by pcoffey on 06/01/12 at 11:26 AM ET
The feeling was akin to seeing you favorite team overachieve throughout the playoffs and then the hopes are dashed in overtime.
There is shock. There is disbelief. There is an overwhelming sense of sadness.
But then the first pair of hands begin to clap, and slowly, but surely, the scattered slaps are joined by more and more, building into a crescendo that roars like a freight train.
That’s how we will eventually look back at Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement announcement. We all knew it was coming. It was inevitable. After all, you can’t play hockey forever, although if there was any one player who might have pulled it off, it was Lidstrom.
Lidstrom’s decision to retire is a gut punch to Red Wings fans everywhere. I mean the man played the highest caliber of hockey for twenty years ... 20 years! It is truly mindboggling. The stats are mindboggling—264 goals, 878 assists, 1,142 points, 263 playoff games, 1,564 regular-season games. But the statistics are mere numbers when you consider the man called “The Perfect Human.”
“I’ve been dreading this day since I became manager in 1997,” Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said. But for Holland and all Wings fans, there are all those wondrous memories and championships and there was the chance to just watch Lidstrom being Lidstrom.
To me, the most telling comment from the entire press conference was this one from Lidstrom: “Retiring today allows me to walk away with pride, rather than have the game walk away from me.”
Does that sum the man up or what? What an incredible statement.
Lidstrom’s retirement leaves a huge hole in the Detroit Red Wings, but most assuredly it leaves a gaping hole in the NHL and in all of pro sports because the like of Nicklas Lidstrom come through the door very, very infrequently.
“You know what, he’s an awesome player,” Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “Everybody talked about the changes to the game, the rule changes, all that. Basically in some ways it’s a bunch of BS, right? Because the top players still remained the top players. The coaches adjusted to it. You look at a guy like Lidstrom, literally produced through it all, as a young player, an old player.
“He’s still playing if he wants,” Sutter continued. “He’s still a top player in the league if he wants to be. That just shows you the status that he has.
“He was a hard guy to coach against. I did it lots being in Chicago, then San Jose, Calgary. I coached against him a lot in big games, home, road, all those things. He was a frustrating guy to coach against because you could never get to Nicklas Lidstrom. Couldn’t get to him. Didn’t matter how you forechecked, what you set up, what you did.
“He was one of the few guys ever that could control a game from the defensive standpoint,” Sutter said. “You think of how many of those guys there are, recent history, maybe (Ray) Bourque, Lidstrom, not many. As a kid, you thought Bobby Orr could do that. Pretty awesome player.”
Pretty awesome observations. And more have come pouring in.
“Never understood how Nick Lidstrom made a hard game look so easy,” San Jose’s Ryan Clowe tweeted. “Congrats on a hall of fame career!”
“If everyone would play the game the right way like Nicklas Lidstrom did there wouldn’t be many concussions in the NHL,” the Blues’ David Perron tweeted.
And then there was this beauty from the Oilers’ Ryan Whitney: “Lidstrom was a guy every player caught themselves watching in awe midgame.”
“It’s hard to put into words exactly what Nicklas Lidstrom has meant to the Detroit Red Wings over the last 20 years,” Holland said. “In my opinion he’s the best two-way defenseman to ever play the game. He’s the type of player that comes along once in a generation. We’ll miss what he’s brought to our organization as a player and as our captain, but what we’ll probably miss the most is the person that he is off the ice and having him around on a daily basis.”
Dave Lewis, who coached Lidstrom with the Wings said it was quite a “door chore” to coach Lidstrom.
“The only coaching I had to do,” Lewis told the Detroit Free Press, “was to make sure the door was open and he could get on the ice.”
“You can’t say there’s anyone better,” Chris Chelios said of Lidstrom. “I played with Larry Robinson; I played against (Ray) Bourque. You go even further, Doug Harvey. It’s just different eras. But in my opinion, there couldn’t have been anybody better than Nick Lidstrom.”
“God, I played in the West for 15 years,” Doug Weight said on NHL Network. “I would have had a lot more points if I didn’t have to play against that guy. ... He’s a wonderful person and guy and leader, we’re gonna miss him.
“And the worst thing is he could probably be plus-25 by Christmas next year.”
Lidstrom ‘An adult’—It doesn’t mean a lot to fans, but having a superstar player who “get it” in terms of working with the media is huge. It has been said—and rightly so—for years that hockey players are the most cooperative in all of sports. Yes, very true. But then you had guys like Lidstrom whose insight, smarts and intelligent manner made him someone you wanted to speak with whenever possible.
While at NHL.com, we called Lidstrom “an adult,” meaning a voice you wanted to access whenever possible, especially at events like the All-Star Game and Stanley Cup Final. You knew if you got a few minutes with Lidstrom he would carefully consider your questions and provide thoughtful, intelligent answers. In other words, he could write the story for you. Just another part of being “The Perfect Human.”
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About Iced Coffey
Phil Coffey has covered the NHL since 1981, most recently as the Senior Editorial Director of NHL.com. He spent over 11 years there.