roster for the upcoming season, we should also celebrate his accomplishments -- the big and the small.
After all, he's accomplished quite a bit.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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