This is my tribute to Nick Lidstrom. There are many like it but this one is mine.
Looking back at Lidstrom's career, I keep feeling a bunch of different emotions. Sadness, of course, because he's gone and I don't want him to be. There's also a little bit of happiness because he got to go out on his terms. He didn't stick around so long that our memories of him changed. But more than anything, I feel so much damn pride that he was on our team. He was a Red Wing and no matter how many times he became a UFA, there was never any doubt where he'd sign.
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Early in his career when we had Paul Coffey on the blueline, I didn't think about Nick all that much. I could tell he was good because he had a great shot and was on the power play and penalty kill, but he wasn't flashy like Coffey was. Coffey would jump into the play and score goals like a forward and that fired me up. Nick was steady. He was making plays in the offensive zone and he was always there in his own end when we needed him. Perfection.
Then when Coffey was traded for Shanahan, I sort of stopped thinking about our blueline. The Wings had changed their game in a way and were now a more physical team. Konstantinov was our most physical defenseman, so he was my favorite of the Wings defensemen. Still, Lidstrom was always where he needed to be. He would finish his checks, too, but not in a way that laid a guy out. Instead, he just took his man out of the play without taking a penalty. Perfection.
Don't get me wrong here. I understood by now that Lidstrom was our best defenseman, that he was the NHL's best defenseman, but I didn't understand just yet how important he was to the team.
Then after the Wings won the cup in 2002 and we all sat waiting to see who would get the Conn Smythe, I tossed around some names in my head. Hasek? He started slow, but ended up being great. All those shutouts. Yzerman? He dragged this team through the first round with one leg. Then Bettman announced that it was Lidstrom and I said, "Lidstrom? Huh..." Then, after about 5 seconds of recalling all of his great plays, it hit me: "Oh my gosh, Nick Lidstrom is our best player. He's frigging perfect!"
Yeah, yeah, you already knew that. Whatever. Better late than never.
The point is, he was always where he needed to be. Always. Perfection.
I have two obscure memories of Nick that I want to recall, then I'll wrap this up. First one, and I don't remember the year, but he was back skating into his own zone while a guy with the puck was coming at him. Nick put his stick up into the guys stomach, push with his stick and slowed down at the same time. The puck drifted out of the forwards reach and into Nick's skates where he quickly gained possession and... was called for a penalty. The ref just kind of laughed because he wasn't sure what to call, but felt he had to do something. Nick shrugged and sat for 2 minutes. I think they called it hooking. He never did it again. Perfection.
More recently, maybe 2010, he tried to make an outlet pass, but the puck jumped just as he passed it. The puck went right to an attacking forward. Before the forward even had the puck, Nick was in position and managed to poke-check the puck away before the guy took three strides. You know you're seeing greatness when they show replays of a poke-check before going to commercial.
Well, that's it. Congratulations to Nick Lidstrom on an amazing career and good luck to you in the future. Whatever it is you do from here on out, we all know it will be done to perfection.
I was thinking today, and with the retirement of Lidstrom (and inevitably Holmstrom), there will be no more Red Wings from the 1997 Stanley Cup team. Crazy to think, but this is truly the end of an era in a few ways.
I'm very glad he won the Cup as Captain. He really was a tremendous person and I think his greatness as a human being overshadows his greatness as a player, but that's a good conundrum to be involded in, if you ask me.
I also have countless favourite moments of him, most of which include either holding the point, firing a shot that was re-directed for a bit goal, or those times when he's skating backwards on defense and the forwards try dumping into the zone and skate past him by firing it along the glass and then cutting to the inside of the ice, and he'd so effortlessly swat it out of mid-air, picking it off the glass. Unbelievable how rarely you see that from any other player, let alone the young defensemen coming into the league now.
I think my other favourite memory of him was 2 seasons ago, or maybe it was this past season, when we were scrambling in the last minute with the goalie pulled, he took a puck at the blue line off the chest and bumped it out so another Wing could get to it and the ref called a "hand pass," so the faceoff came out of the zone. Mistake on the ref/linesman's part at an absolutely crucial moment of a game, sure, but Nick calmly skated over to him and told him it went off his chest, not his hand, and then lined up for the face off. Ken and Mick pointed out his control of emotions and why he gets the benefit of the doubt so much, because he's so rarely committing any fouls and is so respectful to the officials when he's wrongfully called. No yelling, no protesting of any kind, just letting them know what really happened. That's some serious composure, I was screaming at my TV and I have zero influence in the outcome of games.
Really just a perfect human being, and never demanded much attention, much in the way of limelight or glory quite the way some of the guys do in this game.
I decided to comment on this post rather than Chris's. No particular reason, but I really had to write a giant comment about him that I couldn't do via Twitter or Facebook, so sorry for the length.
