End of an Era: Nick Lidstrom, The Perfect Human Retires

Nicklas Lidstrom retired today after 20 NHL seasons.

By Rhys Richards (@RREsq)

The moment so many Detroit Red Wings fans have been dreading is finally here. This morning, Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom held a press conference to announce his retirement after 20 seasons in the NHL.

No single player can replace the future first ballot Hall-of-Famer. His retirement leaves a gaping hole on the Red Wing blue line, which will undoubtedly fuel the already feverish rumors of soon-to-be free agents signing in Detroit. With Lidstrom’s departure, Detroit will now have even more cap space to work with

Detroit selected Lidstrom 53rd overall in the third round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. Lidstrom joined Detroit in the 1991-1992 season when he scored 11 goals and added 49 assists. He finished second to Pavel Bure in Calder Trophy voting for the top rookie.

Lidstrom did not slow down after his rookie season as number 5 became the cornerstone for every Red Wings defense corps. In fact, Lidstrom played in every regular season and playoff game on several occasions, including two of the last three seasons. Lidstrom missed the most time in his career this past season when a shot block caused a lingering ankle injury that kept him out of 12 regular season games. In 2005-2006, Lidstrom reached career highs with in assists and points with 64 and 80, respectively.

Lidstrom was to Detroit defenses what long-time captain Steve Yzerman was to its offenses. Fittingly, Lidstrom, who spoke quietly and led by example, took over the captaincy when his offensive counterpart of a similar leadership style retired after the 2005-2006 season. He would become the franchise’s first European captain.

Lidstrom’s list of accomplishments is lengthy. He won his first Norris Trophy awarded to the NHL’s best defenseman in 2000-2001. He proceeded to win the next five Norris Trophies and added a seventh in 2010-2011. Lidstrom has finished no worse than 6th place in Norris voting in 14 consecutive seasons since 1995-1996 and has been nominated for the award 12 times in the past 14 seasons. He was the runner-up the first three times, then won the award seven of the next ten times it was awarded. Lidstrom is tied with Doug Harvey for the second most Norris Trophies in NHL history, one short of Bobby Orr’s eight.

"The Perfect Human" won seven James Norris Trophies for the NHL's best defenseman.

Detroit has made the playoffs every year of Lidstrom’s career. In his time with Detroit, Lidstrom won four Stanley Cup Championships, including 2001-2002 when he earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player during the playoffs becoming the first European-born-and-trained player to do so on a stacked team of future Hall of Fame players. In 2008, he became the first European-born-and-trained player to captain a Stanley Cup Champion.

While the personal accolades never mattered to Lidstrom, he was a 12-time All-Star. He made the first team 10 times.

For Detroit, he holds the following records: most points by a defenseman in a season (2005-2006), postseason goals by a defenseman (54), postseason points by a defenseman (183), postseason assists (129), postseason games played (263), games played by a defenseman (1,564), goals, assists and points by a defenseman in a career (264, 878, and 1142), goals in a single postseason by a defenseman (1998, 6), best postseason plus/minus in a career (+61), and best regular season plus/minus in a career (+450).

Lidstrom was the first European-born defenseman to reach 1,000 points. He retires with 1,142 points in 1,564 regular season games and 183 points in 263 playoff games. His class and responsibility are reflected by the meager 514 penalty minutes he accumulated in the regular season over his career and the paltry 76 penalty minutes he added in the playoffs.

Lidstrom holds the all-time record for NHL games played by a player born in Europe. At age 40, he recorded his first career hat trick, the record for the oldest player in NHL history to record a hat trick. Lidstrom also is one of only three players, including fellow Red Wings Alex Delvecchio and Steve Yzerman, to play over 1,500 exclusively with one team. His 1,564 games played with Detroit makes him the NHL player who has played the most games for the same team.

Lidstrom’s accomplishments extended to the international level too as he led Team Sweden to gold, bronze, and silver in the World Championships in 1991, 1994, and 2004, respectively. He won gold in the 2006 Olympics.

That shortened list of Lidstrom’s accolades does not do justice to his incomparable vision on the ice as well as the cool he has displayed on hockey’s biggest stage on a game-by-game basis for 20 seasons.

According to CapGeek.com, Detroit currently has just over $41.2 million in cap hit committed to 11 forwards and five defensemen. Detroit will likely re-sign restricted free agents Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, and Kyle Quincey. Brad Stuart is likely to return to the West Coast, while Jiri Hudler appears destined to sign with another team for more than the Red Wings are willing to pay. With Lidstrom’s departure, longtime teammate and close friend Tomas Holmstrom is likely to retire.

Should all of those strong possibilities occur, Detroit will have well over $18 million in cap space to pursue the rumored package deal of free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.

If top defensive prospect and Anaheim’s first round draft pick in 2008 Justin Schultz, who recently left the University of Wisconsin, becomes a free agent, Detroit may have more of a chance to land him with the newfound opportunity and need on its blue line. The Detroit Free Press noted the Wisconsin connection between Schultz and blue chip prospect defenseman Brendan Smith and former Red Wing great Chris Chelios.

Rumors happen. And they are just that: rumors. Today is a sad day in Hockeytown. Fans will recall the spectacular plays that they watched Lidstrom make much as they still recall Steve Yzerman’s greatest plays.

Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman planning in pre-game.

Like Yzerman, Lidstrom should be better remembered more for all of the little plays that do not rise to the forefront of any fan’s memory but lead to a perfectly angled defensive play, a brilliant pass, or a meticulously chosen shot. Those seemingly inconsequential plays lead to championships, records, and a legendary career with the same professional team, a feat that is next to impossible in modern sports.

Nicklas Lidstrom is Hockeytown. He has prepared many Red Wings for his departure. Because of him, Henrik Zetterberg, who it is believed will become the next captain, Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall, and others will continue to make Hockeytown meet the standard that he set.

As General Manager Ken Holland once told the Detroit Free Press, “[Lidstrom]’s Picasso. They think differently. It’s a gift.”

The words of another Picasso resonate even more. As Tampa Bay General Manager and former Red Wing great Steve Yzerman told yahoo.com, “[Lidstrom]‘s going to go down as one of the all-time best defensemen ever to play. Having played with him and watched him closely from his first game in the NHL — people know about it now, but we said it all along — you have to watch him closely to appreciate how good he is, what a great athlete he is, because he makes the position look so easy. He was just a … he is a special athlete.”

And so, Detroit, the NHL, and the hockey world will and should bid a fond farewell to the person teammates and others often called “the Perfect Human.”

Statistics, rosters, and other information obtained at www.nhl.com and www.hockeydb.com.

Share your thoughts about the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings, and hockey in general with Rhys at Twitter: @RREsq.  He can be reached via email at RhysJRichards@gmail.com.  Join the many fans of The Hockey Guys on Facebook and Twitter @TheHockeyGuys

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