Yesterday I got into a fight with my boyfriend about how emotional I was getting over his retirement. He told me that Lidstrom is "just a hockey player." I gritted my teeth and opted NOT to yell at him, because I decided to be classy like Nick. He's from that I've decided is the Yzerman generation of the Wings, and if I had ever said that about Yzerman he probably would have reacted less calmly than I did because he sees Yzerman as a God (that is, in fact, his facebook link name-thing). The nearly 10 year age difference between he and I puts me into the Lidstrom generation, for lack of a better qualification. Nick was drafted the year I was born, and started playing for the Wings when I was three, and I became a fan roughly in 1995 when I was able to understand the game. So, for the last 17 years I have watched Nick Lidstrom on the blue line night after night. I can barely recall games when he wasn't there. Listening to him receive the Cup in 2008 (work made me miss it, thank you 97.1) made me misty-eyed because after he got the Conn Smythe in 2002, he deserved something bigger to hoist before everyone else. He has been the epitome of class and mastery of his position, and we are so lucky to have gotten the chance to watch him play for 20 years.
To me, Lidstrom symbolizes the merge between the hockey I grew up with in the 90s, and this new age, which he adapted to beautifully, and his retirement officially ends that era from my childhood; the era that started to come to a close in 2006 when Stevie Y's knees finally completely failed him and he hung his skates up and passed the C to Nick. His endless grace, mastery and determination were the mainstays of our blue line for so long, and symbolized exactly what Detroit Red Wings hockey is all about. His retirement hits me incredibly hard because it does put the final nail in the coffin of the sentiment what that 90s-era hockey means in my life; Nick Lidstrom is not "just a hockey player."
Steve Yzerman as captain is the inspirational figure of the Wings; his never giving up (even when his body was failing him), his self-sacrifice and leadership. No one can ever replace what he meant to the team and the fans, and Lidstrom took that title and left his own legacy. To me, Nicklas Lidstrom will always be synonymous with dedication, class and beauty in his skill (or perfection, if you prefer). He represented everything the game is supposed to be.
As much as it pains me to say, I'm glad he stepped down when he did instead of forcing another year or two and tarnishing the image I, and perhaps other fans, have of who he is as a player and what he represents to the organization and the sport as a whole. I'm quite biased and will have to agree with Chris, he is the best defenseman to ever play the game, we can't hope to ever replace him and we won't try.
Again, I apologize for this lengthy comment, I figured this was the best forum to express the extent of how much Lidstrom meant to me, as a fan and a person with an emotional attachment/investment to the Wings, for the last 17 years.
@ChrissyKraceva "Yesterday I got into a fight with my boyfriend about how emotional I was getting over his retirement. He told me that Lidstrom is "just a hockey player."
Lidstrom is "just a hockey player???" Don't take this the wrong way, but you need to dump that guy, like, yesterday.
Just kidding...but I understand how you feel. I'm old enough to remember the Dead Things era, so for me Yzerman is the pinnacle of the last two decades, but at the same time Lidstrom is an equal pinnacle. I wasn't the first one in my house to notice #5's greatness--that credit belongs to my wife, who saw his subtle excellence before I did--but I am just as saddened by his departure as everyone.
The overwhelmingly great thing about Nick was his Gretzky-like ability to always be in the right place at the right time. He always had perfect economy of movement--never an unnecessary stride, always picking the best path to the play. His tendency to just know the right thing to do at any given time--who can forget his goal against Vancouver in the 2002 playoffs that broke Dan Cloutier's spirit? "I just thought I'll take a little bit off it," Lidstrom said of that shot, and that caused it to bounce in front of Cloutier, and into the net, and they went from 0-2 in the series all the way to winning the Stanley Cup. Just a little bit of instinct, but his instincts were invariably correct.
You said, "His retirement hits me incredibly hard because it does put the final nail in the coffin of the sentiment what that 90s-era hockey means in my life..." You nailed it like a Lidstrom shot from the point. I feel the same way, even more so than when Yzerman retired.
I'm saddened by Nick's retirement, but happy he won four Cups, seven Norrises, a Conn Smythe, and infinite respect, as a Red Wing. And he's far more to the team, the city, and the fans, than just a hockey player.
Its gonna be so weird not seeing him on the blue line. He had a very distinct way of holding the puck and taking a slapshot. I don't think it's really hit me that he's gone. I just keep thinking about how the last of my childhood Wings is gone. And how old that makes me.
I would wish luck in his future endeavors, but The Perfect Human doesn't need luck.
Zetterberg has been named our next captain, but I can't see him replacing Lidstrom. Then again, I couldn't see Lidstrom replacing Yzerman, and he did a fine job. I hope Nick stays on with us in some capacity, but next season will be odd. It will be the first season I will have watched the Wings without Nick. I agree with you about being happy for him. I really hate to see great players tarnish their legacies at the end of great careers because they didn't know when to hang 'em up. Nick Lidstrom did. Perfection.